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Cucina Migrante team celebrates homegrown food and ‘dinners with strangers’

Cucina Migrante co-founders Francesco Bonsinetto and Adisa Ziric.
(Courtesy of Valentina Socci/Cucina Migrante)

Founded in 2016 by Adisa Ziric and Francesco Francesco Bonsinetto, the San Diego company does European-style pop-up dinners, cooking classes and culinary tours

When Cucina Migrante co-founders Francesco Bonsinetto and Adisa Ziric prepare a meal for a client, they never work from a standard menu. Every meal is unique from the next, depending on the customer’s tastes, dietary concerns and allergies, and whatever fresh items Bonsinetto picks up that day from a local farm or meat market.

The San Diego business partners don’t operate a restaurant — at least, not yet. They run a thriving business that offers tailor-made, Italian-inspired meals at clients’ homes, pop-up dinner parties for groups of strangers, cooking classes, blind wine tastings and team-building events that center around food.

Bonsinetto, who hails from Sicily, and Ziric, a Bosnian refugee, say their goal with Cucina Migrante is to encourage Americans to embrace the European tradition of making locally grown food and leisurely communal dining the centerpiece of their lives.

“I like to give people the idea that it’s important to share food and a meal with a friend or a stranger and you don’t need to rush,” Bonsinetto said. “In the U.S., everything has to be fast. We offer exactly the opposite. We like to inspire people to think of dinner not as a mission to accomplish but more of a pleasure, where you can enjoy conversations dish by dish.”

A frittata prepared for Cucina Migrante's upcoming cookbook "Happiness is a Red Tomato."
(Courtesy of Valentina Socci)

Ziric immigrated to San Diego with her family in 1997 and was studying with a chef who specialized in raw and vegan fare when she met Bonsinetto in 2016 at a friend’s Thanksgiving potluck. Bonsinetto had arrived in town in 2014 on a one-year teaching contract as a visiting professor at San Diego State University. He holds a doctorate in food security, which studies how people obtain reliable access to affordable and nutritious food. After teaching around the world for 25 years, Bonsinetto said he was ready for a change and he fell in love with San Diego and its abundance of farms, farmers markets, butchers, fishermen and artisan food-makers.

During a five-week trip to Sicily together, Bonsinetto and Ziric bonded over their shared love for food, and they developed their business plan for Cucina Migrante — which would re-create the European tradition of pop-up dinners with strangers in Southern California. Their first gig was making dinner for a couple and their 4-year-old son. From there, they expanded to bigger dinners, cooking classes and corporate events. Then they began organizing local food-oriented tours, like a culinary visit to the Little Italy or a local farm.

Combining Bonsinetto’s cooking and teaching background and Ziric’s flair for marketing and event-planning, they began offering food experiences for people staying in Airbnb properties around Southern California. Their business exploded, and in 2018, Airbnb named Cucina Migrante their No. 1 “experience” provider in the United States. It was a boon for business until the pandemic arrived and shut everything down.

Cucina Migrante co-founders Adisa Ziric and Francesco Bonsinetto at a San Diego farm.
(Courtesy of Valentina Socci)

These days, Cucina Migrante does about 25 to 28 bookings a month, mostly private dinners at people’s homes in San Diego County and corporate team-building events for clients that have included the Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft and Sony. To keep up with demand, they have hired a team of eight to nine cooks and helpers. Bonsinetto said he and Ziric readjust their business model about every six months to respond to changes in the market and that has kept their business growing.

Their next big project is a cookbook, “Happiness is a Red Tomato,” which will feature recipes they created for their cooking classes. It comes out in November. They’ve also created a Cucina Migrante food product line. They’re now selling an olive oil infused with Calabrian chiles and oregano, and they’ll be adding some artisan salt products soon. Next year, they hope to launch annual culinary tours between San Diego and Sicily.

The duo is also in early talks with a longtime client to possibly open a Cucina Migrante restaurant in San Diego in 2023. Ziric said that if that happens, it will feature an Italian-inspired menu along with the cozy and eclectic vibe they’re become known for.

“We try to show our clients that the most important part of your day should be eating and cooking, and hopefully doing that with friends and family and your neighbors,” Ziric said. “Yes, we’re all very busy, but that’s a basic human need. The more joy we bring around this basic necessity to feed ourselves, the more fulfilled our lives will be.”

For information on Cucina Migrante events, visit cucinamigrante.com.


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