Financial Whizz to Italian American Food Influencer. Meet Michele Di Pietro!

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Interview by Mary Kovach, Ph.D.


Michele Di Pietro amplified her solid academic footprint into a promising career in the financial industry; she was on track to break barriers and become a future partner at one of the Big 6 accounting firms. However, her Italian upbringing and beautiful familial influence caused Michele’s career to take a detour into a passionate, culinary bliss! Since changing career paths, she’s become a social media influencer with her own cookbook that inspires a twist on traditional Italian dishes.

Growing up with the heavy female influence of her mother, aunts and grandmother, she cherished sharing pasta on Sundays. Michele remembers the eggplant parmesan as well as the chicken cutlet and broccoli rabe sandwiches that her mother packed her for school lunches. Now, Michele inspiringly shares how her love for her Italian heritage changed her life and transformed her career.

You don’t have a conventional path that started your professional career. When did you realize that food had such an impact on your life and why did you make it the forefront of your career?

I was raised in an Italian-American family in southern New Jersey, and my culinary education began with a collection of relatives as teachers in a household where food and cooking were central, daily household activities. I fell in love with the act of giving of yourself through preparing food for others at a young age. On Sunday mornings, I was in the kitchen cooking eggs with my mom as young as 5 years old, and many afternoons were spent with my grandmother making traditional Italian comfort foods, including fresh pasta, gnocchi, and homemade “gravy.” I always loved to cook, but I also was always into academics, striving for the best grades and was super-ambitious in the classroom. However, I never considered a career in the food industry…until I was in a career that I was just not passionate about.

I graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University with a degree in accounting and job offers from all Big 6 accounting firms. I was even the president of Georgetown’s co-ed business fraternity my senior year, and super “into” the whole thing - moving to New York City for the big job after graduation, wearing a suit to work, working ‘round the clock, etc. I don’t think anyone ever expected me to be anything other than a future partner at Ernst & Young. It didn’t take me long as a CPA and financial auditor, though, to realize that my heart wasn’t at all into what I had trained and accumulated student loans for. But, you don’t change a “big” career after less than two years, so I kept working. After 3 years, I applied for and was accepted into my firm’s international exchange program—I packed my bags and headed to Geneva, Switzerland for two years! It was during this adventure and international experience that I found my true calling and the courage to make a career change. From the outdoor markets in Madrid, to cooking courses in Tuscany, to Russia and back down to the Mediterranean, I tasted and explored for two years (and worked a little, too!). Upon return to the United States, I quit my job, moved back in with my parents, and enrolled in culinary school in Philadelphia.

Once I left the financial world for the professional kitchen and was fully immersed in the food industry, I quickly discovered that my knowledge of numbers and CPA skills came in handy for recipe development and culinary project management. I eventually grew into my dream job overseeing all things culinary at the world’s largest natural foods retailer, where I became an award-winning, seasoned food professional…until I decided to strike out on my own. In 2015, I founded It’s All About The Food LLC, where you can find me consulting on culinary strategy, menu development, product commercialization, and more for an eclectic lineup of food businesses.

From where in Italy did your family originate and have you visited? Are there signature dishes in that region that you regularly make as part of your meals?

All four of my grandparents were immigrants from Italy to the United States (separately) during the first wave in the early 1900s. Three came over as teenagers and one as a baby. My father’s parents both came from the province of Teramo in the region of (then) Abruzzi, and my mother’s parents both came from small hill towns in the province of Palermo in Sicily.

When I was only 11, I went to Abruzzo for the first time with my dad and grandmother, and still have some very vivid memories of the foods that I ate there (of course…). To this day, I can still say that the best chocolate ice cream that I ever had was a homemade version by one of the cousins back then. I did return to Abruzzo for just a few days in 2015 as an add-on to a trip to Rome but didn’t make it to Teramo. It was so lovely, though! I felt a real connection to the people, land, and foods, and I can’t tell you how many times the locals touched my face and said that I “must be Abruzzese”!

As for Sicily, although I have yet to make it to the tiny hill town from where my grandparents hailed, I have been to Sicily a few times-it is like a dream there!

My cooking is absolutely inspired by my Sicilian and Abruzzese roots. Sometimes, I make traditional dishes, like Sicilian pasta alla norma and caponata, or Abruzzese scrippelle ‘mbusse, but more frequently you can find me tinkering about in the kitchen and creating something new and unique that is inspired by the ingredients, flavors and techniques from these two, and other, regions of Italy, as well as my Italian-American background.

