- Published: 19 October 2021
- ISBN: 9780241500996
- Imprint: Fig Tree
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 320
- RRP: $45.00
My Life Through Food
I grew up in an Italian family that, not unusually, put great import on food. My mother’s cooking was extraordinary and there was a daily, almost obsessive focus on the quality of the ingredients, their careful preparation, the passing on of family recipes, and cultural culinary traditions. About twenty-five years ago I made a film called Big Night that told the story of two Italian brothers struggling to keep their restaurant going. It ended up heightening my interest in all things culinary and catapulted me into places, relationships and experiences I never thought I would have. To this day, restaurateurs, chefs and food lovers all around the world tell me how much they like and are inspired by the film. I am more than flattered and almost embarrassed by their kind words, and, in the case of many, their generosity. I am always thrilled and thankful for such moments, as I so admire anyone who runs a good restaurant, decides to lead the gruelling life of a chef, or simply takes the time and effort to make a good meal for people they love.
My love of food and all that it encompasses only continues to grow every year. It has led me to write cookbooks, become involved in food-related charities, make a documentary series, and it is ultimately what brought my wife Felicity and me together.
As it is fair to say that I now probably spend more time thinking about and focusing on food than I do on acting, as is evidenced by some of my recent performances, it seems appropriate that this primary passion take yet another form: that of a memoir of sorts. The following pages offer a taste of such a memoir. I hope you find them palatable. (More puns to follow.)
Westchester County, New York, mid-
My mother and I are sitting on the floor in our small living room. I am around six years old. I am playing with a set of blocks and my mother is ironing. The TV is tuned to a cooking show.
ME: What is she doing?
MY MOTHER: She’s cooking.
MY MOTHER: She’s cooking.
ME: I know. I mean . . . what is she cooking?
MY MOTHER: Oh, she’s cooking a duck.
ME: A duck ?!!
MY MOTHER: Yep.
ME: From a pond?
MY MOTHER: I guess so. I don’t know.
I am silent. I build; she irons.
MY MOTHER: How are you feeling?
ME: I think, better.
She feels my forehead.
MY MOTHER: Well, I think your fever’s gone down.
ME: Will I have to go to school tomorrow?
MY MOTHER: We’ll see.
A silence as we watch the TV.
MY MOTHER: Are you hungry?
MY MOTHER: What would you like?
ME: I don’t know.
MY MOTHER: A sandwich?
I offer no response.
MY MOTHER: Would you like a sandwich?
ME: Ummm . . .
MY MOTHER: How about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
ME: Ummmm . . . yeah.
My mother raises her eyebrows. I notice.
ME: Yes, please.
MY MOTHER: Okay. When the show is over in ten minutes I
will make you a sandwich.
ME: But I’m hungry now.
My mother just looks at me, eyebrows raised even higher. I go
back to my blocks.
MY MOTHER: Do you remember that show when she made
MY MOTHER: Crêpes. Those pancakes.
ME: Ummmm . . .
MY MOTHER: That I make sometimes . . .
ME: I don’t know.
MY MOTHER: Well, anyway, do you want to help me make
them this weekend?
ME: Ummm, sure.
ME: Why is she cooking a duck?
MY MOTHER: I guess she likes duck.
A silence. We watch the TV.
ME: Do you like duck?
MY MOTHER: I’ve never really had it.
ME: Do I like duck?
MY MOTHER: I don’t know. Do you?
ME: Have I had it?
MY MOTHER: No.
ME: Then I probably don’t like it.
MY MOTHER: You can’t know if you don’t like something if you
haven’t had it. You have to try it. You have to try everything.
ME: Mmm. Maybe later. Some day, when I’m older, maybe.
I watch the TV. My mother looks at me and can’t help but smile. A silence. The show ends and we go to the kitchen.
She makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me, which
I eat ravenously. She watches.
MY MOTHER: Wow, you were hungry.
I nod with a mouth full of food and then speak, mouth still full.
ME: What are we having for dinner?
MY MOTHER: Pork chops.
ME: Awwwww!!! No. I don’t like pork chops.
My mother sighs.
MY MOTHER: Well, why don’t you go next door and see
what the neighbours are having?
I sigh dramatically and continue eating the sandwich. My mother smiles and begins to clean the kitchen.
‘What Can I Get You to Drink?’
This question was asked by my father immediately upon any guest’s arrival in our home. He loved – and still, at age ninety-one, does love – a good cocktail. He’s never gone in for anything fancy, but our home always had a very well-stocked bar that contained the necessary liquors for any drink a guest requested. My father himself usually just drank Scotch on the rocks in the autumn and winter, gin and tonics or beer in the summer, and of course wine with every meal no matter what the season. I loved to watch him make a drink for our guests, and when I came of age, this task was passed on to me and I proudly accepted it.
Today, I also ask the same question when guests cross my threshold and take great joy in mixing up whatever tipple floats their boat. I also make one for myself every evening. What form it might take differs with the seasons and my temperament. Sometimes it’s a Martini, other times a vodka tonic, on occasion a cold sake, a whiskey sour, or a simple Scotch on the rocks, and so on and so on. This past year I began a relationship with a Negroni and I am happy to say it’s going very well.
Here’s how I make one.
A Negroni – Up
– SERVES 1 –
25ml good sweet vermouth
1 orange slice
- Pour all the booze into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Shake it well.
- Strain it into a coupe.
- Garnish with a slice of orange.
- Sit down.
- Drink it.
- The sun is now in your stomach.
(There are those who consider serving this cocktail ‘straight up’ to be an act of spirituous heresy. But they needn’t get so upset. I never planned on inviting them to my home anyway.)
MY NOVEL TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN was published in October of 2017, and after spending that month on tour for the book, I came home to Indianapolis and blazed a trail between my children’s tree house and the little room where my wife and I often work
Voices seep into my consciousness, gentle as osmosis. They heave me slowly out of darkness like dragging a buoy from unfathomable depths.
After my parents married, they found it impossible to find accommodation, and for much of the time during the first two years or more had to live separately at the homes of relatives.
When the writer who was born into the family (and finished it) goes on to have his own family, does he keep up his truth-telling ways?Is he as cold-eyed a critic of his own handiwork?
Wilhelm Brasse switched on the enlarger and a bright beam of white light fell on to the sheet of photographic paper.
I am in the spare room, which doubles as my office, and I have just finished my day’s work.
Dear Girls, You are prohibited from reading this book until you are twenty-one years old.
At the end of 1959, aged fifteen, I sat School Certificate. I required two hundred marks from four subjects to pass, and that’s what I managed. One mark less, and my life might have been entirely different.