Florence, a city known for its deep culinary heritage, is regularly welcoming new restaurants. Mama Eat, having just opened their doors in June, has already captured the hearts of locals and tourists with their vision of catering to both celiacs and gluten eaters. In the driver’s seat of this gastronomic mission is Chef Mamma Marcella who, as a celiac, is passionately leading the way towards a more inclusive future for Italian cuisine.
In an exclusive interview with Mamma Marcella, she walked me through her journey to becoming a chef who now operates a successful restaurant conglomerate with locations around Italy. She reminisced about the origins of her passion for food, describing the flour-covered kitchen as her mom made pizza in their Naples home and encouraged her to get her hands messy, too! Her favorite toy as a little girl? The play kitchen. Needless to say, Mamma Marcella’s fascination with food had been ingrained since childhood, but she had never pursued it professionally, that is, until she was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000. Though one might think this would bring any hope of being a chef to a screeching halt, it was the catalyst she needed to take her passion for food to the next level. She dove in headfirst, learning how to adapt the traditional Neapolitan recipes she grew up with to accommodate her now gluten-free diet without compromising on flavor or quality. She opened her first location in Naples in 2006 (initially called “Big Mama”, which was quickly swapped for “Mama Eat”) and has since expanded to Rome, Milan and now Florence in via dell’Acqua.
Ultimately, her goal is to serve delicious, authentic Neapolitan/Roman classics that also happen to be celiac-safe in a haven where everyone is welcome to pull up a seat at the dinner table, if you will. The team has even gone as far as investing in an entirely separate kitchen and staff who solely manage the gluten-free side of their operation to ensure there is no risk of cross-contact. That means hiring and training not one, but two pizzaioli. It’s this attention to detail that creates an added layer of safety for diners with dietary restrictions and makes Mama Eat stand out from the crowd.
Mamma Marcella lights up when speaking about her involvement in every aspect of the restaurant. We often think of chefs as being solely concerned with the food, but her creativity is expressed beyond the menu. She has invested just as much energy into the details of the dining experience, like the interior design of each restaurant, and her motherly touch is evident. Dining at Mama Eat feels like an elevated version of going to mom’s house for a home-cooked meal on a Sunday: comfortable, homey, delicious. It’s a sentiment that I’m sure her 20-something daughter, who has also been diagnosed with celiac disease, appreciates.
When asked about her initial impressions of the food scene in Florence, Mamma Marcella says she loves how the international community of the city is represented in the culinary offerings. She feels inspired by Florence, always crossing paths with so many different people from different walks of life, all carrying with them a unique set of culinary traditions. Her fresh perspective on the future of Italian cuisine is exactly the balance the city needs to honor long-standing traditions, while remaining open to evolution and prioritizing inclusion. Looking ahead, Mamma Marcella has set her sights on opening locations abroad, with a particular focus on England and the United States. Mama Eat is a wonderful addition to the culinary scene of the city and is well worth a visit for anyone in Florence, residents and visitors alike.