Led By Nature

Meet the creative mind behind a fusion of Italian traditions and modern minimalism, as Olivia Cavalli shares her journey from humble beginnings to the publication of her first cookbook.

I didn’t really plan my path into cooking and food styling. I came out of university with no idea of what to do and did various work experience in fashion, interiors, and food. I applied for an internship on the food desk at The Telegraph, not thinking anything would come of it, and somehow I got the job. I loved my time there, which was mostly spent writing, but it was also where I was introduced to food styling. After that, I started assisting but felt I also wanted to cook for people to eat and enjoy, so I decided to spend some time in restaurants too, keen to learn in a professional kitchen. At the same time, I began working with Pasta Grannies, traveling to Italy to help film the amazing ladies making pasta by hand. I was also going to my Nonna’s a lot more as my Nonno had passed, and we’d spend most of my visits cooking together. I was being more and more drawn to my Italian roots, wanting to delve into the traditions, the recipes, the culture, and I found every opportunity I could to be in Italy. I did stages, residencies, and different jobs, each one reaffirming that I wanted to share it all with others through my work. Being in Italy is my biggest inspiration, and my mind starts ticking as soon as I arrive - whether it’s at the market, in a restaurant, even in the Coop, there’s always something I pick up on.

"I was being more and more drawn to my Italian roots, wanting to delve into the traditions, the recipes, the culture, and I found every opportunity I could to be in Italy"

I like testing out dishes on smaller groups first, whether that’s for friends, family, or a private client. If I’m happy with something, it might then make it onto a menu for a supper club or a bigger event. I am pretty meticulous and can be a big over-thinker, but I think as I’ve gained confidence in what I do, I’ve become a bit more relaxed and trusting that things will come together - sometimes I won’t plate a dish up until the day of an event or plan how I want to style something until on set, and often that’s when I’m happiest with it because it feels looser and more natural.

My tablescapes are definitely on the more minimal side. I’m generally more drawn to Japanese and Scandinavian styles for their simplicity but maybe with the odd retro Italian platter or packaging in the mix. I’m obsessed with handmade ceramics and soft linens, and everything is pretty muted - I prefer the colour to come from the food I’m serving. When I’m hosting a supper club and feel like the table needs a bit more dressing, I love some simple flowers, maybe just a few in little glasses or bud vases along the table. And lighting is everything!

I published my first cookbook, Stagioni, last year, which is all about the seasonal fruits and vegetables that come and go throughout the year and the dishes that celebrate them. Cooking and eating this way is just a way of life for Italians but we often lose sight of it in the UK, where we can walk into a shop and buy whatever we want, whenever we want it. Seasonal eating has become a bit of a buzzword, but it is not a trend, this is how we were always meant to eat. It doesn’t need to be complicated or intimidating; it actually simplifies things hugely. You don’t need to be a farmer or a grower; you just need to have an understanding of what produce grows around you throughout the year and when. Then it becomes exciting - trying new vegetables and learning new recipes. There are so many things you can do with a courgette, an aubergine, even cabbage; you just need a little inspiration.

“Seasonal eating has become a bit of a buzzword but it is not a trend, this is how we were always meant to eat”

My menus are always based on the seasons and therefore led by nature. Not only does the produce change throughout the year but so do our cravings. In summer, we want bright, zingy, and refreshing platters of beautiful salads and making the most of all the fruit in as many ways as I can think of. Then the colder months are more about warmth and comfort, with soothing bowls of soups and satisfying plates of pasta. My favourites this season are pumpkin and squash, especially the denser, sweeter varieties like delica, kabocha, and onion. I just love them in all sorts of ways, puréed into pasta or risotto, roasted until the edges turn to caramel, paired with salty cheeses and woody herbs, especially crispy fried sage.

I like to style the table to complement the food too, and so the tones will change slightly as the year passes, as will the flowers and foliage. When I’m cooking for an event where we are doing a display of food, it can be fun to dress it using the fresh produce of the moment, things like pomegranates, artichokes, and all sorts of citrus.

Being led by the seasons means there is always something new coming in when something else is coming to an end. It’s cyclical and always changing, which makes it easy to stay creative as there’s always something ahead to get excited about. I am always learning from the natural world and only want to continue. I find natural remedies fascinating and would love to delve into them more - the effects of different herbs and spices on our bodies and minds. I would love to be able to grow my own produce one day, and that would be a whole new project of its own.

Relish in the delights of Olivia’s culinary adventures @olivia_cavalli

Photography by Sophie Davidson from Olivia’s cookbook Stagioni, published by Harper Collins

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