Meet Valentina, founder and curator of Hortus Cuisine
When God created Tuscany, he must have been in a particularly good mood.It is a region I always loved with a passion, and going back to visit is always a pleasure.Along the eastern border of Tuscany, which is connected to both my regions – Le Marche and Emilia Romagna, run the Appennines hill chain, and during the fall this land is especially generous, beautiful, and enjoyable….
Art and passion—which for food bloggers are found in the kitchen, is that space in which we can be faulty, wrong and unafraid. It is the place in which we can be ourselves, and in which we can be fully human. There is hardly anything more inspiring than inspired people.
What inspired you to start your blog? Did it transpire naturally from your love of food?
I have always been in love with all the food cultures of the world, and when I moved to New York I realized that there were other food cultures I loved more than my own (still today, Japanese cooking has got to be my favorite). My blog was born from a wish to rediscover a vegetarian style of Mediterranean cooking, as well as create a space in which taking pictures of your lunch made sense.
Tell us about the heart behind Hortus Cuisine and what you aim to share with the world at the end of the day.
I would just like to show that transitioning to a whole food, meatless (or even vegetarian or vegan) diet does not mean living off plain vegetables and tofu! Mediterranean cuisine – the kind of cooking I grew up with, is full of tasty and healthy vegetarian meals and are really vegetable-centric. But really, at the end of the day I would just like to provide the world something pretty to look at – hopefully I am doing a decent job!
What’s your creative background look like? Had you experimented with photography and writing prior to starting your blog?
I studied illustration and have been in love with it for the longest time. As a teenager, I thought I’d become a concept artist! As I grew older, though, my interest began to shift towards web design and photography. I took some photography classes, but I would have never thought that I could express myself through photography better than through illustration…but here I am. Still, I would never call myself a photographer. I still have ways to go.
What is it about blogging, beyond your time in the kitchen, that brings fulfillment and happiness into your every day life?
I love the fact that you can share good things with so many people. Blogging can be a powerful tool for spreading positivity, hope and information. Sure, it is also easy to fall into its many traps. But when I started blogging, I swore to myself that my presence on the internet would only be used to spread good, positive and beautiful things. No complaining, no whining, and no negativity – many things start to change when you look at the world with this kind of eyes. It is also the best way to attract and talk to many positive people.
Where do you pull your creative inspiration from? Are there any people you admire because of where they’ve gone in their own creative journey?
Overall, I am greatly inspired by people who had to go trough adversities to talk about what they are most passionate about, or by those people who are very transparent and honest, sometimes at the cost of sounding rude. One of my heroes is Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian comic artist who wrote a series of comics, called ‘Persepolis’, in which she talks about the struggles of being a rebellious spirit, both in Teheran where she was born and in the other places in Europe she has lived in.
I also love Jamie Oliver and his campaign to promote whole foods amongst kids. He sure nailed the whole meaning of ‘going social’.
If you could go anywhere in the world and explore one creative avenue in that culture, where would it be and why?
Anywhere in Japan, really. I love Japanese design beyond words, and I am forever grateful to the Japanese way of working for teaching me some discipline and precision, which I lacked in the past and I am still not the best at. One would never tell from my photos, but I love clean lines that emphasize texture and show only what is necessary. That is Japanese art in a nutshell to me.
How do you structure your daily creative process, allowing you to produce the content you dream of sharing with the world through your blog?
I always make time for it on the weekends and try to write the contents in the evening. I have a full time job, so I just need to do a little planning ahead! I usually think of a few things I would like to cook and talk about, then just find myself with my camera on hand on Saturdays and I’m like ‘ok, let’s just assemble something edible’. I tried to be a better planner, I swear. But I seem to always be more satisfied with the results when I improvise! Sometimes I’ll randomly get ideas for an image I’d like to shoot, and then I’ll jot it down. I still do it the old fashioned way, with a pen and notepad!
Do you have any long-term aspirations for what you’re curating through Hortus Cuisine? Anything you’d like to share with us?
I actually do! It is quite a long term project, though. I would like to be able to renovate part of our country house and make a space for workshops, cooking classes and gatherings. I am seriously jotting this down as a business plan. I would love to use that house as a place where everyone around the world can relax in the dreamy Italian countryside, and show how beautiful this area of Le Marche is.
Also, I would love to write a tofu and meat substitutes-free vegan recipe book. Possibly in Italian, too.
Do you have any advice for someone who has a passion for food but is unsure on how to develop it into something that makes them come alive?
I know this is no ground-breaking advice, but…follow your gut. When you start, it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you do something. Experiment! With a blog, with recipes…and find what works best for you. If you get it wrong, whatever ‘it’ is, no worries: nobody is there to point fingers at you (and if they are, oh, who cares). When we start something, we tend to over think and underact. Don’t be scared to try new things and have fun!
Where would we find you on your day off? Are there any local shops or attractions you’re in love with that you’d recommend to anyone visiting where you’re located?
I live between two regions in Italy that are studded with old medieval villages and castles, and I love to go take a walk trough them, daytime or nighttime, and take pictures. As I said above, I would love to show how attractive Le Marche and Emilia-Romagna are to my readers! I urge everyone to google some images and do some couch surfing. These villages are also great for dining out – the food and atmosphere are out of this world.
I also love doing yoga and going to the gym. I always make sure to cut out a little time for physical activity everyday and, when the weather allows it, I love to take long bike rides.
All images by Valentina Solfrini of Hortus Cuisine.