Paola Aranci is the executive chef of Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. In this exclusive interview, she shared her love of cooking and her special connection to extra virgin olive oil.
“I grew up in Rome and spent the summers of my childhood in a beautiful town in Umbria, where my mother Maria used to take me to enjoy the fresh country air,” said Paola Aranci, the executive chef of Gracie Mansion — the official residence of the Mayor of New York City. “In a house surrounded by olive groves and vines, my grandmother showed me how to cook.”
It is not just a matter of eating. It is also about feeling good, and extra virgin olive oil embodies the essence of my idea of food.
“We climbed those rough ladders, picked the olives with rakes,” she recalled of the olive harvest with the family. “Olive oil was among the first ingredients I came in contact with, and it was natural for me to appreciate this valuable element at the base of the Mediterranean diet, which I mainly use raw,” she told us. “It is essential in my cuisine and therefore it has become a very welcome guest at Gracie Mansion, also for its many benefits – in addition to enhancing flavors of food, it has the extraordinary property of being tasty, suitable for a healthy and balanced diet.”
Before New York, competence and passion took the forty-year-old qualified chef around the world. Following a training path which included the culinary school of Fiuggi and classes at the University of Madrid, she flanked great cooks and pastry chefs. She worked hard every summer, cooking at restaurants and hotels, and she was the executive chef of an Italian major league soccer team, catering events and managing the players’ diets. Then she moved to the United States where she worked as a private chef and consultant in California.
Thanks to her expertise in the field, Aranci was chosen to serve in a kitchen of great institutional and historical value at Gracie Mansion. And we had the intuition that she was selected not only for her familiarity with Italian cuisine but also for her style of cooking. Her best dishes are often referred to as ‘simply sophisticated,’ and liquid gold is a key element.
“It is not just a matter of eating. It is also about feeling good, and extra virgin olive oil embodies the essence of my idea of food, intended as nutrition and pleasure,” Aranci remarked. This is also what makes you appreciate her way of combining foods, which is natural and elegant.
“I love when my guests feel the authentic taste of the various ingredients, and extra virgin olive oil has the ability to enhance the individual flavors,” she considered. Thanks to its capacity to make dough light and soft, she often uses it with whole wheat flour to prepare healthy and tasty focaccia bread.
“Italian and Mexican cuisines are my specialties, but I like to experiment the styles and ingredients of Mediterranean coasts that I discovered during a beautiful working experience in Greece,” the chef pointed out.
Liquid gold is also the undisputed protagonist in the dishes she prepares for her six-year-old son, Sergio.
“He loves spaghetti or orecchiette prepared with Parmesan cheese and the extra virgin olive oil which my uncle Fernando Neri and my aunt Gabriella Marinari produce in the family olive grove of Parrano, in Umbria, under organic management,” she revealed. “I am so glad to impart to my son this taste and quality awareness.”