It's absolutely no secret that my favorite Food Network celebrity is Paula Deen. Warm, funny, and homey -- I could look into her dancing blue eyes forever as she teaches me how to incorporate butter into almost everything under the sun. I love Deen's sincerity and infectious laugh.
I also have a crush on local restaurateur and cook (he doesn't like to be called chef), Steve Martorano. How could you not love a man that makes beautiful food, spins his own records, devotes his time to charity work, and takes you back to your New York and New Jersey roots?
At first you may not think that Steve Martorano, the colorful owner of Cafe Martorano and Martorano's Italian-American Kitchen at Seminole Hard Rock , and Paula Deen, the southern Food Network star would have anything in common.
But look deeper and you'll find that they actually followed a similar path in life that brought them to where they are now.
Martorano, who recently flew to Savannah to film an episode of Paula's
Best Dishes, first met Deen at the Altantic City Food and Wine Festival. Martorano, a home-town guy, got a rousing welcome from an enthusiastic audience. "As soon as I said Yo Cuz, people went crazy. Then Paula Deen, who was also appearing, came up on stage and said 'who are you -- who don't I know you?', I said 'I don't know because my agent is your partner's agent.' Right then and there -- and I have it on film -- she said she wanted me on her show."
The two found out they had parallel experiences. Deen had read Yo Cuz, Martorano's memoir, and told the Fort Lauderdale chef the they both started their culinary careers out of their homes out of necessity with absolutely no money.
Deen started a lunch business with her sons after her husband left her without any money, and Martorano started a sandwich company out of his basement. Both chefs also self-published their first books. Those common bonds made for an instant
Martorano and Deen filmed for about three hours at Deen's Savannah studio. They also shared stories over coffee and cookies and Martorano gave Deen a gift - a piece of jewelry from his Yo Cuz line.
Martorano and Deen also found that their cooking styles are similar. Even though one specializes in traditional southern cooking and the other is known for Italian-American favorites, both chefs specialize in comfort food -- the kind of cooking that feeds your soul as well as your stomach.
In the Best Dishes episode, entitled Bottle of Red, Bottle of White, Deen and Martorano have genuine warmth for each other. In one scene, Deen kisses Martorano's hand and says, "I just love you". When Martorano calls Deen "Cuz", Deen asks if that's "good". "What do I call you when I forget your name, Cuz," Martorano says. "That's when I say Darlin'!" Deen counters!
During the half hour show Deen laughs as Martorano schools her on San Marzano tomatoes. Deen lovingly teases the muscle-bound Martorano on his choice of pets -- four tiny, fluffy Pomeranians, then praises the cook for his work with inner-city kids. At some points, Deen lapses into a hybrid Philadelphia-meets-Savannah accent.
The result is utterly charming as this unlikely duo light up the small screen with their genuine warmth for each other and their shared love of food.
As the half hour winds down with Deen and Martorano tucking into their meal, Deen
mentions more than once, "come back". "Anytime you want me," Martorano replies. I say more! more! more!
I envision a new Food Network show where this unlikely duo explore each others cultures -- both oh so different yet both part of the American experience. The name of this new show? Deen, herself said it -- Tutti Mangiare Y'all!