The star of street food: Cristina Bowerman at Testaccio Market

The star of street food: Cristina Bowerman at Testaccio Market

by Tom Riby 29 April 2016

In the heart of Rome, Tom Riby discovers a Michelin-starred chef serving up pasta, salads and sandwiches – all from a small stall at one of the city's many markets.

Tom worked as the producer for Great Italian Chefs. Originally from the UK, he has always been a part of Britain's culinary scene, working with chefs such as Robert Thompson and Gordon Ramsay, Tom now lives in Tuscany, Italy with his family. His obsession with Italy’s culture combined with a shared passion for food is his dream now realised.

Cristina Bowerman is at the forefront of the culinary scene in Italy. Her entrepreneurial skills have gained national attention, and she is regularly featured in some of Italy’s most well-known publications. Her Michelin-starred restaurant, Glass Hostaria, is one of Rome’s hottest venues, thanks to its fusion of Italian traditions and multicultural influences.

For the past year and a half, however, Cristina has been venturing out of the kitchen to set up shop at Testaccio Market. Her project – called Cups – came about when Cristina visited Denmark. ‘Copenhagen changed the way I thought about markets,’ she says. ‘I remember sitting there in Papirøen (the paper market) by the river and I started to interact with the bartender and the cook in front of me; I liked the idea that street food had a permanent place there. I came back to Rome and talked to my business partner about the idea and straight after that the Government passed an ordinance saying they wanted to restructure the markets in the city – so we began searching.’

The cups can contain anything from soup to pasta, with different coloured containers indicating what's inside
Cristina also serves up a selection of sandwiches, filled with ingredients sourced from the market itself

When Testaccio Market opened in the summer of 2012, fans of the original market were sceptical of the modern space, which was a world away from the historic Piazza Testaccio in the heart of the district. The inauguration of an American budget steakhouse and terrible sushi restaurant in the same complex did nothing to alleviate anxieties. But now, due to thriving new businesses, it is proving to be a successful marketplace.

‘We had a look around Testaccio Market and it was perfect,’ says Cristina. ‘Markets today in Rome are not being exploited as much as they should – they need to be more flexible and allow people to run their businesses. Testaccio was one of the best and has embraced our concepts, and it’s paid off massively.’

Octopus sandwich
Cristina's most famous sandwich contains octopus and squid ink mayonnaise
Guest chefs
One of the cups always contains food cooked by a guest chef, who is given the chance to experiment and offer something new

From Michelin to marketplace

Cristina’s style is somewhat multicultural. Her influences stem from cooking in America, working with south American chefs and completing inspiring stages in some of the greatest kitchens in the world. This has resulted in a refreshing approach to her own country's cuisine, unscripted and unknown. ‘Things are only now starting to changing in Rome,’ says Cristina, ‘but the idea of really good street food has been around for years. I worked in Austin, Texas, which is the capital of food trucks. However, our idea was slightly different.

‘We created a concept called Cups,’ continues Cristina. ‘The idea is that different coloured cups represent different dishes of the day. For example, green is for a vegetarian dish, red is for meat and yellow for a sandwich or salad. We also have a ‘starred’ cup which is cooked by a guest chef; we have people like Davide Scabin, Marco Martini and Davide Del Duca joining us this season. We are often so busy managing restaurants that we don’t have time to be creative, so I thought I would give my colleagues the chance to cook without any rules and experiment. It started out as a joke, but the list of chefs is growing longer and longer.'

With Cups, Cristina has created a fine balance between two different dining styles, allowing innovation to be born from both. Here is a chef expressing her freedom to cook, but also making a statement of her skill and technique. ‘When I started out working in the kitchens I had to compete with men,’ she explains. ‘I learnt that in order to succeed in the kitchen as a woman was not to out-strengthen them, out-drink them or work more hours – I just had to outsmart them.’ By innovating and expanding out of the kitchen, she’s at the forefront of a food revolution – something many of her colleagues are now eager to become a part of.