COOK OF THE WEEK: Ag agent puts a little ethnic twist in her home cooking

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – While Belvia Giachelli can cook an old-fashioned Southern meal, her favorite foods to prepare have an Italian or Cajun flair to them. And to make those dishes, she’s had some formal and some not-so-formal training.
“I’ve been twice to the New Orleans School of Cooking,” said Giachelli, who is the agriculture agent for Mississippi State Extension in Lee County. “The best thing I learned there was how to make an easy roux. And we learned to make gumbo, remoulade sauce and jambalaya. The thing about Cajun cooking is there is no certain recipe. You just throw everything in a pot.”
Even though Giachelli’s husband, Greg, is from an Italian family in the Mississippi Delta, she didn’t learn her Italian cooking skills from her mother-in-law, who died before Belvia and Greg Giachelli married. Instead, she learned from an Italian woman who lived near the newlyweds in their first Tupelo apartment.
“Mississippi Delta Italians make great Italian food, but they were dirt poor and they cooked with what they had,” Giachelli said. “Our neighbor, Mary Seta, was from upper-class Italians in New York, so they had different meats, cheeses, olives and fancy oils in their foods.”
Mary Seta taught her how to make Italian meatballs using two different meats and three different cheeses, and she showed her how to make spaghetti gravy.
“They don’t call it spaghetti sauce – they call it gravy,” said Giachelli, 53. “I’m not sure why she spent so much time with me. She was lonesome, I think. She missed her children. She took me as her charity case.”
Giachelli and her husband have two grown children: Priscilla, who lives in Starkville, and Maury, who lives in Tupelo. When the children were growing up, Giachelli cooked every night. But now, she works at Extension at least three nights a week, so she doesn’t spend as much time in the kitchen as she’d like.
This week, she plans to make three meals: grilled steak with fresh squash and baked sweet potatoes; grilled catfish fillets with fried green tomatoes and fried zucchini; and beef fried rice with a salad and bread.
“My dream is to retire from Extension in about three years and open a restaurant that just serves breakfast and lunch during the week,” she said. “I don’t want to work nights and I don’t want to work weekends.”
In the meantime, she’s content to cook for Extension functions, like the advisory council and 4-H awards banquet.
And in her down time, she likes to roam about her family’s farm in Ellistown, just outside Blue Springs.
“We have several head of cattle and they’re my therapy, my way to get away from headaches at work and ringing phones,” she said. “When I get home, I just go out to the pasture and sit.”

Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.