Really there are three of them, Big Moments of falling in love with my husband in the way back when. I say it often, “oh that –that– was the moment . . .” and only in years of repeating that phrase do I realize that I’ve identified so many moments, ones that happen yet, instances that characterize Frank Bonanno, connect me to him, little threads that bind not only our life together but our life together in food.
I’ll share three.
The first moment I fall in love with Frank it is 1995. We’re working in a restaurant together, both in college, and he wants me to meet him downtown for pizza. Our chef, Keith Josefiak, calls Frank “the finest damn grill cook ever,” but that can’t be true because Frank’s still a culinary student, and this is his externship. I intend to ask Frank about it over lunch, but when I get to Anthony’s, I’m sidetracked. Frank’s not sitting at a table waiting for me. He is, instead, in the window of the pizzeria, spinning a crust. I’m on the sidewalk gobsmacked and he is flour printed and smiling. I never manage to talk about work or ask about his background because I’m thoroughly crushed on a man who has somehow found a way to cook for me on our first meal in a restaurant together.
The second moment of falling in love, we are mostly a couple. It’s three in the morning and I am sleepless from studying. I wake Frank—who’s just landed his first executive chef gig—and he asks if I want to borrow his meditation for stress (that’s what he says, “borrow my meditation, Jacqueline”). He pulls me close and talks me through –from the scent of its flesh to the blemishes on its tunic to the dirt clinging to exposed and freckled roots–imagining a Vidalia onion. At the end of the meditation, he says “you can also use my Yukon Gold potato. I have a Gala apple, too, but I really think the Vidalia onion is the best.” His eyes are closed, picturing these things and I fall asleep in Frank’s arms and a world of onions and potatoes and apples.
In the third moment of falling in love, it is Christmas Eve and I am in New Jersey meeting Frank’s family. Frank will utterly abandon me this night, leave me spinning to his father, his four siblings, their spouses, their children —while he and his mother cook dinner for 22 people. That meal lingers in our relationship, defines it in many ways. Decadence (illegal caviar in tubs the size of small fish bowls, Cuban cigars in the snow); Community (of wine and cocktails punctuated with wailing and fighting and laughing out loud); Bounty (oh beautiful food); Laughter; and the Seeming Effortlessness of a Grand Meal Shared with Those You Love.
In the time Frank Bonanno’s been in my life, we’ve birthed ten and a half restaurants, three bars, a full blown food hall, two sons, a cookbook, an icookbook, two television series and a blog. We’ve worked in our restaurants with thousands of people on both sides of the line, and Frank and I have collaborated, deeply, meaningfully –sometimes painfully– on all of those endeavors. Falling for Frank has meant falling again and again for this life in food.
This used to be Frank’s blog. I sat at keyboards (in basements, in attics, in libraries, on bartops), paraphrasing his wording, altering complicated recipes for weeknight cooks, connecting Frank’s past to our present. In telling his stories, I’ve stumbled across my own stories, a history in this lovely and messy industry, the remarkable people we’ve worked with, served, and celebrated. I am claiming this little writing space in our lives, hoping to collaborate with you here, on the insanity of this business –to show you what I’ve seen –pigs jumping out of cars, zen pianists living in abandoned restaurants, post-concert parties with legends and the things that happen when it’s 2am and the doors are supposed to be closed.
Oh, I have served up stories. Of Decadence, Community, Bounty and Laughter and in sharing them, again and again, I fall