Introduction: “Giving in to my passion: FOOD”

Well I guess it was only a matter of time until I stopped wading in the baby end of the food blogging pool and dived into the deep end.  Ever since I can remember food has played an integral part in my life.  Even before I really “got into” food, I was into food.  Growing up, food was always around.  It was what brought our family together; whether it was a holiday, a wedding, a funeral or just our nightly supper.  We always seemed to be breaking bread. 

I can remember being mesmerized on a Sunday morning as my Father prepared the sauce.  That’s right, in the Italian-American family I grew up in we always called it sauce.  My Father would start off by making his meatballs.  He would mix all the ingredients in a BIG bowl; ground beef, raw onion, parsley, pecorino, bread crumbs, eggs, salt, pepper.  He would then roll out these beautifully round meatballs.  These meatballs would be pan fried in olive oil.  That’s right olive oil.  We didn’t have canola oil or soy oil or corn oil or sunflower oil.  All we had was olive oil.  My favorite part of the morning was eating one of the superbly fried meatballs straight burning hot from the frying pan.  Once all the meatballs were fried, my father would move onto the sausage. After the sausage were done frying that is when the magic of the sauce began.  In the same frying pan that he fried the meatballs & sausage he would deglaze the bottom of the pan with some red wine.  Once the tasty meat bits were loosened from the bottom of the pan, he would add a small can of tomato paste.  He would proceed to cook the rawness out of the paste.  Once the paste turned a darker shade of red, he would turn the heat off.  He would then get out a big sauce pot.  One that could hold four 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes.  He would saute garlic and onion with some olive oil in the pot.  Once they started to brown, he would add his four cans of crushed tomatoes.  He would add a little water to one can, and then proceed to wash each can out with that bit of water.  The tomato water would be added to the pot.  To that he would add, he reserved cooked tomato paste.  He would then season the sauce with salt & pepper. And, yes, he put a pinch of sugar.  He always said that that was what his mother did.  Once the sauce came to a boil, he would add the fried meatballs & sausage, lower the heat so the sauce could simmer slowly for the afternoon.

As a young child, Sunday mornings were some of my fondest memories. Now I didn’t know at the time that food would be my calling 20 some odd years later.  But as they say, things have a way of coming full circle. At the time, I just knew, “Wow! This tastes good.”  But after dinner, I didn’t hang around in the kitchen for the clean up, I had more important things to do, like play with my He-Man toys.  Now, I realize that cleaning dishes is a very honorable, albeit, dirty job.  In fact, it was my first job in the food biz.  When I was in my teens, my Grandfather was the head of the kitchen at our local VFW hall.  He would enlist me to work in the kitchen.  No, I wasn’t a line cook, although I did learn a little bit here and there from watching the chef.  I would even feel honored when the chef would ask for my assistance.  Hey, taking a prime rib out of the oven is a heavy job, although not particularly important.  Well, anyway, my Grandfather had me work the dish machine.  Now, like I said, being a dish washer is indeed a dirty job, but an integral & essential one.  Without a dishwasher, you have no food service operation.  I guess you could use disposable.  But I’m not paying almost $300 for a tasting menu at the French Laundry to eat on paper plates.  Sorry, it just isn’t the same thing!  Not even Chinet will do the trick.  Anyhow, there are 5 steps to washing dishes.  Here it goes. 1.) Pre-scrape 2.) Rinse 3.) Wash 4.) Sanitize 5.) Air Dry.  Pretty complicated, huh?  Well, it definitely wasn’t complicated, but my first taste of kitchen life also wasn’t glamorous, clean or easy.  In fact, it was hot, dirty and, downright, tough.  Once my Grandfather gave up his post, my kitchen days were over…until.


Flash forward to the early 2000s.  In the interim, I went through my teenage fast food stage.  I mean what blue-blooded American doesn’t?  But suddenly that all changed.  And what changed it was LOVE.  I had just started to date the girl who would become my wife.  I had realized that dates at the Golden Arches didn’t really constitute as romantic.  So I decided I had to step up my food game.  I decided that to be a gentleman, you had to eat like one and cook like one.  That is when my food reawakening began.  I began to be a tornado in the kitchen, whipping up everything from homemade ravioli to roast pork stuffed with salumi and provolone to cannoli (I made both the shells & ricotta filling).  We began to also eat out often, trying as many nice places as we could.  By nice, I’m not talking about The Olive Garden.  I’m talking about little mom & pop joints, as well as celebrity chef driven places in NYC.  I had come to the conclusion that food was more than a hobby, it was a passion.  I also started to collect all types of book about food, whether cookbooks or biographies of the great chefs of the past, such as Escoffier.   At about this same time, I also cultural reawakening.  I always knew I was an Italian-American, but that was where I drew the line.  As you know, food is very important to the Italians.  So I started to read about the food of the Italians.  From there, I didn’t just continue to focus on the food of Italy.  I started to delve deeper into the history, culture, heritage, music, superstitions.  Like food, all things Italian became a passion, as well.  In fact, in college while working on my undergrad at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ, I created and hosted an Italian/Italian-American radio program.  The program showcased all the positives of the Italian & Italian-American Experiences.  

After graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in communications, I could not find a job in my field.  I continued working at the job I had throughout college.  I was a transit operator for a land surveying company.  When the economic downturn smacked the global economy into the wall, people stopped buying houses.  How could you buy a house when people were getting laid off left and right?  And so, I, too, became a victim of the economic crisis.  While I was unemployed, I found myself playing the role of the housewife.  While my wife was at work, I was out shopping for that evening’s meal.  Oh and what a meal it was.  Each night, the meals got progressively more challenging and complicated. 

Then one day, I went for an interview and got a job.  So those intricate meals stopped being so intricate and became a lot simpler. The job I started was my first full time job in a restaurant since my dishwashing days.  I was a server at a fast-paced, super busy restaurant in a local mall.  It was a great learning experience.  I worked my way up from server to manager.  I learned every station in the kitchen until I knew it like the back of my hand.  I’m sure I could have continued up the ladder in the restaurant, but a temptress came to me in the form of an offer that I couldn’t refuse.  A friend of mine said he had a great opportunity to become a line cook at his restaurant.  Wow!  Here was my chance to finally cook full-time in an a la carte restaurant.  My eyes were glazed over with visions of grandeur.  I quit my management job and leaped at this opportunity! But unfortunately, the leap became a fall off the side of a mountain. As the old saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Which is where I am at this present juncture.  By now, you must know that food is my life, as well as, all things Italian.  I’m also going to confess that I am big into food porn.  There I said it.  I had to get it off my chest.  I take pictures of my food, whether I make it at home or am out at a restaurant.  You might be thinking to yourself, “Who the hell wants to look at someone else’s food?” My answer: “You’ll be surprised!”

So, anyhow, I was recently talking with Alicia Vitarelli.  She is a news journalist from News 12 New Jersey.  She was filming at a friend of mine’s gelateria (Sotto Zero Gelateria on Ridge Road in North Arlington…Awesome gelato this side of the Atlantic…You have to order a brioche con gelato with nocciola…HEAVEN ON A ROLL!).  We got to talking about how I am currently unemployed, how I have a tremendous passion for food, and of how I love my Italian heritage.  Alicia recommended that I start my own food blog.  I have contemplated doing one for a while,  just couldn’t find the time.  Alicia suggested that this was in fact the perfect time to start, being that I don’t have a full time job.  I agreed with her reasoning.  So, at that moment, I decided that now was the time.  Alicia said that a blog needs a catchy title.  I mentioned how I recently went on an audition for a traveling food show that was supposed to film across the United States.  The title that I came up with for that audition was “Chow America”.  Chow meaning to eat, but also a play on the word “ciao”, Italian for “hello”.  The title was a way to incorporate my two passions.  Alicia thought for a second then said, “How about ‘Ciao Down’?”.  This time “ciao” being a play on the word “chow”.  The opposite of what I originally came up with for the audition.  So here I am, at the end of my first blog I have ever written.  I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off my chest.  I feel like I’ve found a new home, a home as a blogger on the world wide web.   

Let me quickly give you what my mission is here.  I’m here to talk about everything and anything food related.  Although, Italian food is my forte, I am a lover of all types of foods.  I might sometimes ramble on about all things Italian, but like I said that’s what I know best.  And in fact, you might be able to relate it to other types of foods and cuisines.  Also you can expect to find what I lovingly call food porn.  I will be uploading pictures of food that I’ve made, that I’ve bought, that I’ve eaten at restaurants, etc.  You’ll also find out tidbits about who I am, what makes me tick, what makes me happy, etc.  I also plan on adding video down the road (More details to come). Also, this current blog will probably be the longest in length.  I want to thank you for taking time out of your life to enter mine.  If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thanks again.  I look forward to eating with you! 

Living to eat,
Tony Mangia

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