So you and your wife live in New Jersey, Sicilian relatives surround you…
Yes, we live in Jersey City….
You’re an entertainer and a cook — not just a wine guy.
I hear you’re into keeping up the recipes of your heritage as well…
I’m Neapolitan. I’m third generation. I’m classic American. All of my great-grandparents came from Campania in the 1880s. But I do have dreams of my Alex Haley trip to Campania some day and visiting churches because they keep better records than the state offices. In the meantime, I found an entire Sicilian family that came over in the in the late 60s. My father-in-law Vito and his four brothers all came over and became basically a team of handymen. So one is the mason, one is the plumber, one is the electrician, and so they’re basically like a contracting family, surprise, surprise. But they came over here and they all made money. They worked really hard, they raised American kids, but they’re fiercely, fiercely Sicilians. Not Italians, Sicilians. That’s classic Italian love-hate of Sicily.
And this is where you learned how to cook?
My mother-in-law is an amazing cook. My mother is an American cook who cooks Italian-American. And she’s become a great cook later in life. But early on when she was busy being more feminist and going out to work and working her way up in the office hierarchy, dinners were very, very American. Everything was made on Sunday and reheated throughout the week. And she wanted us to be Americans, so everything was just pasta on Sundays and Friday nights, and roast beef, and Chinese food. Nobody speaks Italian but me.
So where did this return to your roots come from?
My grandmother, who lived with us, insisted I go to school in Rome for my junior year and learn Italian and bring it back. I studied for eight years in high school and college and came back from Rome Giglio, because I grew up Anthony GiGlio. My whole family calls me fancy-pants. But then I meet this Italian woman who closes the loop for me, because I’ve always been seeking my Italian heritage. I’m annoyed by Italian-American cuisine.
I likened this, I wrote a piece in Boston Magazine about their Little Italy being one of the best-preserved Little Italys of all of the big cities in the Northeast. But all recipes it seems from Italian-Americans from 150 years ago, they go down the lane, like whisper down the lane, or the game of telephone, where the message was the original recipe from Campania, and by the time we get it in 2000, it invariably ends with add sauce, add mozzarella, and bake! I mean, they all end the same — in gloppy, heavy red sauce. I mean the fact that people think that chicken Parmesan, let’s say, the staple of an Italian-American red sauce joint, is made with mozzarella is a complete fallacy! It’s supposed to be made with Parmigianino. But nobody knows that. They all make it with mozzarella. It drives me insane.