The Mystery and Magic of Puglia

July 10, 2024

It was October and the weather was amazing; perfect autumn, cool at night and warm during the day. We were in Puglia filming my TV series in various locations.

I was anxious as I always am when filming. I have come to realize that my nerves are just part of the job for me. I have learned to channel them into the energy I need to do my thing on air, but it’s never a relaxed process for me. I am always bordering on terrified before we begin.

But the story I am about to tell you is true. Filming in Puglia, a region shrouded in a bit of mystery was pure magic, from start to finish. I enjoyed…no savored, every moment of every day.

My crew arrived at the villa we were to use for filming the day before I did, thanks to a flight snafu on my part, so I arrived a nervous wreck as I had made people wait for me for an entire day. Can you spell over-budget before even beginning? Ugh.

Robert and I walked in late at night to find my brilliant Director of Photography, Filippo Chiesa playing with cameras and equipment. After warm hello’s (as we have worked together before and I consider him a friend) and an exuberant hug from my make-up artist/gal pal, Rita Galeota, I noticed Filippo was a bit on edge.

“Would you like to see the kitchen?” he asked. I knew there was a problem from his tone.

On the website, the kitchen looked spacious and gorgeous. In reality, it was small and dark. Still pretty, but absolutely too small to have a crew of 3-4 people and me in it working comfortably. I thought to myself…can you spell screwed? All of our cooking segments were to be filmed here, in this space, supposed to be a gorgeous Italian kitchen; instead in a kitchen that could be anywhere…even in New Jersey! Not that there’s anything wrong with that, being from the garden state myself.

It was not what I was going for here.

I could tell from the gleam in Filippo’s eye that all was not lost. Taking my hand, he walked up to a stunning terrace on the second level of the house. It was the perfect location to film, on a table, with an expansive sea view at my back. Problem solved. I fell in love with my crew yet again.

We filmed on that terrace in the sun, cloudy weather and on one of the windiest days I have ever experienced. It was wild, natural, unpredictable and incredible.

Our Italian production company, Fixer, had scouted and found all of the locations where we would film, as I didn’t have many connections in Puglia, so I was excited and nervous for a totally new experience in filming.

From the streets of Bari, where I discovered the art of making orecchiette with Anna (who was loads quicker than I at the task) to the art of making taralli all by hand; to singing’ Volare’ with about one hundred Italians in the main square of Polignano a Mare, Puglia amazed and enchanted me. I learned about monastic cave dwellers and ancient bean varieties from Slow Food in the mystical cave city of Matera; baked bread in Altamura, but not just any bread…Altamura bread made from a 90-year-old sourdough starter; I learned about the impact of the mineral rich sea air on the growing of carrots, yes, carrots. I cooked with a chef in a masseria restored entirely of reclaimed wood, stone, doors, windows, floors from the ruins it had become to emerge as a wellness spa, restaurant and hotel that is zero waste.

You will see all of my magic and not so magic moments in this season of Christina Cooks that begins airing across the country in September. I can’t wait for you to experience what I did, even vicariously.

I fell so in love with Puglia, so in love. I can’t wait for you to feel the magic of this region. It reaches into your heart and takes up residence. From the food to the sun-bleached cities, Puglia is the lead actor in a sweeping romantic epic.