New York Restaurant Employs Grandmothers Instead Of Gold-Star Chefs
Eat all the five-star food you want, but it’ll never have the heart of a home-cooked meal. But what if there was a gang of grandmas kicking some culinary ass in the kitchen of your favorite food joint? That’s the system behind Staten Island’s Enoteca Maria.
But this little slice of Heaven doesn’t hire silver sauté-ers from just our side of the Atlantic—they get global. They’ve grandmas from 30 points on the planet including Italy (of course), Palestine, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Nigeria and Algeria. They’re known as ‘nonnas’—Italian for ‘grandmas.’
Enoteca Maria-owner Jody Scaravella was inspired to employ such a silver line up around 2004. Scaravella had suffered an almost-simultaneous loss when his grandmother, mother and sister passed away only a few years apart. An Italian grandmother in the kitchen was always a comfort to him, so he wanted to share that feeling with his customers. Initially, he placed an ad in the newspaper: ‘Italian Housewives to Cook Regional Dishes.’
“I was still building the restaurant then, so I asked them to come to my place to cook instead—I live in the neighborhood. And they came with dishes, and their husbands and a few grandchildren they were looking after for the day. The whole thing was like a Fellini movie,” Scaravella recalled.
Scaravella’s rotating assortment of international-edibles angels is what makes his establishment unique. The nonnas’ traditional treats are recipes from their respective regions and cultures. Patrons partake in exquisite entrées almost every night.
“The concept has just mushroomed,” Scaravella said in an interview. “I talk to everybody when somebody gets in—we talk about the concept. I always ask them if [they] know somebody who wants to cook.”
His idea of having an Italian grandma at the stove has blossomed into a diverse den of deliciousness—folks can’t get enough of the love that goes into all these eats. Additionally, Enoteca Maria is world renowned, as customers come from all over creation—just to sample the sweets and savories Scaravella’s nonnas dish out.
“I regularly get phone calls from Australia, from England, and from Italy to book reservations. I’m always flattered by that,” Scaravella said. “We get a lot of people who come from Manhattan—the ferry is right down the block. That’s also very flattering, because there’s a restaurant every 20 feet in Manhattan. Usually at the end of the day, the people will applaud the nonnas [who] have cooked for them. They get standing ovations on a regular basis and it’s really something nice.”
And we know what you’re thinking right now: “Who are all these nonnas? They must be the top cooks in their countries.” But you’ll have to ship out or soar over to Staten Island to find out just how Heavenly the cuisine can be. Here’s a quick peek at a few profiles: