Close Connections: Lisa Hanley & Alessandro Pilla – food is our love language
Sharing nostalgic recipes sparked a lasting romance for Lisa Hanley and Alessandro Pilla.
In November 2017, strangers Lisa and Alessandro both swiped right on a dating app, and quickly a mutual love of food surfaced. Lisa shared her grandmother’s Caribbean recipes and Alessandro recounted years spent cooking by his grandmother’s side in Campania, Italy.
Lisa, 29, says, “My Nanna Helen held the family together, and every Sunday we’d go to hers for Sunday lunch. It was sweet to learn Alessandro’s grandma Raffaella was the same. Cooking had brought our families together, and now it was doing the same for us.
“I grew up in Manchester and Nanna lived nearby, and after school, I’d go there and stand in the kitchen on a stool and help her mix things as she cooked. She played a big role in my upbringing, and was always trying to bring people together with food or good conversation. She was a perfectionist and very expressive in the kitchen.”
Helen was from Nevis, a small volcanic island in the Caribbean, and cooked traditional Nevisian food. Meanwhile, Alessandro, now 36, grew up in southern Italy with a big family, like Lisa. He watched his grandma cook and grandpa tend to fruits, vegetables and chickens in the garden, and picked up their skills almost by osmosis.
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After meeting, Lisa and Ale spent weeks learning about each other’s families and childhoods, swapping recipes that plunged them into nostalgia and storytelling. Lisa was surprised to see the crossovers between their family cuisines and eating cultures.
“Just like my family, Ale’s cooked and ate so much food whenever they were together. When he sent me photos of the rounds of food – the primo piatto, secondo piatto, salad, then dessert – it was absolutely fascinating to me. Coming from a Caribbean family, we ate all the same kinds of meat, but had all of our food piled on one plate and in different compositions.”
Food was the foundation on which the pair built their deep connection. “Ale made me an apple cake on Valentine’s Day, and set up a restaurant at home with a menu, starters, mains and dessert. He even picked an outfit for me. It was very romantic.”
When the pair moved in together in London, they shared the cooking. Lisa says, “Ale cooks the appetisers, pastas, sauces, and is really good at desserts. I am very much into making the meat dishes. I know a lot of couples can clash in the kitchen, but we are good together – we know our strengths and enjoy cooking, which makes it fun to do together.
“We learned a lot about each other’s families and cultures through dining, cooking, trying new foods and finding similarities in the foods we eat. Nevisian dishes such as oxtail, goat water and dumplings were regulars for me growing up, and I was surprised to learn of Ale’s family making dishes with the same ingredients, just cooked differently. When we moved in together, we made dishes from our childhood for each other.”
The power of cooking helped smooth things over, too. “When we had an argument, Ale would cook a dish that soon got me out of my funk, and I came to realise food was our love language. When we moved somewhere with a garden, Ale began growing blackberries, mint and parsley, which we would use in our dishes, just like his grandparents had.”
Now, Ale will spend hours perfecting one of his grandma’s recipes. “Sometimes he’ll make a tiramisu, but if the cream isn’t right, he’ll get upset, just like my Nanna used to in the kitchen.”
“Most of the major events in our love story, such as meeting the parents, our parents meeting each other, and my first time visiting Italy, have consisted of a large dinner table with mountains of food.
“Us finding this deep connection feels fated. There are so many parallels that I wouldn’t have expected from two people with such different backgrounds, but it goes to show, food really can bring people together like nothing else.”
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