The Five Questions: Johnny “Meatballs” DeCarlo
November 2, 2010
Johnny “Meatballs” DeCarlo
So what is it about Italian food and the heart? Does the history call to us? Are the flavors so unique? What is it about growing up in New Jersey that makes us irresistible to the media? I grew up on a farm and never even heard of the “Jersey” shore until I had graduated from college in Boston. None of my friends went to the shore. I didn’t even know my neighbors, so why would I know about “Jersey?”
What I have discovered is a rich heritage. Culinary traditions are very important. The wine, the dance, the songs, the history , all say something to me that I had neither understood nor sought out. Yet recently I’ve been introduced to several people who exemplify the traditions of growing up Italian in New Jersey and New York. Thank you for enriching my life.
Facebook is responsible for bringing people together in this new form of a social context. We are interested in food – that is a given. We drink in the experiences of life. I met Johnny completely by luck. Isn’t real life like this? He really does make meatballs. He’s a self-taught chef and talented actor. PS, all the links go on marvelous musical and visual journeys.
I wasn’t planning on meeting the star of the new VH-1 television show named “My Big Friggin’ Wedding, but I did… through the magic of social networking and a few “friends” in common. I get a lot of friend requests and the like. It was only a matter of time before I would delve deeply into my culinary consciousness to a place like Italy. My parents took me to Italy to study the architecture, history, and food. Sure I was young, early teens I think. But the culinary lessons that I learned in Naples about real pizza and that Tortellini in Brodo does only taste correctly when made with the right ingredients only procured in Italy…
That is why I hunger for the food and wine of this place.
It fills my dreams and my heart.
Family, friends, food, all things Italian, all things Jersey… And yes, it IS all about the meatballs and gravy.
Thanks to my friend Ted for teaching me this.
1. Who taught you about food? Mother, father, grandparents, TV cooking shows, cookbooks?
Whenever I cook, I take a little of my mom’s influences, some of my Nanny’s (my great-grandmother) and my two grandmothers—Nana and Grandma—combined with my own incorporations. When I see a dish prepared on the Food Network, I try to duplicate it, but I always add my own take and use stuff I learned when I traveled to Italy and from all my fellow foodie friends. Not being a culinary school trained chef, I often get asked the question, “how did you learn to make that?” Whether it’s a simple sandwich or the most complicated creation, the answer is a lot of imagination and dedication. People who say they “can’t even make toast” are either just not interested in cooking, or have been intimidated into thinking that it requires extensive training. This isn’t brain surgery, and so many of the best cooks and chefs are self-taught. Anybody—if they want to that is—can learn to cook a little. So my tip to anyone out there who has never cooked and wants to start is this, definitely get your hands on as many cookbooks as you can (whether you get them at the library or purchase them), watch every cooking show you can, as well as UTube videos (you’d be amazed at how many free tips and skills you can learn this way). Then, pick something you want to cook, go shopping, and then come home and make it based on all of what you learned—taking a little knowledge from each place—and adding in your own spices of choice.
Do it with friends and family members too and you’ll really see an amazing blend of variations. Hopefully you won’t come out confused and instead will understand why certain things “marry” well together, while others don’t. It may take some time to completely decide on the exact interpretation of how you want to call this dish your own, but you will. Jot it all down on an index card (or type it if you want). Continue this for a year and when it’s all said and done, you’ll have your own cookbook.
2. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would that be? What would you be eating/drinking?
If I could be anywhere in the world right now it would no doubt be Venice, Italy. I’d be sitting in the Piazza San Marco with my wife and kids. It would be evening and we would all be enjoying the music of the outdoor band. Our meal would be glasses of cold Pinot Grigio and the largest Italian antipasto platter known to man with salami, pepperoni, capicola, soppressata, prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, Italian roast beef, and every salumi available… Plus extra sharp provolone, mozzarella di bufala, assorted giardiniera like cauliflower and carrots, sweet roasted red peppers, hot pepperoncinis, artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms, olives, crispy fennel… Throw in some nuts and fruits like figs, sliced pears, grapes and clementines. Wow my mouth is watering! An antipasto platter is my favorite thing on earth besides New Jersey.
Italy (especially Venezia) is my favorite place.
3. Is there anything that you enjoy eating/drinking that brings a tear to your eye when you taste it? Why?
I’m going to give the obvious answer here, but one food that brings a tear to my eye when I eat it is a meatball. And I’m not talking about my meatballs necessarily, I’m talking about my mom’s or my grandma’s—or if I taste someone else’s meatball and they resemble mom’s or grandma’s.
The reason for this (and the whole reason I started “ Johnny Meatballs”is because meatballs take me back to my childhood and to a time that I think is lost now. And I’m not referring to the 1960s here, I’m referring to the 1980s. I always try my best to duplicate the style of the classic dishes I grew up eating, whether it’s for my business or in my home. That’s very important to me in this age of fast food and drive-thrus.
The “Sunday dinner” experience was an all-day affair when I was a kid—with relatives who came from miles away. I get sad thinking about relatives who are no longer alive that I miss and remember from those Sundays in my old neighborhood.
Waking up as a kid at 7am and smelling meatballs frying in an olive oil heated pan is linked so strongly to so many wonderful childhood memories that just thinking about those mornings brings a tear to my eye.
4. What is your favorite place for a “mixology” kind of cocktail in “Jersey”. Who makes the best mixed drink? What is this drink?
I’m really not much of a cocktail guy (I prefer wine and beer) and generally it’s consumed in a corner bar like the Park Tavern. (literally around the corner from me in Rutherford) Although I will say the Long Island Iced Tea at the Hilton in Hasbrouck Heights is pretty perfect as far as mixed drinks go… As a certified bartender (Authentic Bartending School in Paramus) I’d like to say I make the best drink which is my “Knocked-Up Lemonade,” made with limoncello.
5. Social Networking brought us together. Do you have a social media strategy? Do you own a Smart Phone? Use Twitter?
I don’t use a Smart Phone or Twitter, just Facebook. I keep it simple. And my strategy for social networking is pretty simple, too – self-promote by promoting your interests. Thus, you will see those who share similar interests contacting you. I’m a blogger so I always promote my food and entertainment blog, CUGINE CORNER on I-Italy.org. In turn, I connect and read the blogs of others (like Peter Battaglia and Tony Mangia). Same deal with music, movies, etc. This sort of thing leads to not just friendships, but collaborations and cross-promotion as well—all of which occurred today!
Thank you Johnny for allowing me into your world if only for a short while. I’ll see you on the airwaves. Cheers to you. wb
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
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