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My Big Fat Restaurant Family Makes a Cookbook

July 28, 2012 | Frank Bonanno

When I opened Luca d’Italia nearly a decade ago, I got to staff it with my friends. Even then, I realized those days were numbered–that I would age in an industry that wouldn’t necessarily age with me, that these talented people would move on to other restaurants or other careers, that I would never again have this opportunity to surround myself in my workplace with my friends.

I was right. Brandon, Noel, Paulie, Johnnie—new jobs, or families, or towns. Rob Lawler’s running The Truffle. Reba has her own restaurant in New York. The people I work with today—not just at Luca, but all around Denver—they are not my friends; that era has passed. I find myself instead to be a patriarch of sorts, and my co-workers today–they are my family.

Here’s proof.

In April, Osteria Marco manager Chris McNeal, asked me if he could produce a cookbook for Luca d’Italia. He wanted to create something completely different from anything else currently on the market–an iBook that would lend itself to the unique plasticity of an iPad. Chris had a vision for something totally interactive, a book with recipes, to be sure, and with lovely accompanying photos, yes–but also with video tutorials for Knife Skills, Making Cheese, Mixing Punch. A book with slide shows and animated illustrations, and text that would be as simple, straightforward and functional as, well, an iPad.

Yes. Totally in, I said. The timeline, though, was crazy tight, what with Chris graduating from college in June, his new son due in July, and a move to DC planned for August. We’d have to be prepared for a maelstrom of sorts. Well, sure, Chris . . .if you can pull off your end, I can pull off mine . . .

So it came to be that our restaurant family put together a Luca Cookbook. Chris’ production team of videographers, photographers, artists—and my team of cooks, servers, assistants, descended on my home and garden and restaurants and filmed and drew and took notes and typed recipes and cooked and, well . . . what a restaurant family I have.

Wherever Chris went with his camera, Sean Hellyar was by his side, assessing angles, manipulating lights, correcting sound, and they worked 40 hour weeks filming while maintaining their 40 hour weeks at Osteria Marco. My wife and business partner Jacqueline tackled the completely thankless task of typing and editing recipes and text, and Emily Schwartz and Liza Zimmerman, who work up the stairs from Bones in the Bonanno Concepts offices, took notes and checked screens, choreographed schedules. Osteria server Lea Hill offered up her artistry for the illustrations; Mizuna bartender Scottie Davison photographed my home, my food, my face, my team.

One intensely hot and long day at my house, Green Russell bartenders Melissa Durant and Alex Parks arrived, fresh, professional, and startlingly lovely, to provide cocktails and punch tutorials—and they did so before a Saturday night shift at Green Russell. Executive chef Hunter Pritchett not only composed a set of recipes, but actually filmed his cooking demos midday between prepping and working the Luca line on Friday night.

The entire Luca team, in fact, let us disrupt weekend service with a film crew in the restaurant, Gustavo Murillo washed dishes until the night turned to morning, and the chefs—Eric Cimino, Seth Reaback, Andrew Boyer, Me with the Luca chefs, their lives moving on already

Chris Hoffman, Spencer White—allowed cameras in their work space, arriving early and staying late to accommodate the insane production schedule.

Of course there were others who worked on this project, but it was my restaurant family who pulled it all together. They worked extra hard to cover my absence in kitchens and on floors, and offered up their wildly diverse skillsets for something that our entire family can be proud of. To you, my restaurant family: Thank You. I am lucky to know you.

Chris McNeal, like so many before him, is moving on. He has a new baby, a new career, a new home. I, meanwhile, get to stay here. I get to run these businesses; I get to cook and collaborate and teach and learn, and hopefully grow . . . and watch my family grow around me.

(Chris took this photo of me with the Luca chefs, their lives moving on already.)

–You can get The Luca Cookbook here, and it’s damn good: