top of page

“The world according to tango - where miracles occur and where dance, music, and sultry nights in Argentina lead us through a maze of pleasure that turn into obsessions. At First a visit, then an escapade, then a journey into those shut out places most of us have no names for, and finally a coming home. Patrizia Chen depicts a world that everyone’s body, heart and mind have longed for. Some of us see it from across the bank, others are bold enough to buy roundtrip tickets there, and some, having crossed the bridge, burn the bridge.”


André Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name


“I haven’t had so much fun (or such very good weeps) with a novel in years. Patrizia Chen has a wicked original voice, and with it she dances you through a tango of love and sex to tell a story that is at the same time steamy, smart, tender, trenchant, and super-cool – not to mention as full of life and risk as it is wise. Remember Freud’s old question: What do women want? If you still don’t know, you’ll find the answer in IT TAKES TWO.”

Jane Kramer, author of Lone Patriot

“Chen’s debut novel, between the sensuous descriptions of Buenos Aires and the tango is seductive and emotional.”


Booklist, October 1, 2009

“Rosemary and Bitter Oranges is the most delicious, soul-satisfying meal I’ve had in a very long time. It is to Italian food what the madeleine was to Proust.”

Christopher Buckley, author of No Way To Treat A First Lady

“In Rosemary and Bitter Oranges, Patrizia Chen makes us a gift of her Mediterranean upbringing. Such is the power of her conjurings in this memoir-cookbook that readers of whatever nationality will be transformed into naturalised citizens of the Tuscan table. A stirring performance in every sense.”

Michael and Ariane Batterberry, founders of Food Arts and Food & Wine

“What a wonderful and beautifully written book is Patrizia Chen’s Rosemary and Bitter Oranges! The vignettes she paints are so vivid and true they remind me of many similar experiences in my childhood. Her description of Emilia’s negotiating skills at Livorno’s food market is just perfect. This is a book I will treasure.”


Giuliano Hazan, author of Every Night Italian

“Patrizia Chen does the impossible. She makes you experience her childhood. I loved Rosemary and Bitter Oranges.

It’s as fresh as zabaione.”


Patricia Volk, author of Stuffed

“With grace, charm and wit, Patrizia Chen takes readers to an Italy that no longer exists, an Italy you can taste through Chen’s masterful rendering in Rosemary and Bitter Oranges.”

Mauro Maccioni, co-owner of Osteria del Circo and Le Cirque


“From an Italian journalist who lives part of the year in New York, a beguiling memoir of growing up in a Tuscan city, learning to cook local and family favorites. Chen’s memories are soft-edged and nostalgic as chapters such as “Garden Lessons” and  “In Emilia’s Kitchen” recapture the way it was in Livorno on the Tuscan coast during the postwar years. Born in 1948, she missed the hardships of the war years, during which the family’s elegant home was taken over by a destructive German regiment and food was in short supply, but her relatives still practiced the economies learned then. Drawers were filled with wrapping paper, bits of ribbon, and pencil stubs that might be useful one day: one excessively thrift aunt kept a jar labeled “Strings. Too short to be useful.” Chen and her brother were constantly reminded how fortunate they were to have food, which they were forbidden to waste. (Here the author inserts a recipe for economical and filling minestrone; other chapters also include relevant recipes.) Emilia, the family cook, taught her how to cook and shop daily at the local markets. Chen describes their house with its marble terrace and vegetable garden, the nearby convent school she attended (the competitive girl strove to be the more virtuous), and visits to her paternal grandparents’ seaside home in Sicily, where freshly caught swordfish was a staple at meals and the bedroom had a wonderful frescoed ceiling. She also vividly evokes period housekeeping details: the laundress washed their sheets in spring water and dried them on grass; the pantry contained only dry goods, as perishables were bought daily in limited quantities; the family didn’t acquire electrical appliances until the ‘60s. Chen entered adolescence during that decade, and she notes the growing American influence on music, television, and fashion that irrevocably changed the way Italians lived. She closes with a bittersweet account of visiting present-day Livorno. A richly textured past, intimately evoked."


The Kirkus Review December 1, 2002

“Chen portrays a rose-colored dream of a childhood in Livorno, Italy. The live-in cook, Emilia, is the inspiration for most of Chen’s love of cooking and Chen lovingly portrays Emilia’s stubbornness and oracular beliefs about cooking (“If asked how long it took to simmer the meat sauce, Emilia would answer with a grumble and her usual lapidary phrase: “Quanto basta. As long as it takes”) She recalls a childhood of outings to the market and to Emilia’s home in nearby Vada, lavish Christmas dinners, orange and magnolia trees and herbs in a lush garden, feeding chickens and fetching milk from the local vendor, evenings of reading with her Nonna, and mid-day school treats of la torta di ceci (chickpea pancakes) and recipes from Emilia’s fabulous ubiquitous confections like Lemon Tea Cake and Quince Paste. Chen offers humorous, though sometimes overly sentimental, descriptions of her strict Catholic upbringing and the family’s superstitions (Fridays and Tuesday are bad days for trips; don’t leave a hat or a purse on a bed) as well as portrayal of the Americanisation of 1950s Italy. Chen, a correspondent for Italian newspapers, also includes several simple recipes such as Caponatina alla Mia Maniera (My Eggplant and Celery) and Merluzzo al Vapore (Steamed Cod) and Hen’s Milk.”


