For many of us, growing up devouring our grandmother’s food holds a special place in our hearts. One Staten Island restaurant has managed to bottle up that comfort: Enoteca Maria not only serves mouthwatering Italian dishes but also features an ever-evolving international menu prepared by grandmothers from all over the world who all share the same zeal for showing their love through flavorful meals.
“People are always talking about their mothers and grandmothers, and the way they cooked,” Jody Scaravella, the owner of the 30-table restaurant, told Travel + Leisure. “It really takes you by the hand and leads you down memory lane.”
The restaurant’s food is as heartwarming as its origin. The restaurant idea first came to Scaravella’s mind after he’d lost his Italian mother, Maria, as well as his grandmother, and turned to family recipes as a way to work through the grief. He hired Italian grandmothers, otherwise known as “nonnas,” to foster an atmosphere of warmth that would resemble the same feel-good memory of going to his nonna’s home to eat. He named the restaurant Enoteca Maria as a tribute to his late mother.
Later, Scaravella brought in an older woman from Pakistan as a guest cook. He then began hiring women of different backgrounds — including Nonna Rosa from Peru, pictured below — to create a rotating menu of international cuisine to complement the restaurant’s primary menu of Italian dishes.
While he had originally explored hosting women from different Italian regions, he noticed that it sometimes created an unwanted sense of competition. However, Scaravella found that pairing two women together from different backgrounds immediately changed the dynamic and opened the doors to learning about different cultures in a curious and more uninhibited way. Thus, “Nonnas of the World” was born.
How It Works
Two nonnas are hired to work at the same time to cook and learn from each other. One acts as a head chef and the other as a sous chef. While the age range for nonnas in this establishment ranges from 50 to 90 and many are, in fact, grandmothers, it’s not a requirement. Many of the women hired have never worked in a professional kitchen before. Nonnas are hired individually to work about once a month but some might work as little as once per year.
While many of the nonnas don’t travel far to cook at the restaurant, with many being based in Staten Island, Brooklyn or New Jersey, their entrees stem from the far corners of the globe. Enoteca Maria has showcased women from Japan, Bangladesh, Poland, Venezuela, Belarus and more. In a recent Facebook post, Enoteca Maria showcased a weekend of cuisine by nonnas hailing from Armenia, Italy, Egypt and Japan:
Requests for nonnas come from all over the world and the restaurant hopes to be able to fly in guest cooks at some point. The establishment also hosts cooking classes for women as well, creating opportunities to learn recipes from different cultures and taste different foods.
Enoteca Maria is open for lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday, with the last reservation at 7:30. Restaurantgoers are encouraged to book at least two weeks in advance.
This article originally appeared on SimpleMost and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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