Monday, July 21, 2014

Jenn Telfeyan

Director of Staff Education and Training, Eataly
New York, New York

A friend from the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Jenn Telfeyan stayed in Italy for seven years after the majority of us returned to our respective homes. During those years she built an impressive resume  with time spent developing programs at Antica Corta Pallavicina with Massimo and Luciano Spigaroli, the University of Gastronomic Sciences, and Eataly.

The two of us share a subconscious attraction to startups and position development whether we like it or not. Because of her adaptability and willingness to venture into uncharted territories, her skills are too numerous to note. Jenn recently moved back to the US taking up residence in what she saw as the easiest transition back into American life: New York City. Most New York stories don't read like hers.  She quickly settled into a life with a great job, apartment within walking distance to work, and plenty of family close at hand. Jenn is currently acting Director of Education at Eataly New York, leading staff through the wed idiosyncrasies and beauty of Italian products and cuisine. Unlike the majority of us who also completed the program, she is truly communicating quality products as our masters was once called.

Jenn is one of my dearest friends and despite the fact that we are separated for years at a time, we live somewhat parallel lives and can pick up drinking coffee and discussing life at the drop of a hat. I love the frankness of our conversations around the food industry. The glossy vision we both had upon arrival in Italy is marked by the reality that jobs are often less glamorous than our imaginations lead us to believe and almost always carry a level of bureaucracy and logistics. That being said, when we are together our joint passion for food and exploring never ends with us hungry and/or disappointed. Spending time with her reminds me of the importance of creative exchanges and keeping the mind hungry for new explorations.

A Southern girl at heart, Jenn and her dog Elvis live on Park Avenue in Manhattan in a dime size apartment with a secret view of the Empire State Building. She has made her tiny apartment feel collectively airy and cozy. Surprisingly her kitchen is not much bigger than my own but we chose to make coffee in her moka and abandon our original plan to make rilletes. Time is precious with an old friend and running around New York in search of bites and drinks sometimes takes precedence over stirring a pot in 85 degree city heat.

Tell me about your job at Eataly?

I started with Eataly over four years ago at the headquarters in Torino as the Italian buyer and exporter for our New York store. Since moving back to the US in October I've left behind the commercial side of the business and returned to my original passion of education in the role of Director of Staff Education and Training. This encompasses both operational and product/cultural training. Eataly is a gold mine when it comes to the passion and knowledge for Italy and food that you find under its roof, and one of my main responsibilities is to curate this for our staff. I teach as well, write for our blog, serve as a liaison between our producers and staff, setting up classes with them and in-store demos. It's a start-up, and Italian at that, so we all wear many hats throughout the day.

What do you wish the average American knew about Italian cuisine?

That there's no such thing!  I teach an Intro to Italian Cuisine class and always begin by reminding my students that Italy is still a young nation; its individual states were unified into a country just over 150 years ago.  As such, Italians haven't really developed a great sense of national pride, and in fact identify as Italian just once every four years - during the World Cup.  The rest of the time they identify with the region they're from, or more specifically, their hometown or village.  Italy is fiercely provincial, for better and for worse, and this spirit is reflected in its food, and is precisely why they have done such a brilliant job of preserving their culinary traditions.  What an Italian from the northeastern German-speaking region of Trentino Alto Adige eats is completely different from what a Sicilian eats.  The one common thread running throughout the entire country is espresso, which naturally is the best in the world. 

Do you have a mentor?  

Those individuals whom I count as the nearest and dearest are infinitely inspiring in their curiosity, and the courage with which they plow ahead, unabashedly, unapologetically their true, genuine selves.

Describe your cooking style?

Simple.  When I moved to Italy, I didn't bring all my kitchen gadgets with me (exception:  my knives; they've seen the world), and learned to make do with what my humbly furnished apartment came equipped with.  What was originally supposed to be one year grew to seven, and while I did purchase a few nicer pots and pans, and even an oft-neglected hand blender, it was easy to eat very well without much fuss.  That practice has stayed with me, even now returned to the US.  Guests are often uninspired by my bare fridge, but I have the good fortune of working at a store that boasts one of New York City's most fantastic produce departments (shameless plug!), so I usually just pick up whatever vegetables pique my interest each evening.  In the winter they get transformed into soups, or braised, or roasted.  In the summer I try to stay away from heat in my kitchen, at least the oven (in a 215 sq. foot apartment, the pilot light alone is enough to heat the place up), so I do a lot of hearty salads with young summer greens, radishes, sweet peas, Persian cucumbers.  I love a vinaigrette heavy on the mustard, just enough to feel a slight burn in your nose.  This past spring I ate enough asparagus, roasted most often, to hold me over til next year.  Eggs show up often at my table, in all their incarnations. I think sardines and most preserved fish are completely undervalued in the US.  I don't prepare meat that often at home, but when I feel the hankering, find that you could do little better than a generous helping of carne cruda (raw, ground beef) drenched in a really grassy olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt.  Yum.  And of course the requisite hunk of Parmigiano in the fridge and loads and loads of butter. 

