Meeting the nonnas from Enoteca Maria New York

Our founder Bev Wilkinson visited the nonnas from Enoteca Maria in Straten Island New York. Enoteca Maria hires Grandmas from around the world as chefs.

She discovered a wealth of advice and traditional cooking tips. Bellissimo!

Joe Scaravella, Proprietor of Enoteca Maria Staten Island New York

Can you tell me a little bit about the restaurant you founded?

So this restaurant, we have two kitchens. An Italian grandmother always staffs one kitchen. The other kitchen changes daily. We feature grandmothers from all over the world. And I always ask them to cook the food that their mums made for them and their grandmothers made for them when they were little girls.

And to not to worry about if Americans are going to like it. I don’t want them changing their tastes to suit the American palette. I want the real deal and that’s what we do.

Can you tell me about some of your favourite Nonna’s that you have worked with?

When we first opened a little over ten years now. We featured grandmas from different regions of Italy. About seven years ago, we realized it’s not all about Italians so we started featuring Grandmothers from all over the world. They are fantastic every one of them, I don’t really have a favourite. They all cook in a beautiful way.

Tell me about some of your favourite experiences about working here?

One of my most recent favourite experiences is watching when a new Nonna comes in. We recently met with a Nonna from Hyderabad India and she came into the kitchen to watch another Nona get ready for dinner. She is going to cook in a couple of weeks so she wanted to see what it is all about. So the Nonna that she was paired up with was from Siberia. It just tickled me to see two different ends of the world in the kitchen at the same time talking about food and life experience. I really like that.

Where do the Nonna’s come from are they all locals that live in the Metropolitan area?

They live somewhere in the five boroughs, they immigrate to this country.

We had a project that we developed about seven years ago its on our website its call Nonna’s of the World it’s a virtual book so we are updating it and it’s a prototype right now for something that we want to bring online and it has the Grandmothers stories of immigration to the States. We have a Nonna from Syria and in her story she talks about how two years ago, she escaped with her husband and whatever they could carry they escaped with their lives from Syria. Somewhere near Aleppo. It’s a very interesting project and I am very proud to be apart of it.

How did you come up with the idea?
Originally we feature Italian grandmothers because I’m Italian. I was missing those moments with my Nonna in the kitchen and I was just trying to recreate that. Then it took on a life of its own.

What advice has your nonna given you that you use in everyday life now?

What I notice a lot now, is the international grandmothers when they come here to prepare their meals. They become very flexible if there is something that they want to make and we don’t have everything they need for that. They are very flexible, they will make something else and I think that’s key in life to be flexible.

How many Nonna’s do you have cooking?

Over 30 grandmothers right now that cook here. I just got an email today from a nonna from Brazil who wants to cook here. Every day is very exciting. I need that. Otherwise I get bored.

Does it take a lot of preparation to organise the kitchen for nonnas from different countries?

Just straight out gastronomy is very difficult to make happen. So my wife always teases me, she says you have taken something that is very difficult and you have made it impossible. It is very challenging changing that kitchen every day, representing all the countries in the world.

What is the most prominent country that you have representing?

There is cuisine that is more mainstream; so Italian cooking is more mainstream. Japanese cooking is mainstream. French cuisine is mainstream. But when you have a nonna from Syria cooking or a nonna from Algeria in the kitchen. It’s not so mainstream. Its taken a little while for this project to really get legs under it because its something that never has been done before. Our customers in the beginning they leaned more towards our Italian kitchen. But now I notice that people are becoming more experimental. They want to try this and they want to try that. They order from both kitchens and they are very excited about that. I’ve watched it change.

Can any nonna become a chef? Is there any special training to become a chef?

No there is no special training, they are all non-professionals who come into a professional environment and basically we watch and see what happens. Its very well received. It takes every bit of my will to make things happen every day and that’s good.

Anything else you would like to add?

We would love to have a nonna from Australia so if there are any Aussie nonna’s in the metropolitan area we would love to have you come in.

Adelina V from Napels Italy

What you like to cook?
Anything Italian food. I like everything.

What is your special, what do you like to cook the most?

Everything I make is special

What traditional recipes do you do?

My original Neapolitan, lasagna, broccoli sausage, Cannelloni, ravioli, gnocchi, melanzane parmigiana and tomato sauce. Forget about it only fresh tomato. All original.

Why do you like to work here?
Me I like to cook. I cook for everyone when their babies. So when I found this job. I like it. I’m very comfortable.

Anything else you like to add?
I make a lot of food I want to make. A lot of recipes.

Christina Carrozza Italian Nonna

Can you tell me where about in Italy are you from?

I was born in Southern Italy however I grew up in Northern Italy. I lived there for 17 years. The city name is called Bergamot, which is near Milan. In the more northern part we cook more the meats, we use different herbs in the south of Italy. Its beautiful near the Alps.

Can you tell me how you became a chef at Enoteca Maria?

My mum was retiring and was looking for something to do. You do not want to stay home all day and do absolutely nothing. She was reading a local newsletter and she saw this article and said there looking for more nonnas. So I called for my mum and I spoke to Jo and when I found out where the restaurant was located it was too far for my mum to travel. So as I am hanging up the phone he says what about you? I said I’m not looking for work. I already have work. He says oh no come see us. I told my ma she said go and see what it is. And I came, saw Jo and I fell in love with the whole idea. Yes you cook for your family. But its different cooking for others, they tell you that its good. They don’t have to tell you that it’s good. Your family must or else you will never cook for them again. And that’s how it all started. It was meant to be. Because I was not looking, mum was looking.

Tell me what is the best thing you like about working here?

Being creative. To create your own dishes when you were growing up. Dishes your grandmother made for you, to bring some of the things back. People don’t like to cook anymore because its time consuming. I just love the idea of making other people happy. Its a lot different than cooking at home, it’s a stranger. You know. Eventually some of the customers keep coming back. It’s being able to provide dishes that you have grown up with and they have grown up with. It’s being able to have the time to share with them your talents. To make them smile.

Tell me some of the favourite dishes you like to make?

I love to cook. Cooking is like a drug for me. Its passion it’s not a job. However everyone has their favorites. I do enjoy cooking Farfalle all Pescatore-bowtie pasta with mussels, calamari, risotto and shrimp-a dish.

Then sometimes depending on the weather. It depends how I feel that day. The weather. The time of year, what vegetables. Whats fresh. I try to create things like that.

Tell me what advice would you give to the younger generations?

Try anything; don’t be afraid there is nothing scary about cooking. If you fail you try again. You could actually grow with it. All of us have different palettes, its not about yours is better than mine. Its what you like, your flavour. Maybe you like more salt. More mustard. More butter, As long as it is cooked properly. All those things everything else its easy. There is nothing scary about it.

Once you create your basics you can create anything you want.

You can create the world.

With one ingredient you can cook in different ways. It’s your own preference.