My parents are approaching 20 years of being in the restaurant business. There are many people I have come to know through the business, and I am rather fortunate to have been able to meet several individuals. I should appreciate this more, knowing that several of these people are regulars who have contributed to my father's business for years. It has taken me years to understand and appreciate the restaurant industry. I am no expert, but I am an expert in understanding the impact the business has had on me.
While my parents were out there -saving the palates of the world with Italian food- my sister and I were at home, listening to the orders of several babysitters. We became experts in changing our bedtimes. My mom always left us with a delicious meal, and the scent of her perfume trailing through the house, so I knew she would always be back. If we managed to stay up until my father came home, we got a hug and a kiss, one of those you get when you haven't seen someone in a very long time, and that was what made those countless babysitters worth it.
I wasn't allowed to eat McDonald's, or any fast food chains until I had my license and therefore a way to get it. We didn't have boxed, processed foods in my house. Maybe some cereal and saltine crackers. I was mesmerized by Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese Spongebob Shapes at friend's houses. It tasted so good. So did fruit roll-ups. I couldn't believe they sold those fruit snack type things in packs of 8. I could eat them all in one sitting. We never owned a microwave, well except for when it came with an apartment we lived in, but I broke that by trying to cook pennies.
So, I crave good food. I love vegetables. I love seafood. I love rabbit. I'll try anything. I can tell when someone is using cheap olive oil that's not really olive oil. I don't believe in seasoning. I have probably said the phrase "just olive oil, pepper, and salt" more times than I can count. I believe food can be healthy and appetizing. I don't believe in butter on lobster. I can taste a bullshit meal. I can taste passion in food because I grew up eating passionately made food. I can tell when two items are cooked separately, when they haven't been fused together, when the flavor has an imbalance.
I am a food critic. I'm a food snob. I've learned to not care. But yes, I do love chipotle. (And Lay's Classic chips!)
This is the toughest aspect of my life, in this respect, to write about. In 2009, my father moved his business from one place to another. In one respect, it was a great business move for the future. He had more space to cook, and he wasn't crammed in a kitchen with only six burners. In another, he left a building that many had come to love for its ambiance and quaint atmosphere. Moving your business from one location to another is never a simple process. You have to market your new business, and you have to be patience, which is tough when you have a family to feed and bills to pay. My family stuck through it together, through really tough times, my parents never lost patience. They put two kids through a Catholic education and through college. They rarely complained because they didn't have time to complain.
I love Mondays because it's the one day a week my father is home and the one day a week my sister and I get to create a menu. We are spoiled by my dad's creative culinary talents. Those Mondays were taken away in the first years after the move of the business. The catch was that my uncle opened his business in the old location my father had once filled. The catch was that it was also a restaurant, and the catch was also that some customers would go to both, and some left as customer at either place and remained loyal to only one. I wasn't particularly disheartened by this aspect, until 2012 when I first started working for my uncle.
The gossip was absolutely unbearable. I would go to my car in the middle of a shift and cry my eyes out. Then, I would chastise myself for letting it get to me. It isn't right of me nor was it the way I was raised to relay the things I heard out of several people's mouths, and truth be told, many people didn't know I had any relation to my father or uncle, that I was just another employee, but some people did, and it didn't stop them. I lived through it, I continue to live through it, and I earned some tough skin because of it. My father's business is doing well, as is my uncle's, everyone is happy. And, contrary to gossip, never once did my family fight against each other. We were always better than what some people had hoped.
Growing up as an immigrant I faced several stereotypes. I don't want to make this section long because I haven't faced stereotypes or discrimination such as the people unfairly currently going through it today, in our democracy. I was expected to be tan, with long black hair, and hairy, for one. I am none of those, actually. I've been tanning before, and cooked my skin to a degree, but I never reached the orange state, partly because I can't bear the tanning bed for more than three days, and also because I kind of care about my skin and look its pasty-ness, especially when I have no makeup on and people look at me weird. I love getting weird looks. I dyed my hair black once, maybe five years ago, and I'm still suffering from the bald patches on my head because of it. Also, I mean, what even qualifies as hairy? What is hairy? My head is hairy, my arms not so much. I guess you guys can keep that stereotype for the American-Italians.
I went through several stages of the Italian stereotype of fat. I looked anorexic in pictures of ages 4-8, but I ate so much. I always blame it on the second plate of pasta I agreed to have, when, suddenly, one day, I realized I was a big kid. I went through years of body-image conflict, self-harm, and self-hate for agreeing to embody the stereotype. I remember I overheard a classmate once say that if they had a father for a chef, they would certainly be fat. I also hate the word fat, before we go on. What a horrible word. Anyway, I also heard a girl in the gym tell her friend not to get her mad because she's Italian and she'll blow up. Then she changed her mind and told her friend she's American-Italian and that's the reason she's not "that big." Huh. My father never contributed to my "fatness" (your words not mine), nor did my genetics. It's a bodily experience I'm content to embody and change, developing an even healthier lifestyle I was raised with in the first place.
Stereotypes are dumb. And rude. And naive. Find something else to fill your time with, people.
To close, I love being my father's daughter and my mother's daughter. There are bits and pieces of my life I find unique to experience because of whose daughter I am. At the end of the day, no matter the experiences, I would have been raised by the two very best people I know, and grew up alongside a sister who brought me up when the world helped, or didn't.
I like to write; point blank. This is a little piece of me that I get to share with the rest of the world, and hey, you know, maybe you'll appreciate it, maybe it'll do nothing for you. But my writing exists, and that's enough for me.
© 2019 Silvia Iorio. All rights reserved.