What's your strongest food memory from childhood?

We always sat down for family dinner together every evening, regardless of homework, extracurriculars, and work schedules. And there was always special Sunday homemade breakfast. Well I say homemade, but I really mean from a box of Bisquick, which to this day, in my book, still makes the best waffles and pancakes.  I think my mother's insistence on these meals together is one of the reasons that I so love the rituals surrounding food, and why breakfast is my favorite meal of the day; it's the one most strongly tied to ritual, don't you think, both individually and culturally?  An intimate moment, freshly awoken, deciding how best to nourish our bodies to move forward with the day.  This is all in the same vein of eating seasonally as well. While consideration of the effects on the environment, supporting local economies, and all the other topics that have made their way into our mainstream vernacular are noble motivators, for me in the end cantaloupe in the summer is not just the melon at its acme, but is morning breezes thick with the scent of strong, cinnamon-laced coffee, my grandfather's oversized hands delicately cradling a fork as he stabs at the individual pieces, unrelenting Atlantic breakers that are beyond what I can handle, but make me feel very much alive, and the possibility of an evening that ends with a peanut butter ice cream cone.  And isn't all of that just very, very nice?  And so really, what charm could some poor mealy cantaloupe hold come January?

Describe your decorative style?

I'm drawn to old, weathered furniture, imperfect Art Deco era mirrors, natural materials like wood and leather, Oriental rugs, layered soft textures, velvet and sheepskin. Recently I've been loving brass and tin accents. Natural light.  I'm often inspired by everyday items and try to find ways to incorporate those elements into my home. Most recently, for example, I fell for a friend's light pink and gold detailed leather wallet, which made its way into my home via a simple paper lampshade that I painted light pink with fabric dye and lined with gold craft paper (I fear this may be a horrendous fire hazard, but so far so good). Old spaces with gobs of architectural detail make my heart melt - worn wood floors, thick baseboards and molding, ridiculously high ceilings, leaded glass windows...

What is your go to spot for food in Nashville when you go back?

Evidently Nashville has become quite the cool city, full of all sorts of up-and-coming bars and restaurants, of which I know absolutely nothing.  My must-go restaurant when I'm home is this little shack of a place, Dotson's, located just outside of Nashville in Franklin.  Admittedly, it looks a bit rough - bad lighting, horrible paneled ceilings and walls, plastic booths, uneven, creaky floors.  You know the type.  When an old Italian boyfriend visited Nashville I took him there and his reaction as we entered was, "Ma this?  This is your favorite restaurant??" (side note - Dining with Italians outside of Italy is an enormous test of patience and empathy).  Anyhow, the menu is replete with all the typical southern fare - fried chicken, meatloaf, mushy mac and cheese, a showcase of pies with mile-high meringue piled atop.  One day I imagine I'll branch out and actually try some of those things, but for now I stick with my biscuits and gravy, bacon and jams.  I know I can get buttermilk, lard-rich biscuits up here in New York, but I just can't bring myself to order them outside the south.  Feels like it'd be sacrilege or something.

Describe your personal style?

A friend recently told me that much of my aesthetic reads like a non-trashy wardrobe for a production of Cabaret.  Does that paint a good illustration for you?  Ha!  Let's call it classically feminine with occasional playful winks. As a point of comfort, I live in dresses and skirts, almost never pants.  I like clean, simple lines and generally favor monochromatic, natural fabrics.

What are your favorite shoes and why?

While I appreciate the effects of a great pair of heels as much as the next person, for me it is imperative that my shoes not greatly impede my ability to move.  On the form vs. function debate, the scale tips ever-so-slightly in favor of function.  I've just got to be able to make a more than fair show at a dance party, which can take shape at any given moment, right?  Quite honestly, I'm probably at my best when barefoot.  

Best thing about living in New York?

At its best, New York makes you feel infinite, just like a new crush, excited to wake each morning, prepare your best self, bolstered by the hope of what possibilities await.  There is an energy here that I haven't found anywhere else in the world.  




  1. Thanks for this wonderful profile of my daughter. I truly enjoyed reading it and feel very proud!

    1. I feel ever lucky to have her in my life!