⚠️ Spoilers ahead! Read the book, book review, and/or watch the limited series on Netflix.
The first episode of Tembi Locke‘s fictional adaptation of her best-selling memoir From Scratch starts with a Black Texan law school student and a Sicilian chef taking life and love risks in Italy.
Starting in fall 2000, Amy, played by Zoë Saldaña, arrives in Florence for an art program. With a pickup from friend Caroline, played by Kassandra Clementi, Amy is taken to her dorm building where she meets her suitemates. She’s an artist though she’s also a student at Georgetown Law School, where she could become a lawyer like her father and choose a practical career path compared to being an artist. So, she’s taking a risk with her future by indulging in Italian life with art, friends, and a boyfriend whose family owns an art gallery.
One day, Amy and Caroline run into Lino, played by Eugenio Mastrandrea, a chef at a nearby fancy restaurant called Ristorante Vigna Vecchia. Amy points out Lino’s black pointed toe boots as an interesting fashion choice. As Amy struggles with her Italian, Lino laughs and lets her know he knows English.
They later go on a solo walk after a night at the bar where Caroline works. Lino tells Amy he is fluent in English from his time when he studied translation at university. He disappointed his father with his decision to leave his home in Sicily and abandon farming his family’s land. He also abandoned his university studies to become a chef.
Amy is doing the same thing, sort of. When she calls her older sister Zora, played by Till star Danielle Deadwyler, back in Houston where their family is having a barbecue, their father refuses to talk to Amy over her decision to delay her return to Georgetown Law in favor of an art program in Florence.
Lino soon brings Amy a bike that he “finds,” so she won’t have to ride the bus to her program. He then invites her to Vigna Vecchia. She says she may bring the guy she’s dating, and Lino says he is welcomed as well.
That night, Amy brings her two suitemates instead to Vigna Vecchia. The moment she pulls her chair out to sit at the table conveniently facing the kitchen, Amy locks eyes with Lino. Then Amy proceeds with her suitemates to eat extravagant samples of the finest Italian food described in the book as “heaping plates of strozzapreti with braised red radicchio in a mascarpone sauce; fusilli in a fire-roasted bell pepper sauce; gnocchi with gorgonzola in a white martini reduction with shaved aged parmigiano.”
The book goes on to tell the true story between author Tembi Locke and her real-life love, Saro, who was a Sicilian chef working in Florence. This meal sealed their fate.
“I began to see that Saro was speaking directly to me, each dish an edible love letter: succulent, bold. By the third and fourth courses, I accepted that this chef who wore elf boots was making love to me, and we hadn’t even so much as kissed.”
Though the limited series is more of a fictional portrait, Tembi said in a recent interview with her sister and showrunner Attica Locke that the moment the characters Amy and Lino connect in the restaurant is what happened in her love story as well, and that that moment ignites the story.
“In Florence and that first time I go to Acqua al 2, which was my late husband Saro’s restaurant, and he cooks me a meal. You cannot have a series called ‘From Scratch’ without that moment,” Tembi said.
“First Tastes” is not only the name of the episode but also the first chapter of the book, where the precise moment they realize that a relationship may blossom from a delicious meal is described as below:
“From my place at center stage, I could see Saro moving like a wizard behind a scrim of sizzling heat, orchestrating the clamorous clanging of pots; setting the pace and unfurling magic onto plates from Acqua al 2’s narrow, searingly hot kitchen. At first glance, the kitchen looked like Aladdin’s cave. There was Saro in a white T-shirt, floor-length apron, white clogs, and red bandanna with James Brown hollering out, ‘This is a man’s world’ from a boom box in the background. Saro caught my eye, smiled, and signaled that he would be out later to say hello.”
Back to the TV series, which shows Amy running off with her pseudo-boyfriend after saying goodbye to Lino. Even after a meal and a spark, Amy can’t fall for a chef when her other romantic option has a connection to art.
On that walk where Amy and Lino converse about their lives, Lino first pronounces Amy’s name as “ah-mee,” which involves “love” in Italian related to amore. Amy shakes her head no, as she pronounces her name the American way and says it’s short for Amashé, which she tells Lino means “beautiful one” in the South African Zulu language.
Amy later calls Zora, who has moved from Houston to Los Angeles to achieve her dreams while starting out as a teacher. But then their mother Lynn, played by Kellita Smith, gets on the phone. She’s staying with Zora until she embarks on an ashram in Topanga. Lynn gets straight to the point, advising Amy to not “fall for some Disney princess castle shit” in “White-ass Europe.” She reminds Amy about her friend’s daughter who is studying in Kenya as a Fulbright scholar and dating a Ph.D. student in Nairobi. “That is some different shit,” Lynn explains.
The phone call in the series is not much different from the book. The author mentions how her shortened name, Tembi, is for Tembekile, a name bestowed upon her by South African folk singer Miriam Makeba, who was married to former Black Panther Stokely Carmichael. Her parents spent time with both of these figures during their participation in the Pan-African Liberation Movement, a piece missing from the series.
When Tembi talks to her mother further about the situation, she tries to balance her behavior with her mother’s expectations:
“I had been raised to sympathize with the challenges facing people of color across the African diaspora. Why, then, had I come to Italy, the heart of European culture, to study abroad? Why was I not in Kenya, like the daughter of her friend Mary from her former Movement days? Mary’s daughter was on a Fulbright and teaching Kenyan children English as part of her studies at Wellesley. Why was I not more like Mary’s daughter? And why in God’s name was I continuing to hook up with ‘white boys’? She wanted something more for me.”
The spread of parental worry reaches Amy’s father Hershel, played by Keith David, as he arrives in Florence in Texan regalia complete with denim jeans held up by a leather belt with a huge buckle, a pair of cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. He comes with Amy’s stepmother Maxine, played by Judith Scott, to survey Amy’s adventures in Florence. They go to Lino’s restaurant for dinner. Lino believes Amy’s parents are there to meet with him until Amy’s boyfriend enters the scene late. Devastated, Lino backs away into the kitchen.
Hershel tells Amy he doesn’t care for either of her love interests. He also reminds Amy that she shouldn’t fall for any man in a land where the men don’t look like her, the same sentiment her mother shared earlier.
BLACK GIRLs want ROMANCE too
Lino approaches Amy about the mistaken meeting. He confesses his unprecedented feelings for her. She doesn’t say much in response but gives him a notebook he had eyed at a street market. The sentiment that Black girls can’t have fairy-tale romances resonates with Amy, especially when she shares the update on Lino with Zora.
During her art showcase, Amy impresses her teacher, which was the professional goal she had during the program that has been clouded with the possibility of love. Then she sees Lino at the showcase, but he slips out without going up to Amy. She runs after him and asks why he’s leaving. Her teacher calls after her about an opportunity to hobnob with other artists. She tells Lino to meet her at her place later. As she walks away, Amy seems worried that Lino will not come over later. Her carefree time in discovering art and engaging in lust may have cost her true love.
At home, she falls asleep as nighttime falls. Rain starts to fall. The pitter-patter against the windows wakes her. Did Lino come? The moment she looks outside, Lino is looking up at her window. He looks apprehensive. She runs outside in the rain and kisses Lino. A kiss turns into a sleepover. Once they wake in the morning, Lino tells Amy he can cook anywhere in the world. He is willing to uproot his life to be with Amy. That’s when Amy realizes a fairy-tale romance may be in the cards for her after all.