My grandmother would not have liked Epcot’s Italy Pavilion.
To be sure, she would have adored the shops and the opportunity to buy something made in or about Italy. She would have enjoyed watching “The Ziti Sisters” and would have found much about them humorously biographical. The architecture alone would have brought her to tears. She always talked about how she wanted to visit Italy as an adult but never had the time or money. She was too busy taking care of her family.
But these would have been overshadowed by her displeasure with those who cook at Italy’s two restaurants: Tutto Italia Ristorante and Via Napoli.
It’s not that she would have disliked the food. In fact, she would have loved it. But she would have been shocked and rather upset that someone had managed to cook great Italian food without her guidance.
My grandmother was nurturing, kind and gentle. But when it came to cooking, she was dead serious. Being a good cook—the best cook—was how she defined herself. As the matriarch of our family, she would tell us it was her job “to make the people eat.” From the volume of food she would prepare, it often seemed to us that “the people” meant all the people in the world.
Her recipes were never written out and used “Grandma Unit” measurements: “a pinch,” “a dash,” “a handful,” “a little bit” and my personal favorite: “not too much.” They were recipes learned from her mother and other ancestors who had emigrated from Italy. In Italian culture, recipes are handed down like stories from generation to generation.
When my grandmother decided to impart one of her recipes—never to someone outside the family, and to someone only when she thought they were worthy—it was significant. She would always leave out an ingredient or two—not enough to ruin the dish, but enough so that when everyone tasted it, they KNEW it wasn’t as good as hers. It was her way of making you earn the recipe and to appreciate its history. When you finally figured out what was missing, the recipe had become a part of you.
After dining at the Italy Pavilion, she would have wondered who gave her recipes to the chefs.
Her name was Mary, and she was born on April 11, 1910, the third child of Salvatore and Adelina. She was a first generation American, but she never lost touch with the Italian culture she learned as a young girl.
Mary had seven brothers and sisters, and it was her responsibility to care for and feed them all. She cooked from the time she was a little girl until the day of her death at the age of 85. She cooked for 2 husbands, 5 children, 8 grandchildren, countless relatives and neighbors, and had skills that would rival most 5-Star chefs.
My grandmother would have thought the sauce at Tutto Italia was almost as good as hers. She would have been pleased that it was a real meat sauce rather than a fancy marinara sauce which, she taught me, isn’t really a sauce at all. She would have loved that the meatballs were made with real garlic and not hardened by baking or frying but cooked uniformly within the sauce itself. And, she would have appreciated the authenticity of the light sauce, perfect crust and large chunks of cheese, meat and vegetables of the Via Napoli pizzas.
To the world, Epcot’s Italy Pavilion is a celebration of Italian heritage and culture. To me, it is a celebration of the life of Mary, my grandmother.
Contributed by: John Marchese (NDD#172) John is the DDL Media Relations Blogger.