/Rome Sustainable Food Project

Rome Sustainable Food Project


To say that the gardens and kitchen of the American Academy in Rome have come a long way would be the understatement of the century. When I first moved to Rome back in 2003, the AAR generously hosted me in their villa on the Janiculum hill while I got on my feet. One of my favorite places in the city to this day is the Mercedes and Sid R. Bass Garden, a lush rural landscape behind the main McKim, Mead and White building, where I would diligently study Italian grammar beneath the olive trees before dinner. Back then, the food was beyond awful, an inept mix of packaged junk and overcooked pasta. Not exactly a great introduction to the Roman food scene. But since the March 2007 launch of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, it is a privilege to dine at the Academy and the gardens are even better than ever.


The Rome Sustainable Food Project is a joint venture between the AAR and Alice Waters that uses fresh, seasonal, organic products to create nourishing meals for the Academy’s fellows and visiting scholars (and their lucky invited guests). The kitchen draws on produce and herbs from their biodynamic garden and local like-minded producers like Giovanni Bernabei; they recycle, compost, and embrace the principles of sustainability. Without a doubt, this is Rome’s most inspired kitchen.


Last week I went to the Academy with my mom and met my friend Brian, a cook there, for dinner and a tour of the garden and kitchen. It was fascinating to see that virtually everything in the garden, not just the produce in the beds, is edible. They make olive oil with fruit from the dozens of olive trees on the property and season meat and fish dishes with the rosemary and thyme that flourish around the garden walls. The entire property is a veritable botanical garden for epicureans.


Dinner was served that evening in the courtyard of the McKim, Mead, and White building where ancient inscriptions are stuccoed to the surrounding walls and jasmine clings to the portico pilasters, the ideal setting for a summer meal. The first course was homemade tagliatelle with peas, mint, and creme fraiche followed by a second course of roasted lamb shoulder with fava beans and a green salad.


Now if you never ate at the AAR before the Rome Sustainable Food Project was launched, it is impossible to fully conceptualize what a huge change has been made. The old food was a lot like airplane food crossed with an elementary school lunch. At dinner Thursday night, the pasta was hand crafted, the peas shelled by hand, and the mint plucked from the garden. Everything was simple, light, and delicious. As much of a treat as the dinner was, the highlight of the evening was a visit to the kitchen.


I am obsessed with restaurant kitchens and was thrilled to see one of American caliber in Italy; here things tend to be marginally functional, old fashioned, and anything but state of the art. In contrast, the RSFP kitchen is wonderfully equipped and would be the envy of many a chef in Italy, and most in the States, as well. As we toured the kitchen after dinner service, sous chef Chris Boswell was preparing strawberry preserves. Clearly, the work of such an industrious and dedicated kitchen is never done.


To learn more about the Rome Sustainable Food Project:

Visit the Facebook group
Read the NYT feature
Watch the documentary teaser

Rome Food Movie from Rome Food Movie on Vimeo.

2016-01-09T13:33:01+00:00 May 28th, 2009|Categories: Food & Wine, Rome & Lazio|10 Comments


  1. ciaochowlinda May 28, 2009 at 4:26 am - Reply

    I remember reading about the project in the NYT and visiting the AAR when I lived in Rome. How does one get an invite to eat there? Don’t you have to be a fellow there?

  2. CyrilBuzz May 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Earlier this month, I had a sniff that the AAR gardens might be hiding something very neat, while passing by on the bus. Could be the next shooting scene for a Williams Sonoma Catalogue.
    Having just visited the newly opened Gardens of the …French Academy, in Villa Borghese, I clearly knew that peaceful semi private terraces on Roman Hills are an insider’s gem.

    Soooo, per the comment above, how can I get a taste of shelled by hand peas on my next Trastevere visit? There’s alledgedly a 3 week advance booking list to visit Palazzo Farnese so is it the same on the AAR ?

  3. Rebekah Kik May 28, 2009 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    I lived in Rome in 200b and visited a little suburb called Garbatella. I believe it was developed as a low income housing project in the 40’s or 50’s?? Anyway, they all had gardens incorporated into the courtyards and common areas of the housing development. Both public and private gardens could be kept all over the spaces. Many of the public gardens have grown over now, but the older Italians seem to keep theirs up nicely!

    Maybe there will be a resurgance of these gardens soon?? The architecture is stunning in this area as well.

  4. Katie May 28, 2009 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    @ciaochowlinda You can eat there if a fellow invites you or if you are a , i.e. donor. Totally worth joining. Support scholarship in Rome and get some good food while you are at it!

    @CyrilBuzz the visit to Palazzo Farnese is something different. It is a French language guided visit to the piano nobile to view the Carracci frescoes. More info here. If you want those hand shelled peas, you are going to have to befriend a fellow or become a donor. And you must visit in the spring when peas are in season!

  5. JP May 29, 2009 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    The visit to the gardens at the AAR was a beautiful experience. The dinner that followed was simple and fresh – the secret to preparing the best Italian cuisine. Thank you Brian for taking the time to walk us thru the gardens, giving us a tour of the very impressive kitchen and then ending the evening with a rooftop view of Roma! For all you foodies out there, put this at the top of your list when visiting Roma. And grazie mille Katie for always showing me the best of Roma!

  6. CyrilBuzz June 8, 2009 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Ouch, I’ll miss the spring peas by a day, probably heading down next on the week of June 22.
    So you guys are all confirming that chipping in for $50 for the AAR Donor card is worth it for a meal ? There are so many tempting pics from other trattorias :0)

  7. Fourth of July BBQ July 6, 2009 at 12:40 am - Reply

    […] night I celebrated the Fourth of July in the American Academy yard with the cooks of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, some delicious beers and damn good burgers. The patties were a mixture of ground beef and […]

  8. […] February 2007, the American Academy in Rome’s kitchen has been run by Alice Water’s Rome Sustainable Food Project. Head chef Mona Talbott, Sous Chef Chris Boswell, and a team of cooks, including interns from all […]

  9. […] worth noting, though perhaps not an urban garden in the proper sense of the phrase, is that of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, a joint venture between Alice Waters and the American Academy in Rome. The Academy is located on […]

  10. Elizabeth May 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Hi Katie, Just wandering around the web and found this that you posted a while ago. I just wanted to let people know that if you become a Friend of the American Academy you can come to lunch whenever you would like. Since the entry membership level is only 75 euros, it’s very affordable (and tax deductable) For more info visit:
    And one thing that isn’t mentioned in this post is that the founding chef of the program, and the person who developed it, is Mona Talbott.

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