For Mario, food and fatherhood have always gone hand in hand. His own father, Armandino, worked as a quality-control specialist at Boeing in Seattle but would spend entire weekends cooking. "Our idea of a rainy-day event was making 200 pounds of sausage," Mario remembers. The men in Mario's family helped him learn the ins and outs of putting up food: his father, uncles and cousins hunted and butchered their own meat, cured their own olives and pickled their own vegetables. According to Armandino, "We made everything from scratch, whether it was pasta, antipasto or biscotti." ("Well, I'd bring home store-bought pasta sometimes," Mario's mother, Marilyn, admits.)
As a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Mario distinguished himself as one of the fastest stromboli makers at the local Stuff Your Face Pizza. Looking for more serious culinary accreditation, he enrolled at London's Le Cordon Bleu in 1984, then worked in a trattoria in northern Italy. "Cooking in Italy was the most important thing I've ever done," he says. "I learned what not to put on the plate." He found his way to New York City in 1992 and met Susi at a restaurant there soon after he arrived: he was celebrating his first day off from a new job, she was dropping off homegrown vegetables. He opened Pó in 1993.
When Mario married Susi, he gained a father-in-law, Miles Cahn, who is nearly as passionate about food as his own father is. Miles co-owns the Coach Dairy Goat Farm in Pine Plains, New York, with his wife, Lillian. As the man who put goat cheese on virtually every Manhattan restaurant menu--and the founder of Coach Leatherware--Miles was famous in his own right, but things changed after Mario came into the family. "Now I'm known as Mario's father-in-law," he laughs.