Florence is home to many expats: those who have longed to live here, those who have found love and moved here, and those who have come to Florence and felt immediately at home here. Many people arrive here at a point in their lives when they seek to redefine themselves: whether they were not completely happy, were searching for something new, or were looking for love, it seems that those who come to Florence are reborn. Florence will always be the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ for the art world, but it also welcomes people of all walks of life who are seeking to follow their hearts.
Toronto-born Melanie Secciani never imagined that one day she would be sharing her passion for Thai and Indian cooking in Florence. While studying creative writing and literature at the University of Michigan, she lingered the halls of her university campus during spring break, looking to see who was around. When she opened the door to the foreign study office, she found that people were working. Intrigued by the idea of studying abroad, she enquired about a place to study during her junior year. She applied to a course of study in Thailand that was beginning in June. Once accepted, she left for Bangkok only a few months later to begin her year abroad.
When Melanie arrived in Thailand, she found that her classes weren’t challenging enough for her and searched for something else to do. She signed up for a Thai cooking class and shortly found herself enthralled by it. She had never cooked before and what she learned in her classes weren’t recipes, but rather how to cook by balancing flavors (sweet, salty, sour, and bitter). She enjoyed her cooking classes so much that she stayed an extra year in Bangkok to study Indian cuisine with the same chef.
After returning to the United States and graduating from college, she attended the University of Arizona to get an MFA in creative writing and poetry. She continued to cook for her friends, but focused more on studying. Even after graduating and moving to New York to work as an events director for the American Heart Society, cooking was still only a hobby.
In 2001, while on a writing retreat to Spoleto, Italy for two weeks, Melanie visited Florence, Rome and Venice before returning to the States. On the day she was in Florence, she met a man with whom she fell in love, and a year later they were married. During her first years in Florence, Melanie was busy raising her three children. Now that her youngest is two, she has more time to dedicate to sharing her passion for cooking.
Last spring, Melanie created The Spice Lab www.thespicelab.eu to teach authentic Thai and Indian cooking. Locals, expats and tourists can sign up for a class by selecting a menu and a meal, either lunch or dinner. With Melanie’s recipes in hand, the students make the meal together with her. Her focus is teaching people how to cook these Asian dishes by ‘creating a whole flavor in the palate’ instead of just following a recipe; the same way that she learned how to cook. At the end of the class, everyone sits down to enjoy the meal together.
In Thailand, Melanie explains, people cook according to what the body craves, and in Italy they cook according to the seasons and eat produce when it’s at its best. The two practices are, in essence, the same. Both allow the body to follow its own rhythms and get the most out of nature. Melanie creates a unique and seasonal menu for each of her cooking classes to honor both traditions.
Besides using her creativity to invent new ways to cook traditional dishes, Melanie has recently developed two new cooking classes: ‘Cooking for Kids’ and ‘Eat Yourself Skinny.’ In the former, she introduces children to cooking. In the latter, with the collaboration of a dietician, she shows people how to incorporate healthy recipes into their lives without being on a diet.
Through Melanie’s passion for cooking, she inspires people to enjoy food and to take the world into their bodies through cooking and eating.