Hi Mario. Nancy Rommelmann here. You remember me, I'm sure, from the time I visited your first restaurant in the West Village, back in about, oh, 1993. Wow, what a tiny place Po was, two people couldn't even stand shoulder to shoulder, but anyway, I introduced myself back then, brought up this tenuous connection we've got, your in-laws knowing my mom.
Ringing any bells? You had on a Rutgers jersey under your chef's coat, and I told you my uncle was a coach there? No? Well, you were very nice, if a little leery as to why I wanted to, you know, chat incessantly while you were in the middle of cooking dinner for a full house. But I wanted to tell you, because I haven't seen you since, that I knew immediately you were going to be huge. How did I know? You just exuded confidence. That, and the clogs, the shorts, the ponytail; the fact that you seemed like a regular dude yet your place was packed with fawning adulates, and the way you were shaking those pans...
Which, speaking of, I started out to tell you something else. Sure, I've been a fan over the years. I have a few of your books. I'm not much for the cooking shows, but I did catch you one time on Iron Chef America, and it was... pretty good. Not as good, I don't think, as the original Iron Chef. Man, I remember seeing that show for the first time, the torch-lit set and that swelling music that made you think someone was about to go over a cliff. And what was up with Chairman Kaga's hair? The whole thing was so camp, the battles so fraught, the dubbing so Kung Fu flick 1971. I totally dug it, and I can definitely see why Food Network would want to glom onto it. Not that the new show is cheesy, or rather, it's just as cheesy, it's only, I don't see Giada De Laurentiis having the gravitas of Masaharu Morimoto. But you were great!
Anyway, I better come to the point, which is, I don't follow cooking fads. Food fads, maybe, but cookware, as far as I'm concerned, should last a lifetime. And those three Le Creuset saucepans I own pretty much look as though they have. The enamel's chipped; I can't scrub the burnt popcorn off the big one, and let's be frank; the sizes are all wrong for me. But have I been tempted to purchase anything else? No. I for one can walk through Williams-Sonoma without so much as buying a set of dishtowels.
This is not to say I haven't been tempted, for instance, by Nigella Lawson's Living Kitchen pieces, which are pretty cute. Not as cute as Nigella, of course; man, she is hot, and though I can't remember exactly how he put it, a chef friend said that, no matter what she's cooking, he's basically just staring at her nipples. Anyway, I never thought seriously of buying more than her robin's egg blue nesting bowls. Like I said, I've got a ton of cookware.
And then, I saw yours.
Mario, Mario, what are you doing to me? How can I justify replacing my pots and pans; my skillets and casseroles, handed down to me not only by my mother but my Nana? It's a sign of vexation that I'm even thinking such a thing!
And yet, just remembering your new cookware, which I recently saw at Sur La Table, what can I say but I'm enrapt. The five-piece avocado-green Prep Bowl Set - adorable!
The Panini Grill and Press, with its ceramic glaze the color of persimmons; its squared-off edges, its hefty lid - ancient and modern at once! I imagine myself cooking amazing frittatas in this, even though I don't like frittata. But maybe, and here's a thought, maybe it's the pan I've been using to bake them in. But it's more than the size and hue and functionality of your Italian Kitchen Collection. It's that I sense you're intuiting my needs. How else to explain the Silicone Spoon Spatula with a grooved handle in which to rest the thumb? Into which my thumb nestled as though it were made for me. Mario, this is genius, and also, considerate.
Look, I know you didn't personally hand-lathe that spatula, and yes; I'm aware that while you and your work "inspired" the cookware, the company that makes it made its name in teakettles. But I don't see this as an empty celebrity endorsement. Deion Sanders Hot Dog Express? Yes. Your Utensil Pitcher Crock? No, and actually, I need this, because what I'm using now is disgusting and coated with grease. I don't want to be the sort of cook who uses disgusting, grease-caked objects, Mario; I want to be efficient and streamlined and beautiful.
What I'm saying it, I think you can help me be this. I believe this, just as I believe, each time I bake Nigella's Damp Lemon Sponge, that I am closer to being a domestic goddess. Just as I believe, when I watch Tony Bourdain eating roast pig in Puerto Rico or warthog brains in Namibia that someday, I will, too. These are attainable goals, these cooking dreams of ours. I know I will never meet Brad Pitt, or at least, not in any meaningful way. But sharing a bottle of wine with you at Esca, or a pizza at Otto? These, I can see. And if not, well... we'll always have Po.
Nancy Rommelmann is a columnist and feature writer for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Bon Appetit and other publications, and a frequent contributor to Portland Food & Drink. She is the author of several books, including Everything You Pretend to Know About Food And Are Afraid Someone Will Ask, and the recently completed memoir, Leaving Los Angeles. Her personal blog can be read here.
BONUS VIDEO FEATURES:
The hard, hard life of an American cook, part 1. Mario gets it going with Jimmy Kimmel. Signature panini pans on display.
The hard, hard life of an American cook, part 2. Marion expands his carbon footprint by flying to a U2 concert with REM's Michael Stipe. Private jets all the way.