My first cooking inspiration was most definitely my Mom. Life revolved around the kitchen growing up, as it still does today. One of our favorite things to do in the summer was crabbing the great South Bay. For as long as I can remember, we would go and pull the most beautiful blue claw crabs out of the water with just a chicken wing on a string. My mother would make a simple marinara sauce with tomato, garlic, onion and basil and drop the crabs in. The whole family would eat a nice bowl of linguine dressed with the sauce and then work on the crabs for an hour getting all the meat and sucking the juice from the legs. My mother’s passion for both this simple sauce and the crabs inspired me to learn how to cook. I think when a child is involved in harvesting their food, they are more likely to be interested in cooking it. This is one of the gifts my mother gave me and I will pass it on to my daughter.
Since I am the oldest of three and my mother worked on and off, I had to learn to cook dinner. The simplest thing my mother could teach me is to make a simple tomato sauce and boil pasta. Once I understood the basic concept, then I was able to improvise putting a vegetable like zucchini or eggplant in the sauce or adding meat like crab or sausage. Little did I know that this is the base of all Italian cooking. Always simple and utilizing whatever ingredients are available.
My favorite food to cook and eat is a long-braised pork tomato sauce, aka Sunday Sauce. Not because it is a fancy, technical dish, but because it's the meal that has brought my family, and most other Italian-American families, together every week for generations. I owe my love for food and family to this meal. Just think about it. Pork bones, fatty pieces of shoulder meat, sausage and meatballs all stewing in tomatoes, onions and garlic for six hours! Dress pasta with this sauce, romano cheese and saute some greens with garlic and oil and you have a traditional Sunday meal that will put you to sleep. My great grandfather in his early 90s would STILL make this sauce on Sundays when we would visit him in The Bronx. That's how this meal resonates, it stays with you until the day you die.
I learned many things. First of all, I learned that Gordon Ramsay is a remarkable human being. He is a fun-loving family man, culinary icon, and a respected businessman. He forced us to cook under serious pressure and with difficult ingredients. As a result, I've learned that I can handle that pressure in the kitchen and that I have the ability to take an item I've never worked with and make it taste amazing. The most important thing I have taken away from this experience is the people I have met. The other contestants and even people who worked on the show became close friends in such a short period of time. Being surrounded by other foodies and artistic people was extremely fulfilling and taught me that food, passion and love can bring any walk of life together. I will cherish this experience and continue building friendships with my new friends for the rest of my life.