I came into this world an indiscriminate eater. Born the first grandchild of a large Italian American family in Boston, I was fed pasta and pizza, meatballs and ice cream. For my first birthday, I was given a chocolate sheet cake and encouraged to sink both hands in. By age two, I had both discovered condiments and learned to order in restaurants, repeatedly asking servers for “dip it” until someone delivered a bottle of Heinz.
When I was four, my parents and I moved just north of Boston, to a two-bedroom apartment with vines of seeded purple grapes that wrapped around the driveway’s arbor. The refrigerator took days to arrive, so we subsisted on the local offerings, eating pupu platters at China Moon and big Italian subs at Anthony’s Deli, where Tony, Jr. gave me big hunks of provolone to snack on while I waited in line with my dad. We ate dinner at Angelo’s, a newly opened pizzeria across from the middle school I would eventually attend. The pepperoni was thick-cut and curled at the edges; orange grease dribbled down my chin. The owner, Salvatore—a grandfatherly Italian who grew up outside Naples—took Polaroids of me eating his pizza that would hang on the arched doorway for more than a decade. “You like pizza?” Sal asked in his accented English. “She loves everything,” my mother said. He nodded, impressed. “When you’re old enough to get a job, you come work for me, OK? I’ll teach you everything.”
The summer before junior year, I started there as a cashier: answering phones, packing to-go orders, snacking on the glorious breadsticks that resembled steaming little fingers. Between rushes, Sal brought me back into the kitchen, where he made me drink olive oil straight from portion cups and spin circles of dough in the air. After a month, he decided I was ready to take tables, and we put my first training shift on the books.