"2012 DaVinci Wines Storyteller"An Italian Adventurer’s Journal

Waiting for the “but….”

I work in theatre, which means that from an early age (the 2nd grade) I have been constantly throwing myself out there, applying for and auditioning for every opportunity in my life. And, from an early age, I have gotten accustomed to “Wow, thank you so much. We really appreciate your time and effort, but….”

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many “Congratulations, we love it!” but you must understand that there have been 10 times—20 times—more “Thanks, but… no thanks.”

“Mark, why open yourself up for so much rejection?”

Well… I like the possibility of the “what if”—the adventurer’s spirit of continually wanting to expand, investigate, discover, live and really challenge myself. It is an unexplainable desire to thrust myself into a new journey to make my life bigger by meeting new people, going to new places, and learning new things that continually pushes me forward—to once again, emotionally, stick my neck out there and try. We only go around once, why not make the going around interesting?

Now that I have added “food, travel and writing” to my life’s careers, the acceptance/rejection ratio is about the same. Luckily, I have developed a rather thick skin since the 2nd grade and the way I deal with the rejection is to “wait for the ‘BUT…’.”

Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed when nothing happens. Expect nothing and be thrilled and overjoyed when something DOES happen.

So when DaVinci Wines contacted me about being their “2012 Storyteller in Language Arts,” I was waiting for the “but….”—

“Hello Mr. Leslie, we received your material, but…,”

“Mr. Leslie, we really like your interest in wine and the chance to go to Italy, but…,”

“Mr. Leslie, you were a runner-up last year and we enjoy your enthusiasm in applying again, but…,”

You get the idea.

BUT, this time, their call was “but…”-free. I had been chosen!

Some people have said that I am “lucky.” I beg to quibble with that word for a moment. “Lucky” is winning the lottery, where the only effort is to stand in line and spend a dollar. “Lucky” is walking down the street and finding a crumpled $100 bill. “Lucky” is sitting at a café drinking a coffee when someone walks by and says, “YOU! We want YOU!” That is “lucky.”

The DaVinci Wine contest was about the culmination of my successful efforts up to this point—a published book (almost 3 years of effort), featured blog posts and writings, recipes, and various media appearances including the Today Show. I am very fortunate and very blessed—“luck” has nothing to do with it.

Gathered around a table at the restored hunting lodge Casale di Vallle  (“House of the Valley”) of the Cantine Leonardo daVinci just outside Vinci, Italy, my fellow “2012 DaVinci Storytellers” Jade Sheldon-Burnsed, Cathi Iannone, Michelle Kondrich and I were asked, “What was your reaction when you heard you had been chosen to come to Italy?”

And, one by one, we all told our very individual and yet, very similar “waiting for the ‘but…’” stories. I was not alone in the “but….” And I was not alone in the acknowledgment that there had been no “luck” involved here. Each of us spoke of our continued efforts in our chosen fields of interest and how “fortunate” we all felt. In fact, Cathi’s favorite word is “gratitude” and I couldn’t agree more. Every day I am grateful and filled with gratitude by what I have been given the chance to accomplish. I hope you are, too!

Here was a “for as different as we all are, we are still all the same” moment for me. I savor this type of moment, because these moments reaffirm why I love to travel, to explore, to cook, to eat, and to share life while gathered around a table—we share our very individual lives, while connecting to each other on a “that’s me, too!” kind of level. We gather as strangers and depart being better for having had the collective experience—which is what happens in theatre, too! 

Over the next several weeks I will be posting about my “2012 DaVinci Storyteller” experience and, through stories, photos, recipes and videos, I hope to gather with you around a virtual communal table—filled with gratitude for becoming better by this collective journey.

I look forward to the shared discussion—and this is like theatre, your participation and reactions are an important part of this experience. Let’s begin to continue a conversation and see where it takes us!

Benvenuto alla nostra avventura!  Welcome to our adventure!

Buon Appetito~


"Mark Leslie" "Jade Sheldon-Burnsed" "Cathi Iannone" "Michelle Kondrich"

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.