In 1982, North Carolina native Susan Gravely took a trip to Italy with her mother and sister that would change the course of her life. It was on that trip that the idea for an Italy-based ceramics company, VIETRI, was born. Now, Susan has released her first book, Italy on a Plate, to commemorate the relationships and memories made in the 40-year history of the company. Part memoir, part travelogue, and part cookbook, Italy on a Plate takes readers on a tour through the towns and tastes of the country that has grown to feel like Susan’s second home.
On September 30, Susan visits Little Rock as a presenter during the Central Arkansas Library System’s annual Six Bridges Book Festival. Susan will host a cooking workshop (sponsored by At Home in Arkansas) at Eggshells Kitchen Co. at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $15 and available here. At 4 p.m., join Susan along with fellow cookbook authors Stacey Mei Yan Fong (50 Pies, 50 States: An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the United States through Pie) and Sandra A. Gutierrez (Latinisimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America) for a panel discussion at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (free).
Ahead of Susan’s Little Rock appearance, we asked her a few questions about Italy on a Plate, her travels, and her experiences as the founder of a beloved tabletop brand. Read on for more.
While Italy on a Plate is part memoir and part travelogue, it’s also part cookbook, with all the recipes coming from friends made while abroad. What does it mean to get to share these meaningful people and their dishes with readers all over the world?
It means everything to me. I wrote about some of the most important people in my life, people I have cried with and laughed with and eaten with many times. As a matter of fact, the first chapter is about Tita Bosio. Last month, the top apartment of her palazzo burned. She got out but lost everything. Yesterday, I gave her a book we did for her with all the pictures of her beautiful home. She cried, and I did as well.
What are a few of your favorite memories that come to mind when you think of that first trip with your mother and sister took to Italy when VIETRI was born?
When Momma’s pocketbook was taken, the thought of us at the police station for hours and them flirting with us is priceless—though very frustrating then!
Having a driver take us to our first factory, Ceramica Solimene, in Vietri sul Mare, and discussing prices to bring in product was amazing. I have a picture of the original contract that Don Vincenzo said was not valid when we returned!
I also have a beautiful picture of my mother and sister that I took in the swing that was on our terrace at Il San Pietro in Positano. It truly says it all.
Casetta, the Tuscan farmhouse belonging to Xenia Lemos, one of Susans’ many friends and connections made through VEITRI. Xenia’s recipes, such as the pasta with rosemary and pancetta sauce pictured below, are shared in Chapter 5. Photos by Infraordinario Studio (above) and Food Seen (below)
What most excites me is the young people who work at VIETRI. Ninety percent of our staff are women—and all of the men are Renaissance men. Natalie, who is head of product design, is so bright and current and brings magic to everything we create with our vendors. We always focus on the stories behind the designs and their functionality and beauty. It cannot get any better!
Do you have any advice for someone about to visit Italy for the first time?
Do everything you want to do. Explore. Make sure you have plenty of free time to just be in Italy!
For the full Six Bridges Book Festival schedule, visit cals.org/six-bridges-book-festival.