Carmela D’Amore: the rais of the Sicilian cuisine


Testo in italiano


Carmela D’Amore: the Rais of Sicilian cuisine

by Giovanni Vallone


Carmela: “My name is Carmela D’Amore and I was born in Kilmore, Australia, on 1960.

Both my parents, Salvatore and Sarina, were from Sicily and moved here when they were about 20 years old, in 50’s.

We had a great life, as I was born when my family had created a life filled with the riches that life brings, family, community, working and time to create a future filled with possibilities.

My life was full of nonni, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends, compare, commare.  We had festa whenever there was an opportunity.  I remember always growing up with my cousins, cannoli, lasagna, pasta, chargrilled meat, cakes.  Laughter, family and festa, was growing up. I wonder if this the part where my future was planned?  Where my love for Sicilian cooking started?”.

This is a magical place in Sicily.

A cliff overlooking the sea.

It is called Tindari.

Here there is a Greek theater and a 2500-year-old Roman thermal baths

At its base, down there, the sea was trapped by the sand, forming salt water ponds.

Intervista avvocato ai laghetti che dice: “I come here every day”

Up there, however, beyond the thermal baths and the theater, there is a sanctuary, where there was probably a temple once.

It is a beautiful place overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Inside the Sanctuary there is a Madonna.

It is black: the black Madonna of Tindari.

(voce di Giovanna) “Nigra Sum Sed Formosa” (sottotitolo) “I am black but I am beautiful”.

It is a Madonna who looks at the sea and whoever lives there.

It is a Madonna watching the fishermen of this part of Sicily.

In this sea, one day in 1947, a 17-year-old young man suddenly fell prey to the waves.

His name was Salvatore and he was a handsome Sicilian fisherman (foto di  Salvatore da giovane).

Carmela: “Every time I see a picture or hear of the Madonna del Tindari, I am reminded of my father’s faith.  When he was a young man he was fishing in Falcone, and the weather became rough, he got lost in the sea, during the night he kept crying out to the Madonna, and he said that he felt the hand of God bringing the boat to shallow ground, and he always prayed to her when he was distressed or needed guidance. 

My father Salvatore was 17, and when he used to tell us this story we could see the fear in his eyes, and how my nonna Carmela cried during the night and they thought dad was lost at sea. 

He said that when he reached the shore, he kissed the ground and thanked the Madonna”.

Carmela: I miei nonni Gioacchino e rais Stefano erano compari, e mio padre Salvatore e mia mamma Sarina si conoscevano sin da piccoli.


Aunt Peppina sister of Carmela’s mother

“Hello Aunt Peppina, how are you?”

Aunt Peppina: “Everything is fine”   

“How old are you ?”

Aunt Peppina: “84”


Aunt Peppina sister of Carmela’s mother

“Were you very close friends with Salvatore’s family?”

Aunt Peppina: “Yes, we were friends, Gioacchino confirmed Sarina”

So in that distant 1950 grandpa Gioacchino fisherman of Falcone was a great friend of grandpa Stefano, the rais of Milazzo, or the head of the tuna fishery.

And Sarina and Salvatore, Carmela’s mom and dad, knew each other as children.


There is Milazzo down there

From here the hydrofoils leave for the beautiful Aeolian islands.

Sarina lived here and Salvatore came to visit her riding a mule.


0.14 Totò (Carmela’s cousin) : “This was my grandfather house, Rais Stefano. All my grandfather’s children were born here, including my mother and her sister, my aunt Sarina, and I was born here too”.

3.10 Totò: “All the econimic well-being of thousands of people weighed on my grandfather shoulders who was the rais, since over a hundred people worked here”.

3.40 Totò: “You make me cry, I was born here, of course it reminds me of my whole childhood. No car passed only that of Marquis D’Amico who was the owner of the tuna fishery. We bathed naked because no one was passing by ”.

5.40 Totò: : “This was Uncle Vincenzo’s house and it has remained as it was”

We enter the tuna fishery while two Sicilian cats fall in love, just like Salvatore and Sarina over 50 years ago.

But I hope Salvatore had less difficulty than this cat and that Sarina was not as difficult as that cat!


That was the tuna fishery office

Now the whole complex is transformed into a tourist residence, but once these were the places where tuna was processed once caught.

01.42 Totò: : “That was our home, my grandfather was just a few steps away from work”.

02.13 Totò: “The tuna came in from here”

02.43 Totò:  “And then they were hung here”


Totò: “Here the tuna were caught right there in front. Here there was a track that carried the tuna from the sea to the tuna fishery. I canned them ”

Totò:“This was the graveyard, where all the leftovers of the tuna were burned. It has remained as it was, original ”


Nice, there are some excellent pomegranates.

But let’s go back to Salvatore and Sarina, Carmela and Giuseppe’s future parents.

We said that the two families were very close friends and their children as well.

But Salvatore and Sarina, at some point they had to become more than friends.

In those days, especially here in Sicily, it was the looks that spoke.

And  those four eyes had to say somenthing to each other.

Carmela: “I believe in destiny.  I believe that we build our lives from our ancestors, each generation elevates the other, I have built my life, from the foundations and shoulders of the past”.


Splendid: So do you believe that between the two youngs there already was something …

Carmela: Oh yes! An unspoken word my mother said … that in sicily we can turn in an agreement with the eyes

Splendid:Maybe in church …

Carmela: Ha! Who knows

Splendid: So, basically, do you believe your mother move to australia because in love with your father?

