Food, Books, and Andrew Cotto

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The name Cotto in Italian translates in English to ‘cooked.’ So it only makes sense for author Andrew Cotto to write about food, specifically Italian. Cotto’s third novel, Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure, was published in October of 2018, and he has been on a mini-promotion tour ever since. The next stop is the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday (10/22).

I attended a previous event in June at the iconic 92nd Street Y on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where Cotto sat down with food historian Francine Segan to talk all things books, Italy, and food. After the introduction, which was a debate on how to correctly pronounce Cotto (it’s “Coh-toe” for the non-Italian readers), they jumped right into not just his love for food but how it informs his work as well.

Food is a popular theme in Cotto’s prose because when it comes to writing, fiction or not, Cotto believes that “you can’t write what you don’t know, and one of the things that I know is food.” And how else does an Italian boy learn about food? From his mother.

Cotto’s grandmother was born in Sicily and she brought her cooking talents to America to feed her children and grandchildren. The traditional Italian Sunday family dinner was where his love for food started, but growing up in an environment where his dynamic mother was the host, the chef and the life of the party, he desired to do the same, to use food as a connection to people.

This knowledge of food Cotto has - specifically the smell, taste, appearance, sound, and feel - is an important tool in his writing. Food is an easy and universal subject that brings “sensory pleasure to readers,” Cotto pointed out. It is also a strong narrative device, he tells the 92Y audience, “things happen around a table, and things have to happen, or it’s not a story. I like using the [dinner] table.” Cotto also states the idea that food “conjures memories,” which is also a strong writing device he utilizes in his latest book, Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure. It was “food and wine” that helped connect the main character to his past and bring meaning to his life.

The setting of Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure was inspired by Cotto’s one year of living in Italy. After Cotto found that a short vacation in Italy wasn’t enough, he and his wife decided to move to the hills south of Florence where Cotto wrote his first novel, The Domino Effect. What they ate, where they lived, and the people they met while living in Italy are all brought to life in his third novel.

Cotto’s latest book touches on more than just cuisine. It’s about place and the importance of environment. To learn more, head over to the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday (3:00, North Stage of Cadman Plaza East) to hear the author himself talk about his characters and how a holiday in Italy can turn into self-reflection, new perspectives, and a new home. And a lot of good meals

Andrew Cotto will be a part of the “Lost and Found: Writing Through Social Burnout” Panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival North Stage, Cadman Plaza East on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 3:00 pm. The panel “explores the social pressures that are put on modern citizens and the way they seek to cope, or escape, those pressures.”

In addition to writing, Andrew Cotto teaches English and Journalism courses at LIM College in Manhattan, New York.