If you expect a cliché story of an Italian girl who grew up in the countryside with grandmas who cooked for a large extended family, I’m sorry to disappoint you. My family was by no means large. And I probably wouldn’t describe my grandmas, Lina and Teresina, as great cooks. They were working women and mothers. They had no time for frills or over-the-top meals.
Meet Veronica, gathering strategist, food experience designer and speaker
From a feast of clothespins on my grandma’s terrace in a Northern Italy town to breaking bread with strangers on the streets of Helsinki, here’s how it all started.
However, for both of them and my mom Maurizia, mealtime was non-negotiable. It was when my family gathered around the kitchen table to eat, share the news of the day, and work through any challenges together as a family. I’ve always cherished those moments so much that they’ve become part of my DNA.
I must have been five or six when I first understood that while food does bring us together naturally, it could also bring us apart.
Diagnosed with senile diabetes, my grandma Lina often had a different meal than the rest of us. So when I visited her for the holidays, I had to adjust to her low-sugar diet, which included a full glass of fresh carrot juice every morning. Oh boy, did I dislike that!
But everyone knows that a child’s imagination runs wild. So when I saw that my grandma’s clothespins were in the colors of food, I threw an imaginary three-course feast for us, pretending that the clothespins were sumptuous plates of crispy, roasted chicken, oven-baked potatoes, and tiramisù.
Of course, my grandma played along. For the first time, we could both eat what we wanted — with no harm. That “plastic” feast was my way of making her feel included and taken care of.
Many years later, I’d found out that what I did was called “hosting” and was an art on its own.
Growing up, provincial Italy started to feel small. So at seventeen, I jumped at the chance of going to Brighton, in England, for a summer internship. It didn’t take long before I had my first cultural shock. I had believed that, like in my family, the habit of mealtime was ingrained everywhere. However, I discovered that in that workplace, it wasn’t.
Many of my new colleagues skipped lunch or ate at their desks. Because of my experience of togetherness since I was little, I knew that they’d have been happier if they convened at the table. I imagined the office filled with warm banter across the desks and over the kitchen table. Every day I counted the hours to my lunch break just to escape from the office. I never felt as lonely as in that crowded workplace.
My first work experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It taught me early on the importance of finding a place you belong. And if I couldn’t find one, to create one.
In my early twenties, I started to develop a healthy obsession with how people come together. Living in Berlin, Sweden, and later Helsinki, I filled my plate with events and restaurant visits, where I noticed every detail.
I learned concepts like Ray Oldenburg’s “Third Place” and Richard Florida’s three Ts (a theory that inspired both my theses’ work), which taught me that some environments have the power to elevate and celebrate a rich, satisfying life.
I also hosted dinners with my new foreign friends and tasted new flavors and cultures. I was refining my palate while building a solid foundation of knowledge in what I loved.
It was a bright sunny August day during my second stay in Finland when I spotted a new path forward.
That day, my new flatmate Milla invited me to Restaurant Day. Created to ask the government to ease the regulations for food businesses, in this event, anyone could open a restaurant for a day and take over living rooms, streets, and parks with tables. As we walked around, I was mesmerized. The locals, whom I knew as introverted people, sat together breaking bread and celebrating food from different cultures.
Growing up in Italy, I was familiar with the gathering power of food. However, that day I learned that there could be an intention behind that. Design an experience or service with food at the center and make a bigger impact than just feeding people.
It showed me that the mere act of sitting down to eat could be transformed into a manifesto of great living.
Witnessing that community feasting for Restaurant Day blew my mind. I couldn’t stop wondering, what experiences or services could I design around food?
I had to find out. So in the next edition of Restaurant Day, I opened my first pop-up restaurant with my girlfriends in a flower shop. Three more soon followed.
Then, I volunteered to host meetups for the Helsinki chapter of Likemind, an informal, monthly gathering of creative professionals occurring in cities worldwide. I’ve never been more excited to jump out of bed at -15°C outside to host a group of international creatives and newcomers to Helsinki over a cappuccino and a korvapuusti.
As a foreigner, I knew how hard it was to meet new people, so I experimented with formats to help them connect with each other and to the city.
At Likemind, I witnessed many friendships blossom, including some of my closest ones. I learned that gathering means making yourself in service to what is best for the group.
From planning events to cooking, I did everything in my 21 squared-meter one-room Helsinki apartment, using my bike to transport equipment. I had recently graduated and struggled to find a “proper” job (and a corporate one didn’t interest me), so I thought — could this become my job? Even though I didn’t have the language to explain why I worked long hours, I knew I was living my purpose.
Feedback was positive, and things started to turn around. So in 2014, I founded the food design consultancy business WE Factory. Not long after, I relocated to northeast Italy, where I’m still based, and continued traveling to work with clients internationally.
I’ve seen teams break out from silos. I’ve seen day care cooks reclaim their creative expression. I’ve seen workers re-design food rituals to elevate their workday. I’ve seen speakers and conference attendees connect over a tablescape of potted herbs.
Through my podcast, The Nourishing Workplace, I help leaders and workplace professionals embrace the art of food, community, and hospitality to create more human and connected employee experiences and businesses. I I also regularly speak at business and design events and give lectures at universities around the world and online.
Today, rebranding my company under my name, I work with leaders and brands who appreciate personal relationships and recognize the value of togetherness and what it yields for their teams, customers, and tablemates. Better relationships lead to a higher quality of life.
Just as a doctor looks at an x-ray and sees things I can’t see, so too, I look at places where people meet, online and offline, and ask myself. What visible and invisible architectures could I bake into them to nurture connections?
It isn’t a mystery or innate “creativity.” It also isn’t “genius.” It’s what I’ve trained to do. A set of skills I continue to develop from the table outward. Because togetherness lives at the intersection of many disciplines, from anthropology to architecture, interior design, color theory, psychology, and many more.
Designing for togetherness makes more sense to me now than it ever did before. For me, it’s about giving power to every meal and bringing out the magic within us to embrace togetherness, connection, and our collective well-being.
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