Carmela: Yes

At one point Salvatore makes the decision of his life: to follow his uncle to Australia.

Something irrepressible must have pushed this young men to the decision.

His head told him that this was the right path for his life to take.

But his heart: what did his heart say?

(voce in lontananza con l’immagine della Madonna nera): Sarina, Sarina …

And then Salvatore took his heart and brought it to Sarina.

They had to meet secretly somewhere: “I’m going to Australia. Join me Sarina. We will have children. We will give them a better future, a peaceful and comfortable life. ”

Did they kiss?

Did they hug?

Were they crying?

We are in 1954.

Salvatore left.

His whole family also left.

Carmela: My mother Sarina told me that one day my nonna Carmela, the mother of Salvatore, arrived at the door and told them that my father was leaving to go to Australia, and that it would be good if one of his daughter’s made the journey as well.  My mother said that when Comara Carmela said that, her heart did a double beat, and she was the one to go!  Mamma said that she always wanted to leave her town, she felt that it was not for her, so another time my father came to visit to say goodbye and that he was leaving for Australia, and he said to my mother, why don’t you come?

Salvatore and his family are now in Australia.

And Sarina?

It takes her just over a year to make the decision of her life: to follow Salvatore.

She goes to her father, Rais Stefano, and tells him that she wants to go to Australia, by the family of her friend Gioacchino Amato.

Stefano and his wife Santa cryed but the daughter is firm.

Carmela: Mio nonno le comprò una macchina da cucire, dato che mia madre era molto brava, e degli orecchini nuovi. Sono ancora qua con me. Poi fece il biglietto per l’Australia a sua figlia. I wonder how long it took my nonno Stefano to pay back what it cost him to let her go. 


“We were 6 women and two men (dice i nomi)”

“Who went to Australia?”

“Sara, Anna, and I who then came back


1.09 Totò: “I remember the moment my aunt Sarina decided to leave. She very casually said I’m leaving”

2.00 Totò:  “One day, just before leaving, my aunt came up to me and said: What do you want  to be sent from Australia?

And I told her: a ball “.

This mailbox: who knows how many letters from Australia you’ve seen arrive

7.10 Totò: “My grandfather thought of giving her to another father, to his friend Gioacchino and his wife Carmela. And that’s why he gave up ”

09.00 Totò: “There was a certain Nino Cusumano, a villager who gave her an eye. Salvatore welcomed them to Australia ”

June 23, 1955, Neptune transatlantic: in 30 days it will arrive in Australia. Hundreds of Sicilians cry for their children on the Messina pier. What justice is there in forcing a human being to leave his land, its roots, its scents?

Carmela: My mother was very brave and courageous to leave and never come back she came back only 2 times to see her parents.

Sarina arrives in Australia.

She tears and hugs with the whole family of  her grandfather Gioacchino.

Words of love through Stefano’s eyes.

They all move in together right around the corner from where the ship arrived at 101 Princess Street, Flemmington.

Carmela: They lived all together in one house until they could afford to buy their own homes.

Many came from Sicily, most of them settled in our home until they could afford a deposit.

One thing that all Sicilians had in those times was unity; family, value, respect and you could rely on that from your people.  If there were challenges you would go to your friends or family and they would help you.  They created a world where they came with suit cases some and some without suitcases. 

Salvatore led her to the altar. A love that started from here, saved by the black Madonna of Tindari, and arrived here: about 15,000 kilometers later.

(voce di Giovanna) “Nigra Sum Sed Formosa” (sottotitolo) “I am black but I am beautiful“.

Salvatore and Sarina have two children: our Carmela and her brother Giuseppe.

Carmela: “Mamma worked in the morning for Fletcher Jones then at night she worked for a Jewish Lady named Mrs Gallo, for both they sewed. My father worked on a factory.

My mother said that food was the first thing I smelt in my life, and this is what changed and forged my path.

Sicily is my biological mother, the land is in my blood, the people are my family, the streets are my ancestors, the mountains are my breath, and the sea is my oxygen. 

Australia was good to my parents, she is my adopted mother, and has been kind to us.

My nonni used to grow vegetables in the garden, and make sugo every year, giadinera as well, they preserved most of what they grew, this is a trait that was passed down to me.

When I was 14, in 1974, we moved to the sea (Mornington Peninusla), and they opened up a restaurant it was the first Italian Restaurant in Rye, my father said it reminded him of home.

It was very challenging at school because of the culture differences, my lunches where filled with Mortadella, Frittata, Salami, where the Australian children had vegemite, jam, hot dogs, pies”.


This was the church where the fishermen of the tuna fishery gathered. It is very ancient. It dates back to 1523 and that means that the tuna fishery already was there in those days.

This anchor is original and reminds us of the time of activity of the tuna fishery: from 1418 to 1966, more than five hundred years.


Here is the inside of the little church .

And here she is: the black Madonna of Tindari “Sugnu niura ma sugnu bedda”

It was certainly her who advised Salvatore and Sarina to leave for Australia.

Carmela: “Today, I teach, am an author of 5 books, am an Award Winning International Sicilian chef, owner of a Sicilian Restaurant, teach Sicilian cooking, and take my clients to visit my mother land each year.

It is rare in the world we you can immerge two cultures together, this I have been able to do, by networking between the two countries.  I look at each country like a mother, one my adopted and one my biological”.


Goodbye Carmela, we are waiting for you


Goodbye  everyone

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