Exploring Italy by Ingredient with Viola Buitonii

Viola Buitoni in her kitchen
Photo by Photo by Molly Decoudreaux

Viola Buitoni, chef instructor and food writer, is proud to announce the launch of her first cookbook on September 5th.

Italy By Ingredient: Artisanal Foods, Modern Recipes tells a story of modern Italy, globalization and food ethics through flavorful and easy recipes. These aren’t recipes passed down through grandmothers;  they are contemporary time capsules of changes to Italian society and adaptations in food culture. Women work both outside and inside the home; a modern recipe reflects that time is an important resource. As the world becomes smaller, people of different culinary heritages are immigrating to Italy, young chefs are pursuing internships outside of Europe and chefs like Buitoni are making a home outside of Italy.

Globalization becomes a blended harmony of classic Italian ingredients with new influences. Since moving to the Bay Area, Buitoni’s repertoire has expanded to include local cheeses, Dungeness crab, fruit preserves and dazzling produce. At the same time, she has long been in the business of elevating local Italian producers on an international scale — thereby preserving traditional artisanal skills, techniques and a way of life. She values transparency — knowing exactly where an ingredient comes from, the family that produces it, their labor standards — and the richness in taste this creates.

Her career in the food industry has been long and diverse, earning recognition from the President of the Italian Republic for advancing Italian culture and business. About her cookbook, she says, “I’ve been preparing for this my whole life — it just took a little while.”

Buitoni grew up in the countryside of Umbria, Italy, in the sixth generation of one of Italy’s most prominent food families. Surrounded by her family’s olive groves, chicken coop and vegetable gardens, time in childhood was marked with seasonality and ingredients. Food fostered communication and closeness as her family gathered around the table for garden-fresh meals.

Buitoni attended New York University and graduated with a degree in economics, but soon found her calling in food. A summer job in a restaurant kitchen turned into six years of honing her craft in high-end kitchens and dining rooms. In 1996 she launched her own business, Buitoni & Garretti, an Italian catering company and purveyor of artisanal Italian ingredients that quickly became the preferred caterer for New York City’s Italian elite.

In 2004 love brought her to San Francisco, and after the birth of her son, she became a cooking instructor. She led workshops on the language and culture of Italian food through the local Italian Consulate and the Italian Cultural Institute, and in 2010 began teaching at 18 Reasons, a nonprofit cooking school in San Francisco’s Mission District. Her work at 18 Reasons has been pivotal in her life, introducing her to a community of like-minded home cooks. 

For Buitoni, food is her identity, and her work is very personal. Home cooking holds great significance because the flavors of her home kitchen, her beloved pantry, her cultural and family values all inform and guide the dishes that she lovingly prepares in her work. “As an Italian,” she says, “I have a pantry. That’s what grounds me. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, conserved tomatoes, anchovies, capers … these ingredients are what make any Italian house a home.”

You have a chance to join this revered Italian food expert for several upcoming events at 18 Reasons! On September 17th, she’ll host Conversations with Viola: Italy by Ingredient, where she’ll discuss and offer tastings from her cookbook. Cook along with her on October 15th as she cracks her own cookbook, and shares the secret to some of her most delightful vegetarian recipes.

To join the fun, sign up today at 18reasons.org/calendar.

italy by ingredient cookbook

You may pre-order Buitoni’s book and subscribe to her newsletter at violabuitoni.com. Follow her on Instagram @violabuitoni.

This story was paid for by 18 Reasons. Edible San Francisco relies on the support from advertising partners like 18 Reasons, who share our vision and want to see the Bay Area’s local food community grow and flourish.