After patiently awaiting the premier of our episode, Team Nonna sat down in front of the television with a lovely slice of gelato cake that my friend Giorgio Klinar from Caffe` Gelateria Sotto Zero in North Arlington prepared for us while the music for 24HR Restaurant Battle began. Immediately I start sweating as I begin reliving the entire experience again. As soon as Nonna is on screen I'm bombarded with text messages from all my friends saying how sweet Nonna is, and how enchanting my mother is and how not fat I look! A TRIUMPH! My heart is instantly full of joy!
If you thought our opposing team was arrogant, I assure you it was all for the camera's sake. The team I knew in the competition were some of the sweetest most genuine people I had ever met. There were literally hours of footage that needed to be cut for time purposes, and there were so many tender moments between all of us as one great team working together through the struggle of filming an intense competition. What you didn't see were all the times we borrowed things from one another, gave each other kisses on the cheeks, toasted to each other's success with bowls full of wine and limoncello. And the way the boys were so attentive to Nonna was adorable, helping her in and out of cars as if she was their own. I can’t even count the times Chris pulled me aside and counseled me whenever I just felt like giving up. By the end of service I felt like I had acquired three new cousins. When I found out the other team had served raw chicken I was anything but pleased and I sincerely felt bad for Anthony. The stress of this competition was very real, and although Anthony’s cockiness seemed arrogant, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone work so hard in the kitchen. Debra Jean was just as sweet as pie! She and my mom really hit it off and even kept in touch after filming. This wasn’t ever going to be a ruthless fight to the death people. We’re Italian! It was about love. Love of people and love of food.
At the end of the competition Mamma Angela decided that the tremendous effort they put forth in this competition was worthy of some of the artwork that made up Da Rossella. Each of them took home a painting to remember Team Nonna by. When we were named the winners there was everything but animosity in the room. I think Chris said it best “We’re happy for them, it’s an Italian thing”.
How incredible is my mother ladies and gentlemen?? I completely meant what I said when I said she is a Renaissance woman. She can cook, act, write, and PAINT! And boy did she paint that place good!! I know my mother pretty well, and ever since I was a teeny tiny baby all I can remember my mother doing was painting. I've seen her do some pretty incredible things, but NEVER ever have I ever seen her paint a mural in five hours flat, or decorate a space that beautifully in 24 hours! Our restaurant reflected a typical Masseria in Puglia because they ONLY have Masserie in Puglia. I had just come back
from Italy when I began filming so I definitely had a vision of what they were supposed to look like, and we did a fantastic job. I was so lucky to have my mother as the manager and face of our restaurant because I trusted her explicitly with the front of the house. I know at times she was a bit aggressive and chatty with the customers, but there was no one else on Earth I would have trusted to do a better job with front of the house. My mother could upstage Liza Minelli. And thats a fact.
Our shopping scene was priceless! As you could see, Nonna's driving skills aren't so great. I don't think Nonna's ever ridden a bicycle let alone driven a motorized shopping cart around a busy supermarket. I don't even want to tell you how many children were nearly harmed in the filming of this shopping scene. I almost jumped on one of the motorized carts myself. I don't know if anyone noticed, but I filmed most of the show in HEELS! Not recommended, but the things we do for the sake of fashion.
Prepping the food was when I realized I may have screwed up my shopping and menu planning and I had my lovely meltdown (YAY for waterproof mascara!) Going into this competition I was way too ambitious for my own good. A 17 item menu is completely executable in 24 hours......with a staff of ten. With Nonna and me, it wasn't going to happen. It was really hard for me to let go and listen to my mommy, but ultimately it worked out for the best and the food turned out fantastic! If I had to do it over, I would have added a few more things. Maybe in the CHAMPIONS ROUND!!
Many of you are asking if that is really Nonna's wedding cake and yes, it certainly is. The true name for the cake is Torta Pasta Reale and it’s a typical cake from my family's village, Mola di Bari. This recipe has been in my family for over one hundred years and it meant a lot to me that we were able to keep it on the menu.
So let’s talk about NONNA!!! I think it is both physically and mentally impossible to not love my Nonna. She's like kryptonite to any ill mannered person. During this competition I officially gave up the right to say the phrase "I'm tired". Every time I thought I was tired I thought about Nonna. She was the oldest of seven siblings, grew up most of her life fatherless, lived through a war and a depression, was widowed at 29, came to a new country and raised two children on her own, and now her granddaughter is putting her through a reality show!!!! Sounds crazy, but Nonna did it because she loves me and lives for others and puts them before herself. She's the entire reason I started Cooking With Nonna, because I wanted to prove that women like her were not only still viable, they are the cornerstones of families everywhere. I asked her to compete with me because I saw this as an opportunity for her to prove to other women her age that women have no expiration date. In the end, Nonna said it best, "I never win nothing in my life, now I am 77 years, I win".
When I finally got to see the judging segment with my family I was on the edge of my seat because I had no idea what made it past editing, OR what the judges said while they ate and deliberated. I nearly fell off the chair when Chef Marcus Samuelsson said my antipasto was "brilliant". Then I actually fell off the chair when Chef Scott Conant said it reminded him of what his Nonna would make for him! YES! THIS GUY GETS ME!! Chef Conant really got me. He understood what I was trying to do. His accolades for my staying true to form meant more to me than actually winning itself.....Don't get me wrong though, winning was AWESOME.
This entire endeavor from start to finish has been a tremendous learning experience for me. I'm incredibly fortunate to be related to two dynamic, beautiful, inspiring, extraordinary women. To have them on my team was such a blessing. I still have so much to learn from life