Blue Élan (BE): What’s your go-to guilty pleasure snack or recipe?
Gina Sicilia (GS): Any kind of pasta dish that’s easy to make is total comfort food for me, as is chocolate. And pretty much any kind of cheese that exists. And making homemade edible cookie dough for dessert is dangerously easy.
BE: Where does your love of cooking come from?
GS: My love of cooking and food undoubtedly comes from my upbringing and my Italian background. My mom is an amazing cook and so many of the things I make to this day are inspired by dishes she made and still makes for my family when I was growing up. I’ve also been fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Italy many times, and the incredible things I’ve eaten there have totally inspired my cooking. There’s a great sense of nostalgia for me in the flavors and aromas of southern Italian food and I want to carry on that tradition.
BE: Are there chefs or cooks in your life that inspired you to cook yourself?
GS: My mom, my sister, and my wonderful relatives in Italy. They are all such great cooks. I’ve also always been a huge fan of the Food Network and various cooking shows and enjoy following different chefs and food bloggers on Instagram to see what they make. Chef Lidia Bastianich makes incredible dishes.
BE: Do you know of other artists who are also cooks?
GS: Yes! Anna Haas is an artist, photographer, videographer, and musician in Nashville who makes really beautiful, creative, and unusual dishes. I always enjoy seeing what she comes up with. You can find her on Instagram at @TheRedHeadFoodie. And my friend John Fusco, who is a Hollywood screenwriter and a great Blues musician who also works with my producer, Cody Dickinson. He and his wife Richela make awesome food. @JohnFusco.
BE: What was the first dish you ever made, or the first recipe you ever learned?
GS: One of the first things I learned to make is tomato sauce using garden tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil, served over angel hair pasta. It is still one of my favorite things to cook and eat. It’s one of those dishes that uses incredibly simple ingredients but is incredibly flavorful. I also started helping my mom make chocolate chip cookies when I was pretty young and still use the same recipe now.
BE: Do you have any original recipes you’d like to share?
GS: Yes! I have the recipe for Chicken Francese on my Instagram food page @GinaCooksNashville. It’s delicious!
BE: Name some chefs that inspire you!
GS: Lidia Bastianich is someone I always look to fit inspiration. I’m always inspired by all the many food lovers and bloggers on social media who have a passion for cooking. I love connecting with other home cooks on Facebook and Instagram and always get ideas from them.
BE: Do you watch any cooking shows or YouTube channels?
GS: Too many cooking shows to name! I also love food documentaries, especially the Chef David Chang docs that are on Netflix. I’m a big fan of his.
BE: What’s the best meal you ever ate?
GS: The last time I went to Italy I was visiting a town on the Ionian Sea and ate this pizza that had fried potatoes and peppers on it. It was unforgettable.
BE: What’s the best dish you ever cooked?
GS: Lasagna with bolognese sauce. Hands down. It’s something I love making for dinner guests.
BE: How big is your recipe collection?
GS: It’s hard to say because so many of my recipes are in my head. Most of the time I don’t even follow recipes (unless I’m baking, in which case it needs to be more precise) and I just kind of wing it and experiment. I think that’s the best way to cook. Just follow your instincts and your taste buds.
BE: What are your cooking goals in life?
GS: I want to continue to follow this passion I have for cooking beautifully simple foods. I want to hone my craft and become the absolute best cook I can be. I’ve also been filming my new cooking show, Gina Cooks Nashville, and I’m excited to see where that takes me. And lots of entertaining. I absolutely love cooking for people.
BE: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start cooking for the first time?
GS: Start out simple. Watch YouTube tutorials, read recipes, get inspired by other cooks, and practice makes perfect. So much of it is trial and error and discovering your own methods. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to be creative. Relax, enjoy, and don’t let the idea of cooking intimidate you. Just have fun.
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