Publisher’s Weekly December 9, 2002

“This memoir of growing up along Tuscany’s Mediterranean coast uncovers family secrets at an alarming rate. The author’s well-to-do grandparents, though dear to her, have virtually no culinary aptitude, their daily food being inevitably white and bland (shades of M. F. K. Fisher’s childhood). Only when Emilia, the family cook, takes the child in hand and teaches her the forbidden savor of spices and herbs does she learn to appreciate good food. Trips to America sharpen her appreciation for good cooking and uncover American cultural icons, such as television situation comedies. She also learns about her Sicilian relatives and the Mafia. She relates stories about her extended family’s sometimes unusual relationships to food. Her grandfather regales her with ribald tales about his Sicilian cook, whose truly inimitable meatballs had a special, intimate tang. Mercifully, Chen’s own recipes have more hygienic directions. Currently a writer about Italian cooking, Chen offers pasta pies and teacakes from her Livornese upbringing that rely on perfectly fresh and classically handled ingredients typical of Tuscany.”

Booklist – Mark Knoblauch Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

“Rosemary and Bitter Oranges’ is a memoir of a contemporary writer’s childhood, mostly around the age of eight years old, in the house of her grandparents (Nonna and Nonno), parents, and two siblings. The house is that of a pre-World War II upper middle class family of Livorno, in Tuscany, near the Tyrrhean seacoast. The time is the late 1950s, when the family has restored some of its lost wealth and position to the grandfather while father is a lieutenant and teacher in the nearby Italian naval academy.

The central character in the child’s life is neither Mamma nor Nonna, but the cook and housekeeper, Emilia, who fits in every way the stereotype of a middle-aged Italian housekeeper. The first and most fascinating culinary memory in the story is the difference between the cuisine of the household eaten at the luncheon and dinner tables, and the cuisine that the housekeeper makes for herself and eats in the kitchen. The family’s meal is described as almost entirely white, as if to avoid a mismatch with the custom Belgian white linen on the table. In contrast, Emilia’s meals are a riot of reds and greens, and represent a major discovery for eight year old Patrizia.

Like Gennaro Contaldo’s stories of his Campagnia childhood in the cookbook `Passione’, and unlike some adult and second hand impressions of Italy, the descriptions of impressions, experiences, and memories are so strong, you can practically smell the starch in the linen and feel the polished brass and the cool tiles in the courtyard. There may be much metaphor in saying this, but it gives one the sense of how vivid and genuine the word pictures come across to the reader.

Unlike Patricia Volk’s memoir `Stuffed’ and Ruth Reichl’s first memoir volume, `Tender at the Bone’, there is not a very large cast of well painted characters filling these pages. All the aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents and siblings fill pretty much the roles expected of them for the little girl of the author’s memories. Since this is a memoir of a culinary writer, it has, like Reichl’s two volumes, a number of recipes within each chapter which are more like photographs used to illustrate the narrative rather than a serious source of culinary material. My most interesting find was the recipe for Emilia’s marinara sauce which is almost identical to Mario Batali’s simple sauce published in all his books, which includes carrots to sweeten the tart tomatoes. This is perfectly fitting, as Mario acquired his authentic Italian cuisine in Emilia-Romagna, just a few miles from the border with Toscana (Tuscany).

Another fascinating resonance with Mario Batali’s is the description of Emilia at the great central open-air market in central Livorno. Batali constantly states that every Italian housewife believes it is her god given right to get the very best piece of meat or vegetable available that day. Judging from Ms. Chen’s description of Emilia’s tactics at the meat counter, this rather benign Batali picture doesn’t even come close to describing the cutthroat behavior of Italians at the market. Your average American who politely takes their paper queue chit and quietly waits their turn at the deli counter would be totally out of place. At the Italian counter, there is no queue and the ladies use every trick in the book to advance their position relative to that particularly attractive lamb shoulder in the display case.

Next to culinary memories, the most evocative are those connected with the young child’s love of reading and interest in things which would later be her career in writing. I suspect part of interesting writing is to see and describe simple things that escape the average person’s attention. It is not that the non-writer doesn’t experience these things, it is that they take no special note of them. In the case of this writer, her narrative of the sights and smells of bookstores and stationary stores with freshly printed books and newly sharpened wooden pencils brings back similar memories to me.

