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Danielle Aquino Roithmayr
Social Media Content Strategist
Gustiamo, inc.
October 23, 2012

We love a good success story. And we try not to be biased when they result from our very own handiwork at Good Food Jobs. In fact, if Danielle didn't seem so perfectly suited for and passionate about her job, we'd be tempted to write her off just based on how jealous we are that she lives in Palermo, Sicily. But once we wipe the green film off of our glasses, we see how clearly she embodies her work, which makes her a gastrognome by definition. We hope she'll inspire you to chase your dream to every corner of the world.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

My "aha!" moment was hazelnut flavored. One autumn morning I was sitting in my half-cubicle on the 31st floor of a Manhattan office building, doing a decidedly non-good food job. The CEO had just received a package from Italy full of freshly collected Piemontese hazelnuts.  The executive assistants were fussing over the package's inscrutable contents; they certainly didn't understand why I was so excited. While I had been occupying my free time with food activities like working alternate Saturdays in the 4th Street Food Co-op and claiming my weekly bounty at the Stanton Street CSA; it was when those hazelnuts showed up that I realized I felt more passionately about food than anything I had done that entire month at work. Not to mention, I was painstakingly nostalgic for what I had been doing exactly one year before: collecting hazelnuts as a volunteer on an organic farm in the province of Asti, about 30 kilometers away from the village that part of my family originates from.

Soon after that hazelnut morning, I was in Porchetta on 7th street, awaiting my sandwich, when I got a call about working with artisanal Italian foods in Italy.

How did you get your current good food job?

My current position is a Good Food Jobs success story. When I first noticed that the New York based Italian foods importer Gustiamo, Inc. was hiring a social media person, my first thought was, "they should let me do this job from here." Here, being my home in Palermo, Sicily. My first interview with Beatrice Ughi, one of the founders of Gustiamo, was on Skype and our second interview was over lunch at Zia Pina in Palermo's Vucciria market. There was a lot of discussing to do, more so than for any other job I've interviewed for. Although telecommuting seems like something everyone is doing, there's still tons of uncharted territory and there is so much that every company with a remote team member needs to discover for themselves; especially when working with a small business.

It is remarkable that Gustiamo and I, with the help of practically every form of communication technology possible, are making this relationship work as well as we are. It is certainly a relationship that Gustiamo would not have been able to consider 5 years ago. It is actually mind-blowing and complicated, as Taylor & Dorothy's recent newsletter about the question "Where are you based?" points out. I am an American, working for this New York based artisan Italian foods importer, residing in Sicily; while the rest of the company, which includes three native Italians, work from our warehouse in the Bronx. It really doesn't get more culturally integrated or globalized than that. And on top of everything, we are using all of this marvelous technology to support food practices that are totally ancient and hyper-traditional like olives harvested by hand and tomatoes picked in their prime and then canned/jarred for consumption all year long.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

Like many of us food professionals, my most precious experiences have come from directly encountering the land; for me it was while WWOOFing through a handful of Italy's countryside and microclimates. This, after all, is what Carlo Petrini has been hammering home recently to young people, "return to the land." There is a huge wealth of knowledge in the spaces between the Italian metropolises and the work I did farming in Italy only brushed the surface.

Speaking of Signore Petrini, I would? also say that following Slow Food has prepared me for my job by putting sustainability issues into context, not to mention it is a great networking platform.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your ?Good Food Job dream?

The intimidation of The Cult of Foodie Perfectionism, as Melissa Clark refers to it in her New York Times column.  At first, I had trouble accepting that food was the direction I was going in simply because so much of what is out there is hyper-glamorized food porn. It is totally daunting for a newcomer.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

There is so much work that needs to be done in terms of protecting the authenticity of Italian food traditions. If we can get through, on the consumer level, about why paying double the price for a can of real San Marzano Tomatoes is well worth it, a lot could change for the Italian food producers who have stayed true to their food-making heritage.

I also think that everyone needs to accept that there frankly isn't a lot of money right now. I was just listening to Talia Baiocchi's interview on the "I'll Drink to That" podcast from earlier this year; no one is getting rich here, or at least very few people are. But that doesn't mean that there are not still great opportunities.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than ?money, what would it be?

5 liter tins of Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil; a blend of Cerasuola, Biancolilla, and Nocellara del Belice varieties, hand-picked on a family farm and milled in a community frantoio.

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