Photo: Derek Parks

Well kids, I'm back from the capital! And I did it! I channeled my inner Tony Robbins and I gave my very first official speech.  Now some of you might be thinking that public speaking should come relatively easy to me considering what I do, but let me tell you that as an actor it’s much more comforting to be able to hide behind a character and a camera than to talk to hundreds of people as yourself! I did practice a lot in the mirror beforehand :)

I was really excited to attend my very first NIAF Gala this year.  For those of you who aren't familiar with NIAF, they're the National Italian American Foundation based out of Washington DC, and they've been a tremendous support to me and Cooking With Nonna for a while now.  When they asked me to make a speech at Expo Italia, which is a big showcasing of Italian companies and products, I was beside myself with excitement.  Then, when they asked me to speak at the youth breakfast as well, I fell off the chair... literally.  How was I going to do this? and what the French toast was I going to talk about??

I decided to take this opportunity to speak about something that was really important to me, the direction that Italian American youth has taken recently and how I feel that my piers and cohorts are deviating from the fundamental values that our ancestors have provided us with.  Now speaking for twenty minutes at length about anything can get pretty boring, so I had SLIDES!!

As a young Italian American I've always been both proud and passionate about my culture.  I'm lucky to know many young people from my community who are doing wonderful things in the world that should lead them to great success in the future.  But are they famous? NO.  On the contrary, the media is awarding attention to the young Italian Americans who deserve it least.  People who identify themselves "guido's" and "guidette's" in hopes of being famous for the sake of being famous.

Photo: Derek Parks

I don't know about you, but I'm none too thrilled with alarming trend of hair gel, orange skin, and fake breasts that is currently plaguing my generation.  It pains me to see that this is the first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of Italian Americans. 

In my speech, which went brilliantly of course, I explained that there are three lessons that I've learned in my short life on  how to not fall into the "Snookie" trap.

1. Stay curious: Be a collector of experiences. Go to a museum. Check out that weird concert with your friend. Go sky diving… do things that challenge you mentally and physically and I can almost guarantee you that you’ll be famous.

2. Build something larger than yourself: Become inspired to leave the world in a better place than when you came into it. I come from a small family, but as my success with Cooking With Nonna has grown, my entire family has remained a part of the equation.  My dad  "The Vito" is my manager, my mother Angela is my Creative Director, and my brother Leonardo is my lawyer.  Just by following my passion, I've managed to create something so much larger than myself.

3. There is absolutely no substitute for hard work: Try as I have… when you want to make something from scratch, you can’t substitute ANYTHING. Whether you’re making risotto, lasagna or cooking on the grill, it’s the details that make the meal memorable. The hard work and conscientious nature of a good chef allow them to bring something of themselves to the dish… and that’s what people remember. The fact that the risotto was stirred by hand for half an hour. The fact that the pasta for the lasagna was made by hand or the fact that the steak that went on the grill was marinated for 24 hours before it went on. All of those things take a little extra effort…a little more hard work, but trust me… from someone who’s seen both sides of the fence, it’s totally worth it to give a little bit more of yourself for the good of those around you.


The day of the Gala started early for me.  I got up at 6:00AM to start making myself beautiful.  Sorry, I don't wake up with my perfect curls blowing in the wind like in the famous focaccia picture.  I'll admit, I was a bit nervous right before my first speech in the morning, but luckily Michael Badalucco from the hit series "The Practice" who was speaking before me, sat with me for a bit and calmed me down.  He's really such a sweet man!


After that, I had a few hours to kill at the Expo before my big presentation.  I sampled amazing cheeses and salumi from the famous Mikes Deli on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.  They were passing out skewers of Provolone that they were charring over an open flame, sort of like when you make marshmallows for smores. Delicious!!  It was incredible to walk around and meet so many wonderful fans of Cooking With Nonna!

I loved getting approached to sign photos and I was so deeply touched when a young man asked me to talk to his father on the phone that was a huge fan but couldn't be there.  It really makes all the hard work worth while!

Finally it was my big moment!  Gladly all my slides worked and my presentation went off without a hitch! Some people even said that my poise and delivery was reminiscent of a young, Italian Meryl Streep...... Ok, not exactly, but it was still awesome!

By 4:00PM I was wiped out! But I still had to rush back to the room to get ready for the Gala. It was finally party time! Giuliana Depandi Rancic emceed the event beautifully, and I was relieved to be able to hang out with my wonderful friends from Commissione Giovani USA that came from all over the country to support NIAF!

And finally, a sincere thank you to John Marino, Executive Director of NIAF, for the kind invite to the NIAF Convention… I can’t wait till next year!

A dopo!



Photos from the NIAF Convention

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Back to my Alma Mater - St. John's University

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