My book incorporates stories of the influences on my life as a chef. I’m serving you up a slice:
In 1928, Giaccomo Bartholemeo Giaccone, my grandfather and a French trained chef, was on shore leave in New York City from the Italian Merchant vessel “Chevaliere Ciampa”. At the time, there were over 100 “taxi dance halls” in Manhattan. These were extremely popular spots where male patrons would pay ten cents to dance with pretty women hired by the club. Though it does kind of sound like a precursor to today’s strip clubs, it was different time. Many of the dancing girls did this just to meet men; as was the case with my grandmother Felicia Marino. Well as the story goes, Giaccomo (or Jack as he was known) jumped ship, got a job as a chef in Manhattan and started his life with a pretty taxi girl. In 1948, with two kids: my mama Louisa, 12 and uncle Vinny (yes the same Uncle Vinny as the popular pasta dish on my menu), 7, they moved out of the Marino family home in Bay Ridge Brooklyn and moved upstate to Brewster, NY to start a restaurant. History repeated itself fifty years later when in 1998 I also moved from the city to upstate New York to start a restaurant.
Chef Jack’s restaurant, The Elms, was a trendsetter. The restaurant was extremely popular and even received a glowing review from Gourmet magazine. Jack was a passionate and fiery Italian, serving up the traditional southern Italian dishes that Americans were accustomed to, but also incorporating foods from his native Liguria such as pesto and risotto. One of my favorite stories happened one night when one of the customers complained about the seasoning of their dish. Jack stormed out of the kitchen to help educate to poor soul on the flavors of Northern Italy. The patron feeling attacked reacted defensively. The room of 80 or so happily feasting folks seemed sympathetic to his plight and random voices called out for mercy. Jack would have none of this: “All right then!” he said in his heavy Italian accent, “EVERYBODY OUT! What are you laughing at? Put-a down that fork and get the hell out of my restaurant!!!” They all eventually came back; there was nowhere else to get food like that.