I am from Tuscany, my parents have always been enthusiastic advocates of good food, authentic food, home-made food – so much so that we used to make our own bread, cured meats, sausages and all kinds of vegetables and fruit preserves using everything we raised in our garden. For crying out loud, I don’t even have a normal convection oven in my kitchen, because when my parents were restructuring it they decided we should only use a wood burning oven for absolutely EVERYTHING.
My brother and I grew up thinking wild boar, hares and little birdies were a normal thing to eat, because my father has always loved going hunting, so that’s the kind of meat that was often on the table. We shared every meal together as a family (yes, lunches too), because eating “outside” meant we wouldn’t get to eat what mom made (and yes, that was a big deal, because her food is amazing).
I worked in kitchens during college, ended up running one, and loved every single minute of it. But after I graduated I decided to move to NYC to improve my English, further my education, blah blah blah – I just wanted to get out of Tuscany and explore.
Here, in New York, everything is fast, convenient and lacks the communal-love and sharing-with-family component I cherish – and yes, that made me feel like a traitor. Eventually, I ended up sharing meals with the friends I made, and that helped me cope a little. I discovered the joy of exploring different cuisines and discovering new restaurants. I could never afford a place in NYC big enough for me to “entertain” per se, but I still had friends over for impromptu brunches, lunches and dinners – because cooking for them, and sharing food with them was more important to me than providing a proper sit-down setting.
But, with time (it’s been almost 10 years since I left Italy) I grew accustomed to grabbing breakfast somewhere and eating it on the train ride to work. Skipping lunch because I was too busy on emails. Having cheerios for dinner before passing out on the couch. Shared, home-cooked meals became an occasion rather than the standard.
I felt a void inside me. Something that was pushing for change. Many of my friends, who had not come from a food-enthusiastic family background like mine, did not understand what the big deal was.
One of them, on the other hand, as Mediterranean as I am, did feel that void as much I did. So, yes, we started eating together all the time for no reason other than…well, because you should not eat by yourself. No, we didn’t make gourmet food all the time, it was mostly whatever we found in the fridge combined in creative ways for soups, pastas and salads. Though we also occasionally actually “planned” a meal.
We ended up spending so much time cooking and eating together that we created a business revolving precisely around the void we wanted to fill. Family-time, love-time, sharing-time. No, we do not help people cook together (not yet, anyway). We do help them spend time together around food and experiences and playing around though. We created Upicnic– a tech company that offers picnics in New York – so people can share quality time together, maybe throw a frisbee around, play card games, or simply take late afternoon naps after sharing a sandwich and brownies.
Because it doesn’t matter what you eat or where you eat it; it doesn’t matter what sport you play or where you play it; it doesn’t matter when or where you choose to relax – as long as none of that feels like a chore, and you never do any of that alone.