“It’s much easier to get people to come over if you make food.”
Houston born and New Orleans bred Chef Mia Calamia discovered quickly that her yen for cooking was driven by the desire to entertain. Although she spends her days busily preparing delectable gelato, brilliant panini and soul-warming soups at La Divina Gelateria, Calamia admitted to spending most of her time off cooking for family and friends.
“This is the best story.” she smiled. Apparently, one morning she woke and decided to make a big brunch. Although she contacted only a few friends, Chef Calamia was pleasantly surprised when more than thirty guests showed up at her house. “All of a sudden, I turn around and two guys are playing bluegrass on my front porch and I’m thinking to myself…this is the greatest brunch ever!”
In her drive to enliven others with her contagious charisma and tables laden with good food, Calamia realized she had a bit more learning to do. “I started cooking and figured out the more I cooked, the less I knew.” With determination and luck, she landed an incredible gig at the award-winning restaurant Herbsaint right after the levee failures in 2005, and this was only the beginning. Calamia worked as a baking assistant at Susan Spicer’s flagship restaurant Bayona, learned how to break down a whole pig in under 30 minutes from Stephen Stryjewski at Cochon, grasped the importance of consistency under the husband and wife team Allison and Slade Rushing at MiLa and came in on the ground floor to help Aaron Burgau launch the neighborhood gem Patois.
Through a myriad of experiences and kitchens, Calamia acknowledged that it was sometimes tough to be the only woman on the line, but admits that most conflicts occurred with other women. “I think the hardest people to work with as a woman in the kitchen are other women in the kitchen. Not chefs, but co-workers. It’s a man’s world and you’re used to being the only one. There’s kind of this like ‘Alpha Female’ thing, a dance for dominance.”
Since she now steers the helm at La Divina Gelateria, Chef Calamia has no concerns about butting heads with other female chefs. She claims one of the best parts about heading her own kitchen is telling people what to do and seeing them do it, with alacrity. “I’m a control freak, as any good chef should be, I think.”
If you’ve ever tasted the incredible ice creams and sorbets Calamia prepared while working at Herbsaint or Patois, you’ll know she already has an undeniable knack for creating these sweet, frozen treats. It seemed a natural fit for her to join La Divina Gelateria and Calamia still enjoys learning the art of gelato from owner Carmelo Turillo who was taught the craft in Italy.
Using only fresh ingredients from local sources, no powders or bases, Chef Calamia experiments with intriguing (and popular) flavors like Sweet Corn, Beet & Lime and Goat Cheese. She is especially proud of her labor-intensive, holiday favorite Chestnut gelato which Calamia says “tastes like Bing Crosby.” Adding more to the savory side of the menu, Calamia loves to feature creative salads like a Bresola Salad with peppery arugula, fresh fennel, crisp apples, Gorgonzola cheese and hazelnut dressing. La Divina Gelateria and Chef Calamia are also offering a happy hour,“small-plates” menu every Friday this month offering tidbits like Caprese “Sliders” on toasted brioche, Frutti di Mare and gnocchi with brown butter, winter squash and sage.
*Article originally published in January 2013 at NolaWoman.com
**La Divina Gelateria is now located in Baton Rouge at 3535 Perkins Rd. Chef Mia Calamia has shifted her career to pursue other interests.