If you love culinary lore, memoirs, Italian culture, or just plain good writing, this book will be a rewarding and entertaining day’s read. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition”

Amazon (****) B. Marold (Bethlehem, PA United States)

“In Rosemary and Bitter Oranges (Scribner), Patrizia Chen’s grandfather banned onions and garlic for their rusticity; years later, Chen served him a dish laced with the forbidden seasonings. He praised her culinary genius. “But Nonno never found out about my Machiavellian deviousness,” she writes. “I loved him too much to show him, at the end of his life, how his inflexibility had deprived him of one of life’s great pleasures.”

- Andrea Thompson (Matters of Taste) Issue of 2003-07-14 and 21 – Posted 2003-07-07

Patrizia Chen is so passionate about cooking she frequently bubbles over like a pot of pasta in conversation. “Am I talking too much?” she asks, during a recent interview, quickly veering into another topic.
Chen, originally from Tuscany, will speak about her new memoir, Rosemary and Bitter Oranges (Scribner, $24) at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach at 3 p.m. Monday.
Though her book is peppered with food references, she said, “I’m not going to talk just about the book, but about the childhood and my memories. I’m not going to talk about food as something apart. It’s been woven inside mylife forever.”
Chen, who married a Chinese man and now lives in New York, decided to write the book at the urging of her Palm Beach friend, Lydia Forbes. “I was telling her in an e-mail about why I love cooking,” Chen said. “It was a 12-page e-mail. When she read it, she said, ‘It’s a book!’ That started me writing, and it just came from there.”
For Chen, cooking represents both excitement and relaxation. “You’re very much inside yourself. You’re concentrating on that thing you really love to do. And you’re never lonely when you’re cooking. There must be some part of me that is very much for performing, because you have an audience when you cook.”
She learned to cook from her grandparents’ cook and housekeeper, Emilia.
“She was a saint,” Chen said. “She was cross-eyed and looked like a sergeant — she had a terrible look. But she was so good, so patient.”
Her grandparents ate what Chen called “white food.” It was bland, usually colorless and boring to the young girl.
“One day, I went into the kitchen, and Emilia was hunched over a plate. It was very colorful – with green and red, peppers, tomatoes, all colors and black dots I can see today — that must have been black pepper. It was so different than what we ate.
“She gave me a little bit, and it was like nothing I had ever tasted. This must have shown in my face. She said, ‘You like that?’ I told her yes, and she said she could teach me to cook it and so, she did.”
From that day on, Chen was hooked. From scaling fish to cleaning vegetables, baking cakes and handling after-dinner parties for her parents, she did the kitchen work alongside Emilia.
But the food, as Chen says, was interwoven into her everyday life. From a happy childhood in Tuscany, to schooling at the convent and the leaner years of World War II, Chen writes about the life around here, referenced by all things edible. She talks of rationing, and the thrill of meat on the table after a long absence, then learning it was her grandmother’s horse that had been sacrificed.
Chen learned about American food after the war, during a time when “it was cool” to act like an American. She learned the finer points of hen-keeping with a gift of prize hens from an aunt. This led to an experiment in getting the fowl drunk with leftover wine.
On and on, the stories tumble from Chen as she recounts her childhood with an affectionate ramble.
Finally, she talks about the dinner parties she’s noted for today. While some are spontaneous, she says the best ones are planned and much of the cooking done before guests arrive.
“I love to look rested at the dinner parties. Thank God for organization and computers. I plan my menus well ahead of the party, and then do the shopping a few days in advance, then cook a day or two before. I often do tiramisu for dessert — it can be made two days before and it’s even better.
“I set my table and prepare most of the main meal the day before; that way, I have only to wash my hair, arrange the flowers and do the salad on the day of the party.
“The one thing I’m good at,” she said, “is making everything appear at the right moment at the right temperature. With that, though, you need experience.”
She tells wary cooks not to be afraid of experimenting. “There is nothing wrong with one salad, one main dish and a simple dessert. At least you are cooking — and for your friends.”
Chen has a huge respect for professional chefs and insists she’s nowhere near that category. But, she says, anyone can benefit by learning to cook, and it will give pleasure several ways.
“I learned so much from it and it’s something anyone can learn to do. I was 7 years old when I learned the simple tomato sauce, so anyone at any age can do it.
“Plus,” she said, “Cooking is something that you carry with you wherever> you go. You can make people happy by doing it.”
The lecture at the Society of Four Arts is free, but reservations are required.

Jan Norris (Passion is main ingredient in ‘Rosemary’ memoir) Palm Beach Post Food Writer – Thursday, March 6, 2003

bottom of page