Photo by Melinda Gallo
June Bellamy was born in Burma to a Burmese princess and an Australian pioneer. Burma (now known as Myanmar) was occupied by the Japanese during the war, and June, then age nine, and her family emigrated to India, where she discovered a new world filled with unique sights, smells, tastes and sounds. Five years later, at the end of the war, her family returned to Burma. Although she thought that she would never abandon her country again, June left Burma after she married an Italian doctor from Naples who was working for the World Health Organization there.
She and her husband lived in many different countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, always for a few years at a time. During these extended stays, June's favorite pastime was milling around markets, tasting the local cuisine and learning how to cook its delicacies. Even with two boys in tow, June continued to develop her passion for cooking in each country. On visits to her husband's family in Naples, June learned about Neapolitan cooking from them.
While June, by now fluent in Italian, was living in the Philippines, she was asked by a local news channel to interview a few of the Italians attending an Italian Film Festival in Manila. On the success of that spot, she was hired as one of the news program's interviewers. While working for the television station, June proposed a special TV program for women. The idea was approved, and June began writing and presenting the live one-hour weekly television show. Each week, she invited people to discuss different subjects, including sewing, childcare and flower arranging while she had her own segment on Italian cooking. Although the show was a success, her stint ended a year later when her husband was posted to another country.
Because the two boys had no language or homeland of their own, June and her husband decided to send them to a well-known all-boys boarding school in Florence. When, a few years later, she and her husband divorced, June decided to move to the countryside outside Florence to live closer to her two sons.
June's passion for cooking became a profession while she was in Florence: a friend suggested that she teach cooking classes since she loved food so much and was such a wonderful cook. June decided to try it out by teaching 10 courses to a group of friends, and discovered that she enjoyed it.
Before opening up her own cooking school, she traveled to London to speak with Kenneth Lo, the ‘king of Chinese cooking' in England, owner of a popular Chinese restaurant and founder of a Chinese cooking school. She stayed in London for two months while Mr. Lo taught her how to write recipes and teach cooking. However, June decided that for her courses in Florence, she would write her own recipes and have participants follow along with her during the course, instead of the traditional way she learned from Mr. Lo.
Upon her return from London, June founded the Associazione Culturale Arte e Gastronomia (www.studiojunebellamy.it), a cooking school offering a variety of cooking classes, specializing in Italian, Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisines. In 1979, June's was the first school in Florence to teach Asian cooking. Since then, she has added themed courses on a variety of culinary subjects, such as salt, curry, rice and soups. In her classes, students learn about not only another country's cuisine, but also its culture. They discover its tastes and smells, which are vivid reminders of June's own history in each country.
When June moved into the city, she chose San Frediano, the heart of Florence, as her home. ‘I couldn't live anywhere else in Florence as happily,' she said. Not only does she enjoy the area, but she has also become attached to the locals, whom she describes as ‘the salt of the Earth.' If she couldn't live in San Frediano, she'd rather live outside the city-no other part of Florence could make her as happy.