I’m a second generation Italian. My grandparents came over in the early ‘20s. I have been in the restaurant business ever since I was little. I used to watch my mom cooking, so I loved cooking from an early age. I was very fortunate to know my grandmother, but by the time I rolled around, being the youngest of five children, she only spoke English. My mother cooked peasant style.
They weren’t very elevated as far as the French cuisine, but she was a very good cook with spaghetti and meatballs. My father’s side is Italian as well. It’s unfortunate that I don’t really know that side of the family too well. From what I understand, my grandmother on my dad’s side was a pretty mean cook herself.
I didn’t open my own restaurant until about three and a half years ago but I worked in hotels for 27 years. That’s what got me in New Orleans. I would travel around with the hotels to different cities. When the Cajuns got kicked out of Nova Scotia, some of them settled in Rhode Island in a little town called Exeter, and we would go down there and have Cajun festivals. That’s where I became indoctrinated with how to make a rue and how to make jambalaya. I didn’t really learn the secret to Creole cooking until I moved down here and a little old man who worked in laundry showed me a little secret that I’ve been using in my cooking ever since.
I grew up in Rhode Island, and one thing about New England is that it is a huge melting pot. There were a lot of Latinos, African Americans, French folks. Everybody shared everybody’s food, and we would be running the streets all together. When I moved down here, I wasn’t really looking for the Italian community, but I found a huge one What an influence it had on New Orleans! We do the Creole Tomato Festival, and that has a lot to do with the Italians. They did a lot of the fruit stands here in New Orleans when they first came over, the Italians from Palermo.
That is why with my restaurant I wanted to blend it all. My menu reflects that. What will I pass down? I just want to make sure that the next generation takes care of people. That’s what hospitality means, the prefix hospice, to take care of. So as much as I’m taking care of them, I want them to take care of other people.
My grandfather on my dad’s side was murdered when my father was 2. My grandmother had 12 kids, and my dad was the youngest. My grandmother turns 101 this month actually. They are still out there in their little pueblos in Honduras.
On my mom’s side of the family, the majority lives in San Pedro. But growing up, my family traveled a lot because my grandfather owned a circus. Most of my aunts and uncles were born in cities they’ve never heard of. My mom was born in a tent. She was a ringleader, she did trapeze and high wire. Some of my aunts and uncles did the motorcycles and acrobatics.
My grandfather was an alcoholic, and when my grandmother divorced him it sort of splintered the family. The circus was very strict, very disciplined. Some of my family didn’t want to continue to raise children in the circus lifestyle, so when my mom turned 18, she brought her kids to the United States. Then others followed and moved their lives here to the States.