Since March of 2020, many people quizzically ask me if I’m a lawyer or a chef, and my answer is always the same – both.
I was born in New York City from humble beginnings and am of Napoletana and Sicilian descent. My family is from Southern Italy, mainly Naples (Nola and Campobasso) and on my father’s father’s
side from Sicily (Messina), so mostly Napoletana and a little bit Sicilian. Like many Italian immigrants, both sets of grandparents settled in Little Italy in Manhattan on Mulberry Street. Before my parents met and married, their families knew one other “from the neighborhood.”
Although my sister and I were born in lower Manhattan, we moved to Staten Island when I was a baby and my sister was 5. We were raised in a two-family house with my maternal grandparents living upstairs. My Nana Angela, who was all of 4’10” tall, was a magnificent cook. Her father, my great-grandfather, who passed away before I was born, owned a famous restaurant named Carmine’s in downtown Manhattan’s Little Italy which was right across the street from the Criminal Court building for 35 years. She learned much of her culinary skills from him, in and out of the restaurant.
My mother, who was a homemaker, always used to tell me about the judges and lawyers who would dine at my great grandfather’s restaurant and my parents always pushed both my sister and me academically. My sister is a physician and I became a lawyer, and although our professions usually kept us very busy, the two of us love to cook, and have families or our own.
My paternal grandparents (Assunta “Susie” and Vincent Caminiti) remained in Manhattan when we moved to Staten Island and we visited them and they visited us regularly. Both grandmothers, who are no longer with us, were the best of friends, and, along with other extended family members, had a major influence on my life, both in and out of the kitchen.
Family always came first and we always respected and maintained Italian traditions for holidays, Sunday dinners, going to church, saints days and of course, cooking. These recipes were nothing that were written down like the cookbooks of today.
As for how I started to develop recipes, cook and post my photographed food on social media, like many, during Covid, I tried to make the best of a terrible situation, being out of work with the courts being closed. I started to make lemonade from the proverbial lemons that I was given. I feel blessed to have had the means to have quality food to begin with and priceless culinary skills from my grandmothers and mother. Being creative and ingenious with different recipes, while feeding others, is very fulfilling to me, it’s cathartic, therapeutic, nostalgic and nurturing all at the same time. When I cook, I cook with passion. That’s my secret ingredient.
My food posts surpass all language barriers since people of all colors, creeds and countries respect good food and drink. Food is magical in that brings people together, especially nowadays when sadly, everything else seems like there is such a divide.
All though I know a great deal about Italian food from my family and from visiting various parts of Italy many times, there is so much more to learn from Italian locals in the smallest of villages, and its my calling to spread that knowledge to others. I cannot wait to go back to Italy when travel resumes.
I’m happy to say that as of this writing, my cookbook, which is a mix of traditional and new recipes, is 90% complete and I will keep you posted with the first print.