The restaurant that employs grandmas instead of chefs
A flock of “nonnas” dish up the ultimate comfort food at this NYC restaurant.
What’s better than grandma’s cooking? Well, nothing. Which is the raison d'etre of Staten Island's Enoteca Maria. The brilliant brainstorm belongs to owner Jody Scaravella, who started out a decade ago with just Italian nonnas but has branched out to include 30 grandmas from around the world; think Argentina, Algeria, Syria, the Dominican Republic, Poland, Liberia, and Nigeria. Every night there is one Italian grandma in the kitchen, joined by another nonna with a different culinary tradition.
Such a wealth of grandmothers! A bevy of babushkas! It’s so wonderful; a celebration of different cultures, with heaps of honor for the strong nurturing women who sometimes get pushed aside when younger generations become too busy with their own lives. Plus, grandma food. Homemade, authentic cooking that comes from tradition with no shortage of old-school ingredients and techniques.
But wait, a bunch of grandmas in the same kitchen?
"Each one of these grandmothers feels like they're the boss, because in their particular family unit, they're at the top of that pyramid. So when you put all of these grandmothers that are all at the top in a room together, they all feel like they're in charge and they're all wondering what that other person is doing there," Scaravella told Gothamist. "It can get dicey."
But it works, and to great success.
"I regularly get phone calls from Australia, from England, and from Italy to book reservations. I'm always flattered by that," Scaravella says. "We get a lot of people who come from Manhattan, the ferry is right down the block. That's also very flattering, because there's a restaurant every twenty feet in Manhattan.”
At the end of the night there are often standing ovations for the nonnas – and the token grandpa, Giuseppe Freya, who hails from Calabria and makes all the pasta. Imagine being the one male on a team of 30 grandmothers?
You can meet some of the nonnas in the video below. We remain completely charmed by this lovely endeavor.