'The Sicilian tour is very emotional for me, I talk a lot about my family... and drink a toast to my Mum and Dad - the greatest love story I have ever known. A love story that taught me how to appreciate food, culture, my heritage and above all how to truly love.'
At age 16, Rosa, who grew up with very loving but very strict parents, was allowed to go out into town with her cousins, for the very first time. To this day Rosa hadn’t been allowed to go on sleepovers with friends or even on school camp, so this was a monumental day for her. And the one day her parents let her out of their sight, is the day that Rosa fell madly in love with Michael Malignaggi - her now husband of 21 years.
Rosa: “Michael was with the group of people that my cousins were meeting, and there was one moment when we were all together and I stepped out to cross the road. I didn’t see the car, but Michael did and he pulled me away to safety. He saved my life.”
It was as if Rosa and Michael were destined to be together. With both of their families from Sicily, they had an unspoken connection through heritage that transcended their Australian-based lives. And well... he did save her life, like some sort of hero from a romance novel.
As I spend the afternoon with Rosa I discover that Rosa and Michael’s love story is an echo of Rosa’s parents own story, Pina and Diego Mirabella - two people destined to love and build a family and life together.
Rosa grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, in a small country town called Somerville with her Mum and Dad, two brothers and her sister. Rosa is the baby of the family. There is a large age difference between Rosa and her three older siblings.
Rosa: “I was the unexpected accident. Mum always called me the baby doll, Rosetta (the baby version of Rosa).”
Childhood for Rosa was filled with joy. She spent a lot of time in the garden with her Mum. She would play outside, fish for tadpoles, plant vegetables and, like most girls at the time, she would listen to ABBA. She was infatuated with the band. She would sing-along to the songs, imagining she was part of the singing quartet.
Rosa tells me that her parents made a lot of sacrifices to give her and her siblings a good life. Her parents are from the same village in Sicily, Calatafimi in the Province of Trapani on the west coast. The area is famous for its salt mines.
Rosa: “Mum and Dad fell in love in the village, but life back in Sicily wasn’t great. When Mussolini took over it became hard to make ends meet, there was no opportunity for the future. It was up to the men in the family to seek fortunes elsewhere. Dad decided the only thing to do was to leave. He was sponsored by an uncle and came out to Australia. He left his parents, seven siblings and sweetheart behind. I can’t even begin to imagine how he felt. He told me once that it was a huge responsibility. It was a test. If he could make it then the others could follow. He worked very hard, saved and after three years was able to pay for Mum to come over. They were married in Australia. Dad passed away just a few years ago, just shy of their 60th wedding anniversary. After he died we found all these receipts from the Bank of Hong Kong where Dad had deposited money to get Mum to come over to Australia. It was a real love story.”
As a migrant, Rosa’s Dad, Diego, was willing to do anything - he was a butcher, he worked with poultry, with fruit and vegetables, he did brick laying. Whatever he had time to do, he would do it. He did whatever it took to create a future for his family. And Rosa had a blessed childhood thanks to her parents. From an early age she would watch her Mum and Grandma cook. She became the taster.
Rosa: “When Mum made Napoli sauce she would spread some on bread and call me over to taste it. I would give the yes or no regarding the flavour. My mum would say ‘do you think it needs to be sweeter? Does it need more salt? Does it need more masala?’ I was taught to appreciate ingredients.”
It was this experience with food and family that lead Rosa to create Rosa’s Table - a huge passion. Out of a desire to teach others, including her three children, about the importance of wholesome food and cooking for the family, Rosa literally began to invite people into her home, in Frankston, Victoria, to demonstrate how to cook her beloved Sicilian family recipes. Such an intimate experience, with Rosa and Michael’s children often assisting or at the very least coming in to say good night to the group, the classes became a hit and affectionately known as Rosa’s Table. Some zealous guests continue to come back every month. I am told they have become part of the family. After the cooking demonstration the group sits down together and enjoy the wonderful food and hospitality of Rosa and Michael Malignaggi.
Rosa: “When I finished year 12 my parents took me to Sicily for a holiday. Dad took me to their country property. He showed me a fig tree and said ‘I would sit under this fig tree and think of foreign lands and dream about where I would take my family.’ I remember thinking ‘he was crazy, it is so beautiful here, why would you want to live anywhere else’. Even at that young age I knew I had to bring as many people as I could to this incredible place. That’s how I first came to the idea of creating classes around the family recipes and an extension of this - the food tours back to Sicily.”
At the time of this interview Rosa had just taken her first group to Sicily.
Rosa: “The Sicilian tour is very emotional for me, I talk a lot about my family. I take people to my Grandfather’s property. All the men on the tour managed to knock open the door to the abandoned shack (which was once my Grandparents home). We could see the area where my Grandmother once cooked. We brought a bottle of my father’s favourite wine, Lambrusco, and drank a toast to my Mum and Dad - the greatest love story I have ever known. A love story that taught me how to appreciate food, culture, my heritage and above all how to truly love.”
ROSA’S TABLE CULINARY TOUR OF SICILY 2014
Tuesday 9th September, 2014 to Thursday 18th September, 2014
The Rosa’s Table cooking demonstration schedule for 2014 will be ready in January 2014.
For further information on the Rosa’s Table Culinary Tour of Sicily or Cooking Demonstrations, please contact Rosa via email; email@example.com