In Italy, sprigs of fluffy, fragrant mimosa are presented to women on the 8th of March – International Women’s Day – to honour the memory of those who fought for freedom during WWII. This year, on this day, author, French TV personality and entrepreneur Luana Belmondo will be in her native city of Rome, strolling through the mimosa-filled gardens of the Villa Pamphilj.
At 19, working as a model, Luana moved to Paris and soon met racing driver Paul Belmondo (son of one of France’s greatest actors, the late Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose famous for films such “Breathless” and “Pierrot le Fou”) – now her husband of 31 years and father to their three sons: Victor, Alessandro and Giacomo.
Then, in 2010, with her children now grown, Luana burst onto our TV screens as one of Cuisine TV’s new star chefs and quickly became a favourite food personality, loved for her chic, Italian style and knowledgeable and warm, no-nonsense approach to cooking. After releasing cookbooks and taking part in further stints for national French TV and radio, Luana is now developing her own range of top-quality, artisanal Italian products.
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I spoke to her after a busy day putting the final touches on her “new baby” before it launches in French stores later this year.
Luana, your life is so busy! How do you balance your time between Paris and Rome?
“My mother still lives in Rome, and I’m spending more and more time here as she gets older. This is where my roots are, and – as the years go by – they feel stronger and stronger, but also remind me of how quickly time is passing. I’ve just turned 50 and feel a visceral need to surround myself with real, true friends. ”
What’s it been like carving your own path as part of such a famous French family?
“I’ve been married to a big name for 31 years! But, sincerely, I have never felt the slightest frustration because of it. I live my life – love, friendship, work – in an instinctive way, cultivating the things I believe in. But there have been ups and downs in all parts of my life, and today,I am much more selective, vigilant even.”
You are extremely popular in France, particularly amongst French women, and have a large following on social media – where you cook, chat, engage with followers and joke around with Paul! You are never afraid to show your real daily life or reveal your own thoughts and hopes, along with your recipes and cooking tips. Do you consider how powerful and inspiring this is to women in the age of Instagram-filtered perfection?
“When I talk to others, I talk to myself. I want my life to be this way, I show myself the way I am, nothing is calculated, and it is such a liberating way to live and cook. I’m up every morning at 5:00 a.m. and love taking time to respond to messages and chat with the (mostly) women who write to me.”
Let’s talk about food! How has the marriage of French and Italian food evolved for you since you arrived in France?
“The two cuisines are fusional for me now. I’ve now lived much longer in France than Italy; this is where I learned the real foundations of my cooking. This has been through my natural curiosity as well as cooks and chefs I’ve met, of course, but perhaps the chef who has taught me most is Michel Guérard. He’s a real master. It’s thanks to his books that I learned how to filet a fish, make French sauces, classics and essential basics. In Paris, as in many major cities, good Italian food is expensive. It feels like any decent plate of pasta is never less than 25 €. In Rome, I can have two starters, a main course, a mineral water and a coffee for 17 €! But with the arrival of Eataly in Paris, at least now good Italian producers are able to have their small place in the city.”
Would you ever consider opening your own restaurant? And how did your partnership with Ciao Gusto, the distributors of your products, come about?
“Opening a restaurant is like getting married – and I’m not doing that again!
You know, in Italy, many women do not have jobs outside the home. An Italian home cook will make her own tomato sauce from tomatoes she bought fresh from the market and basil that grows on her windowsill. In France, women spend less time at home, and they buy Italian sauces that are horrible! I’ve been working with small Italian producers and Ciao Gusto for four or five years now and can truly say that my sauces are field-to-jar. This year, I’m starting with two pestos and two sauces. I’m also developing an olive oil from a family friend’s plantation, and, soon, pasta!”
Tell me where you like to eat out and shop in Paris?
“My favourite Italian is Osteria Ferrara, in the 11th. It’s excellent. When I’m on my own, I love to wander rue Sainte-Anne, our Japanese quarter, and stop for a bowl of udon. That usually happens around 11:30 a.m. – I’m hungry, as I’m up at 5:00 a.m… I slurp!
With the family, I have to say that apart from birthday outings, we usually cook at home. Any new places I discover are thanks to my girlfriends, who are always in-the-know. The latest address I loved is Comptoir des Fables, in the 7th, which is fun and serves great tapas, wines and cocktails.
I live in the 8th arrondissement and am so fortunate to have the amazing marché du Président Wilson on Avenue Iéna as my local market. I particularly love the vegetables from Joël Thiébault, who supplies many of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as the potatoes from Carine’s bar à patates (potato bar).”
One last thing, what would you say is the greatest element of French cuisine that home cooks all over the world should master?
“Mijoter, which is not that easy a word to translate precisely. It is a mixture of simmering and slow cooking that’s such an important part of French cooking. It’s also a practical way to entertain friends because it allows the main ingredient – be it fish, vegetables or meat – to relax, and all the flavours to develop. “Mee-jo-tay” – a good word to know, and your secret ally to mastering French cuisine!”
How will you be spending the 8th of March Luana?
“I’ll be far away from all “my” men, in Rome, although they will wish me a happy day, I hope! I’ll be with my mother and will bring her a sprig of mimosa, as we do there, to honour all the Italian women who fought in WWII resistance. Then I’ll go for a stroll to breathe in the mimosa trees in Villa Pamphilj park.”
Discover Luana’s current line of products here: www.ciao-gusto.com
Follow Luana on Instagram: @luanabelmondo.officiel