These meals reflect our family’s cultural heritage, our origins, and often feature recipes handed down through generations. A grandmother’s cooking is often forged through years of selfless dedication to family.
Joe Scaravella has a deep appreciation of grandmothers and their precious culinary skills.
Inspired by his respect for both ‘nonnas’ and their cooking, in 2007, Scaravella opened Enoteca Maria, an intimate restaurant located in New York’s Staten Island, that contains two kitchens – one that prepares a fixed Italian menu, and another where a roster of grandmothers prepare dishes from their homeland.
Scaravella opened the restaurant after his sister, mother and grandmother passed away within a few years. He was particularly close to his grandmother as she cared for him when he was growing up while both his parents worked.
If the fruit was good, she bought it.
“Otherwise, she’d spit it on the ground with a disgusted expression on her face,” Scaravella said.
Enoteca Maria is a labour of love; Scaravella says he is happy if it pays for itself.
When COVID-19 struck
In February 2020, the restaurant featured food from Morocco, Brazil and Uzbekistan.
But when COVID-19 struck, the doors had to close. Most of the chefs are in their 60s, 70s and 80s.
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But the business has moved with the times, and Scaravella soon opened the kitchen once a week to prepare batches of soup for first responders.
Later, in October 2020, the nonnas began returning to the kitchen to prepare jars of sauces from their home countries, which they are selling online and in person, five days a week.
Rose Correa, who has been cooking at Enoteca Maria since 2015, is making aji amarilla, a thick Peruvian sauce with peppery heat and fruity overtones.
“It goes with beef, chicken, pasta. I mean, it’s a sauce that you can eat with many things,” Correa, 77, told The City.
“People should know it, right? I hope they like it – at least Mr Scaravella did. I’m happy about that.”
Nonna Pauline, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, made a spicy tamarind sauce, while Adelina, from Italy, prepared suga alla norma, a tomato sauce cooked with roasted eggplants.
Enoteca Maria is hoping for a soft opening this June, but needs to build some outdoor seating first.
“Hurry up!” wrote one impatient reader on the restaurant’s Instagram page. “I’m starving!”