Raffaella Tulipano, 82, has become an Internet sensation with her “Nonna Mia” Youtube videos and TikTok channel.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first forced seniors into isolation in March of 2020, Raffaella’s daughter, Josie, started filming her mom giving COVID safety tips to share with the family through the WhatsApp social media platform.
The idea came to Josie as a way to exercise Raffaella’s mind as she suffers from dementia.
“Then we started filming her making cooking videos (and) that’s where she found her niche because that’s what she loves doing, and she was cooking up a storm for all the grandkids,” Josie explained.
Raffaella’s cooking videos started to become public when her second of seven grandchildren, Anthony, posted the videos on TikTok and Instagram.
“It became our daily activity where each day we thought about what we could do, and it gave us a good way to pass the time during lockdowns since we couldn’t go outside,” Josie said.
After seemingly no time at all, Raffaella’s cooking videos became a viral hit. Her YouTube channel has almost 2,000 subscribers, and her TikTok channel has 756 followers.
“Everyone in the family circulated the videos on their own pages and that started to build interest from the local community. But then, out of the blue, sometime in March, RAI reached out, which is Italy’s national broadcast channel,” Josie explained.
“They have a program called II Filo Rosso, which is about the ties that bind grandparents and grandkids, so they asked if nonna would be on the show and that was a big surge. It was a different ball game at that point,” she told OrilliaMatters.
The videos became an Internet sensation because of how relatable they were to other Italian families who are living away from their native country, Josie says.
“There are massive amounts of Italians that left Italy after the war like my mom and dad, and that’s really spoken to those people and their families. We’ve had some adorable comments on YouTube where people say they see Nonna like their nonna or like their great grandmother who’s passed on, so there is this family connection that she is bringing to other people,” she explained.
“People are so happy (with the videos). It brings them joy and they learn lots,” Raffaella added.
After making her videos, Raffaella then takes the food she has created and drops it off to her grandchildren to enjoy, which might be the most important and enjoyable part for Raffaella.
“Nonna’s language of love is food, which isn’t uncommon for most Italian nonnas. It’s all about 'mangia mangia,' so this has allowed Nonna to keep feeding her grandchildren, too,” Josie explained.
“They are so proud of Nonna and what she’s achieved, and it really fills my mom’s heart to see everybody through this and see their reaction to it.”
Raffaella says keeping in touch with her grandchildren during the pandemic through her social media stardom means the world to her.
“We’ve been keeping in touch and calling all the time. It’s been wonderful; it’s so nice to see my seven grandchildren,” she said.
While Raffaella is already now a local celebrity, she and the Tulipano family have been brainstorming on how to build off of the success.
“I never thought this would happen. I’m famous now!” Raffaella said.
“We will think about it, and do something else well, we will keep on going.”
Currently, the Tulipano family is preparing a “Nonna Mia” cookbook, a hard copy of Raffaella’s recipes. However, that will likely just be a keepsake for the Tulipano family to enjoy.
“We are also going to keep producing these videos as it’s a nice legacy that her grandkids and family circle have with all these recipes that she’s created over the years,” Josie said.