August 14, 2012
A tough start and an extraordinary palate have led this passionate foodie on an admirable journey.
You know the phrase, you wait for ages for a bus to come along and then two arrive at once. If I had been in want of an inspiring woman, looking for a heroine, someone to show me just how it should be done, then my stint as a judge at The International Chocolate Awards 2012 provided not one, but two shining examples.
The double act of Maricel Presilla and Monica Meschini that I was privileged to join for the duration, was quite some powerhouse of knowledge, energy, perception and charm.
In a small group at the pre-selection rounds, when we were able to talk and express ourselves with relative freedom, I was able to witness Monica’s extraordinarily sharp analysis and assessment of taste. Backed up by decades of experience this becomes a formidable tool.
In the main judging, where the gamut of invited experts were divided onto tables each presided over by a Grand Jury member, Monica ruled her group with a gentle calm that belied her absolute ability to divine the palate, experience and need for guidance of each fellow judge.
She was mother to us all, and yet that makes her sound mumsy, which she is not. No one as vital, with porcelain skin and ice-blue eyes, a sheet of shiny dark hair and rocking the highest, most drool-worthy suede heels from her native Florence, could ever been seen as mumsy. Monica even less so, because her past, present, and plans for the future, clearly make her very much her own woman.
When the time came for me to spend some time alone with Monica for my interview I was truly excited. I wanted to know more about this passionate and brilliant woman. What I knew was that she was an Italian chocolate and tea expert, and that she had been more than instrumental in the success of the first rounds of the International Chocolate Awards that had been held in Italy in April. What I wanted to know was how she had got to where she was, what her plans were for the future and could I please be a part of it!
We found a place to chat in the bar of The Marriot, County Hall. The European semi-finals took place in the fifth floor Presidential suite, which has a spectacular view of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Monica’s delight at this view did not dim through the three days of the main judging sessions. She expressed a childlike joy and directness that I feel is characteristic of her and which she has managed to maintain, despite a life full of uncommon challenges and triumph against adversity.
With that same guilelessness, she launched into her answer to my enquiry about the start of her professional life, with a frank announcement. Delivered without a trace of self-pity, she told me that she had been born in Rome, but adopted at three days old into a family without wealth but full of love. She attributes her discovery of her extraordinary palate to her adopted grandmother, her ‘Nanny”, who was not only an exceptional cook, but also nurtured her sense of taste and smell from the outset. She devised games to excite and test her, even blindfolding the four year old Monica to challenge her ability to pick out ingredients with her just her sense of smell.
The woman Monica has become, and the journey she has taken following her nose and her palate, is quite some tale of achievement after an unfortunate start. I was choked and full of admiration listening to her story; of her subsequent travels to London to train herself as a cook and investigator of tastes and ingredients. She developed a determination for excellence, and has repeatedly rolled up her sleeves and done things herself if they were not being done already, or not well enough in her view. Monica founded, and for many years ran, the first Italian Chocolate Festival. She opened and cooked for the chocolate haven, Hemingway Café in Florence, and The Italian Tea Club is also her baby. Her desire to share her knowledge sees her teaching internationally about taste and she has a particular passion for awakening children to its possibilities. There is not the smallest sign of complacence, nor any chance of her resting on her laurels.
For myself I feel it a true badge of honour that Monica Meschini considered my palate fine; my own private award won at The International Chocolate Awards.