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Posted on May 7, 2016 - by wervil - (Comment * FaceBook It * Send to Friend)
Craving some home cooking this Mother’s Day, but want to take your mom out? Try Staten Island eatery Enoteca Maria (27 Hyatt St.; 718-447-2777), where actual grandmothers will make you dishes from their own time-tested family recipes.
When it opened in 2007, a rotating cast of a dozen Italian nonnas (Italian grandmothers) took turns manning the kitchen — “I’m a nonna magnet,” brags owner Jody Scaravella. “Grandmothers love me.”
Since then, his roster has expanded to 30 grannies. And, last summer, he broadened his culinary horizons with Nonnas of the World, featuring home cooks from such far-flung locales as Trinidad, Prague and Kazakhstan. Each night spotlights a menu from one of the Italian grandmas, cooking regional fare, as well as one from another part of the globe. On Sunday, Nonna Rosa Correa, from Lima, Peru, will take her turn in the kitchen whipping upchupe de camarones (shrimp stew), cilantro-marinated meat and the flan-like dessert crema volteada.
“Our mission is to celebrate every culture,” says Scaravella, who hopes to add even more grandmas to Enoteca’s global lineup. Here’s a look at five Nonnas of the World.
When Nonna Zena Mossis and her husband moved to New York City — where their son lives — from war-torn Kamishly, Syria, three years ago, she didn’t speak any English, barely knew her son Jay’s new wife and had left behind two daughters in the Middle East. “I figured we would come here and wait for things to calm down in Syria and then go back,” says the 65-year-old, who received a visa when Jay’s son Christopher was born three years ago. “But that hasn’t happened.”
Zena had spent her last two years in Kamishly without water, electricity or security from the violence erupting around her, buut it still took her a while to get used to life in the US. So, when her daughter-in-law, Irini, found an ad on Craigslist looking for new chefs at nearby Enoteca Maria, she encouraged Zena to apply. Now, she comes to the restaurant once a month, making her family’s signature grape leaves and patties stuffed with ground meat.
“People clap each time I leave the restaurant,” Zena beams. She also says working there has boosted her self-confidence and has strengthened her relationship with Irini, who acts as her translator and helps her plan and write out her menus in English. Now, she can’t imagine going back to her hometown.
From the Czech Republic
Nonna Helena Svetla actually hates cooking. But the 63-year-old Czech grandmother does like when people praise her duck with apples or potato dumplings with sauerkraut. “That’s the best,” says the former art restorer, whose daughter, Anna, encouraged her to begin cooking at Enoteca Maria after going to dinner there with her husband. “The first time I was cooking, I was outside and somebody came to me and told me I was amazing. I love the interaction.”
Helena moved from Prague to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, two years ago to help Anna and her husband raise their son, Jesse, now 2. “New York has been amazing, because it is helping me find myself,” she says through Anna, translating. “In Eastern Europe, I feel so tied up because of the past and how people are,” she says.
And after a career spent restoring gold-plated Renaissance statues and churches in Prague, Helena paints her own abstract art (which now hangs on the restaurant’s walls) and marvels at the architecture in the Big Apple.
Nonna Monique Papon was already living in New York for 30 years before a friend recommended her for a job at Enoteca Maria, where the Staten Island resident cooks such traditional French dishes as bouillabaisse and boeuf bourguignon. “The first day was very nerve-racking because when you don’t know the technique at a restaurant, it’s like [you’re] in a panic. But now I’m OK.”
Monique grew up in the French village of Châteauroux, but the 65-year-old says that wanderlust is in her blood: Her father was a truck driver, and her aunt was always traveling to some place exotic like the Ivory Coast or Australia. “She would always bring us back some beautiful fabric or spice that you couldn’t get anywhere else,” recalls Monique.
After she worked 10 years in a local factory, Hollywood star Yul Brynner hired Monique to take care of his two adopted daughters from Vietnam, Mia and Melody. In 1975, the family sailed for America.
“I was like, my eyes couldn’t see everything,” she says of first landing in NYC. “Everything was so gigantic.”
She regularly sees Melody, who lives in Brooklyn and works in publishing, and keeps in touch with Mia, who visits frequently from Miami with her own two children. “I always wanted to have children, but I didn’t,” says the divorcée, who was married briefly to Brynner’s driver. “So, for me they are like my two daughters.”
When Nonna Rosa Correa’s son Victor moved to Staten Island from Lima, Peru, 12 years ago, the now-72-year-old mom decided to go with him. “I was divorced, and though I had another daughter in Peru, I thought I would come to the US,” Roas says. “Plus, I wanted to make sure [his kids] spoke Spanish.” Rosa lives with her son, his wife and their three children. Her daughter-in-law suggested she applied for a job at Enoteca Maria. “She said, ‘Do you want to cook with the grandmothers?’ I had never worked before, and I said yes. So, I came here and we liked it.”
She still is getting used to American customs 12 years later, and still misses her daughter. But she loves going to the beach and especially fishing: “Though I never catch anything — it’s just for fun!”
Her favorite thing, besides playing with her grandchildren? Cooking at Enoteca Maria. “I would come here every day if [Scaravella] asked me to,” she says. “When I cook here, the people say, ‘Ay! Ay!’ They want to take photos of me. They love the food I make. It makes me feel good.”
Twenty years ago, Nonna Adelina Masana moved with her husband from Naples, Italy, to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, an Italian neighborhood. “It was like I never left Italy,” she says, adding that she wishes she had had more incentive to learn English (which she speaks haltingly). Although Adelina, now 60, divorced, and her ex-husband moved back to Italy, Adelina happily lives with her children and two grandchildren.
One of the original nonnas in the Enotecca Maria kitchen, she works there four or five times a week — and enjoys cooking at the restaurant specialties such as eggplant boats stuffed with rice, mozzarella, ricotta, ground beef and peas. “It gives me an excuse not to cook at home, and gives me independence.”
Posted on February 28, 2016 - by wervil - (Comment * FaceBook It * Send to Friend)
Enoteca Maria is #3 in the Lineup of The Food Network’s top 5 Italian Restaurants in the country!