You have a very large following on social media as “Mangia with Michele!” How did you get started and why do you think it is so successful?

Throughout my busy professional culinary life, I remained an avid home cook with strong ties to my Italian roots. I’m definitely happiest and most satisfied when cooking for, and breaking bread with, family and friends. It is these ties and sentiments, along with my passion for sharing both food and travel experiences with others, that led me to create Mangia with Michele. It started out on Instagram about three years ago as a side passion project to celebrate and highlight my obsession with and passion for all things Italian and Italian American food-related. After just a short time of posting, the account took on a life of its own, and I began connecting with so many new people through Mangia with Michele! I met lots of other bloggers and chefs and made great new contacts in the Italian-American community. But, the most meaningful connections came from people that were making my recipes at home. It was such a thrill! Although I have been in the food industry and creating menus and recipes for a couple of decades on the foodservice side, the connection with people ultimately eating the food that I developed was not really there. Through social media, it became so significant and touched me at my core. People loved my recipes and also my stories, and I often received messages from folks saying that I invoked a sense of nostalgia in them through something I wrote or cooked.

Congratulations, you recently wrote a cookbook! That’s a significant undertaking. What motivated you to begin the process and what was your favorite part throughout the cookbook process?

Thank you! I wanted to write a cookbook since I went to cooking school over 20 years ago, but I always let work and life get in the way. With the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent countless days cooped in a one-bedroom, New York City apartment with no outdoor space and a lot of extra time on my hands, and I needed to focus on something positive, challenging, and delicious. I began by transforming a handful of favorite dishes into soup versions, or, in my parlance, I SOUPified them. My desire soon grew into a full, self-published print cookbook of SOUPified recipes, even though the project started off with a small goal of creating a collection of recipes and assembling it into a PDF.

My favorite part is always all about the food! The ideation and brainstorming was lots of fun—letting my imagination run free with the possibilities of new recipes. And, the actual recipe development and cooking itself, of course. I could do both of those things all day, every day. I can’t say the same about the editing and project management process of publishing the book…

There’s something very unique about your cookbook – it’s SOUPified! How did you come up with the title and what was your inspiration to make a cookbook of soups?

I always have so many ideas for new recipes bouncing around in my head, and I made a few SOUPified soups over the years (but wasn’t calling it that). The overall spirit and brand of Mangia with Michele is very much about innovation and inspiration in my Italian American kitchen, and I am frequently putting unique spins, twists and turns on traditional dishes or presenting them in a unique way. SOUPified is just an extension of that concept in a very specific niche of soup recipes. It is definitely a cookbook that is full of comfort food recipes, and I do think that the heartiness of the dishes that I created is reflective of the challenging time in which it was written. And, the whole concept of the book is very fun and whimsical—soup versions of favorite dishes like Eggplant Parmesan, Chicken Marsala, Shrimp Scampi and even Chinese Egg Rolls and Reuben sandwiches! They are classic dishes that have been transformed into spoonable, bowl form, while still holding true to their core soul and spirit. I wanted to put something fun and unique out there in the world.

I struggled when trying to come up with a catchy title for the book and was toying around with “Unlikely Soups”. But, it was my sister that actually came up with the term “SOUPified”. I give her full credit for that!

You have an amazing career trajectory – from where you started to where you are today. What are one or two things that you’d like to share that we don’t know about you?

Years ago, when I was working at Whole Foods Market, I was selected to represent the company and participate in the Iceland Food & Fun Festival’s International Food Event. There was a cooking competition as part of the event in which I competed against 11 other very accomplished international restaurant chefs, many of them Michelin-starred in Europe. I was completely intimidated and out of my league and was just thrilled to finish! Needless to say, I did not place as a winner. And, I’m currently working on the concept for my next cookbook...stay tuned!

If people want to learn more about you and where to purchase SOUPified, where can they look?

SOUPified: Soups Inspired by Your Favorite Dishes is available in paperback and ebook form on Amazon and in hardcover at many online retailers. I post regularly on social media on both Instagram and Facebook under the name “Mangia with Michele,” and I am currently working on my website/food blog at www.MangiaWithMichele.com. As I put the finishing touches on my website, you can sign up for my Mailing List at the link below and receive access to three additional SOUPified recipes that do not appear in the book or anywhere else!

You can also learn more about her professional foodservice culinary consulting practice at www.ItsAllAboutTheFood.com.

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