Chef Jennifer Mcllvaine is a well respected, adopted daughter of Umbria. Moving to Italy more than a decade ago, Jennifer has worked in and owned restaurants in Umbria and is raising two beautiful children with her Umbrian husband, winemaker Fedrico Bibi. She has been a professional chef since 1998. Her career began in her hometown of Philadelphia but she eventually found herself working at an agriturismo outside of Siena, and ended up falling in love with neighboring Umbria. Now Jennifer owns and operates Life Italian Style, working as a private chef and leader of eno-gastronomic tours for visitors to Umbria. If you missed your chance to see her during her visit to Via Umbria, visit her in her adopted land as she is also part of our Umbrian Food & Wine Tours!
We are extremely sad to see Jennifer’s stay with us end, but before she left, she was able to reflect on her time at Via Umbria:
What does it mean for you to be able to come to Via Umbria and cook?
Coming to Via Umbria every year means not only an opportunity to see my Via Umbria friends and coworkers, but also a chance to teach people here about true Umbrian cooking – they are always amazed at how a fantastic, delicious meal can be made with only a few pure, simple ingredients – you can accomplish anything with Umbrian Extra-Virgin olive oil!
What are your thoughts on Italian food culture in the US?
I think that much like the US in general, Italian food culture here has become a sort of melting pot, in the sense that it is difficult to find true replications of Italian food that are simple and straightforward without adding unnecessary, overcomplicated ingredients.
What is your favorite aspect of Via Umbria?
Difficult to narrow down, but I would have to say the store itself, because I can find great Italian food and wine, the Chef’s Table dinners because it is a great opportunity to share an experience and meet new people… and of course the coffee – Via Umbria is one of the rare places I can get a properly made Italian espresso!
What is your favorite part of Washington DC?
The Smithsonian Zoo
What do you miss most about Italy when you are in the US?
Definitely seeing the Umbrian landscape everyday and the simplicity of life there- even though we run around a lot too, it just seems a little less complicated.
Do you miss anything about the US when you return to Italy?
I make sure to load up on as much international food as I can – when I am in Umbria, it is only Umbrian food!
Do your children enjoy being in DC?
My children love to opportunity to come to DC – every time we are here they learn something new about American culture (for better or worse!).
How was Via Umbria changed since the first time you came?
The store has done a complete 360 since I first arrived. Back then the concept was there, just lacking execution… a few years of trial and error later and the place is really working now – and there are a lot of moving parts to keep together, from the store itself, to the restaurant and catering, to the art gallery etc. They are finally realizing their dream!