For My Beloved Nonna...
When I was a young child, growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio I would spend my summer days watching my Sicilian Grandmother cook like someone possessed by culinary demons. My brothers generally spent their time outside playing football, baseball, or any other sport which I consistently found a bit annoying, since I was not athletically inclined.
Grandma (Mamma Antonietta, as I called her) was far more interesting, and I got to eat more. She was my hero. I found it fascinating that this pudgy woman who could speak almost no English could take a tomato and make it taste like something God himself would crave. It was the kind of cooking which made you feel better no matter how you felt.
I went on to become a professional chef (after a brief stint as a pre-med student) for 17 years of my life. I simply had to practice the craft. It is like Miles Davis, the great musician, once said in an interview I saw him give for 60 Minutes. It was something like this:
“The music is in my head...I got to let it out.”
Cooking was in my soul, I had to let it out.
It took me most of my life to figure it all out, but I soon understood that there was no secret to what she did. The cooking was delicious because a part of her soul ended up in everything she made. This was the soul of a person who had raised 3 children and 3 grandchildren, and eventually great grandchildren, before she passed away at the ripe age of 90. God I miss her !
She passed this soul onto me, and my brothers, and to all she cooked for, and to all she touched. This was what possessed her. This was what looked like demons of gastronomy to all who watched. Demons, however, they were not. They were indeed angelic in all respects.
I remember speaking to her shortly before she passed away. Nonna was an accomplished gardener. She was an organic gardener, of course, but she had no idea what organic gardening was. Using composted vegetable waste to feed the garden was simply the right way to do it. The first thing I had to do when I bought my home in Northern California was to create my own organic garden (because that is what Nonna did), and I proudly planted just about everything under the sun. I told Nonna stories about my garden during her final days on Earth, and she asked me to plant 2 olive trees “for her” (of course, she said this all in Sicilian, as she never spoke English to anyone in the family), and I obeyed her command.
I dedicate this to you, Nonna Antonietta. May your soul live on through all who enjoy this site.