Cristina Bowerman may be one of Rome’s leading chefs but her talents extend well beyond the kitchen and into charity associations, university boardrooms and her three-wheeled Ape Piaggio food trucks. A tireless entrepreneur with a knack for reinvention, her career trajectory has defied the expectations of what it takes, and means, to be a celebrated chef. For Ms. Bowerman, food is a point of departure, not an end in itself. “There’s a lot more to my work than simply preparing spaghetti al pomodoro,” she assures me.
Christina Bowerman is currently the only female Michelin-starred chef in Rome, an honor she was awarded in 2010 for Glass Hostaria, an unconventional restaurant in the heart of Trastevere that proposes a fresh spin on Italian cuisine. “I really wasn’t expecting it and it was an enormous recognition,” she explains. “It turns out that the Michelin guide is more avant-garde than most people realize. Glass didn’t have tablecloths and they awarded a star to a woman with a very different background. I didn’t begin cooking at a young age like many other notable chefs; I began my career at 34.”
The fact that a foray into the culinary arts was Christina Bowerman’s third career is a testament to her willingness to embrace the opportunities that came her way coupled with a relentless desire to live life on her own terms. Originally a law school graduate turned graphic designer, she spent over a decade living in San Francisco and Austin, learning slang from Jerry Springer, sampling new cuisines and immersing herself in a culture very different from her own.
“It should be mandatory for everyone to spend a year abroad, either to work or study, so they can enter into the social fabric of a place and absorb a different culture. Every culture has something to teach us: it’s not the content that’s important because you end up forgetting that, but you learn a new approach and method.”
This embrace of the “other” has played out in everything from Ms. Bowerman’s avant-garde cuisine to her business initiatives and philanthropic work. At Glass, she is recognized for her modern culinary creations, dishes she defines as “contaminated” for their use of unusual ingredients in an unexpected way. In addition to her high-end restaurant, she also runs Romeo and Giulietta, a contemporary trattoria and pizzeria; Cups, a street food stand at the popular Testaccio Market; and Frigo, an artisanal gelateria.
Tradition is important to Christina Bowerman, but so is innovation. “Tradition, after all, was once an evolution itself, before it became tradition. The dishes we eat in Rome today weren’t the same dishes Romans ate 100 years ago,” she says. As our lifestyles change, so too should our recipes, though ingredients should always be honored and protected. And behind her food, there’s an overarching spirit of democracy. “I always try to bring high-end dining to a street level. All of my dishes, even at the market, follow the rules of la alta cucina, from the techniques to the ingredients.”
Even her popular Ape Romeo (a three-wheeler Ape Piaggio inspired by Austin’s food trucks) transforms her haute cuisine into affordable street food. The panino with pastrami tongue was inspired by New York City’s Jewish diners and features salami, mustard, marinated onions and sprouts.
Her significant accolades and culinary recognition have paved the way for Christina Bowerman to enact change and raise awareness of causes close to her heart. She is involved in countless charities and is an active member of numerous Italian professional boards and committees. “I’ve always sought to find depth in my work, and it doesn’t only have to be tied to food, in and of itself. I really try to give back to my city and lend a hand to all the associations that ask me for help.”
Ms. Bowerman is a co-founder of Fiorano for Kids, an association that raises money for the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome, and launched a “Drink Pink” initiative last year to promote women artists and raise money for ActionAid. This monthly event hosts a female DJ-set inside Romeo Chef & Baker and serves up pink cocktails to patrons, with all proceeds going to a program that works to end violence against women.
From 2016, the chef has also served as President of the Ambasciatori del Gusto, an association that seeks to promote Italian excellences abroad, and was the only female chef selected to be an ambassador for the Expo Milano 2015, a year-long event dedicated to “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.
A champion for women’s rights and giving back, Christina Bowerman is a pioneer in every sense of the word and hosts team building and leadership trainings at universities throughout Italy in order to help impart her wisdom and knowledge onto the next generation trailblazers. “I do a lot of leadership work, I think it’s probably going to become my fourth career move,” she jokes. With a strong platform and a reputation for success, she aims to continue using food as a means to communicate our similarities, rather than our differences.
“Ingredients and recipes may change across cultures but the process of cooking is always remains the same. In the end, we’re all more similar than we realize.”