Even the best restaurants can't come close to the quality of grandma's home cooking—right? That idea inspired one New York restaurateur to ditch a kitchen staff altogether and bring in a team of "nonnas" from all over the world to create a dining-out experience like none other.
At Enoteca Maria restaurant on Staten Island, owner Jody Scaravella has sourced a kitchen fleet of 30 grandmas in order to achieve that illusive homespun taste that professional chefs can only hope to replicate. According to Gothamist, Scaravella initially hired a small group of Italian nonnas by placing an ad calling for "Italian housewives to cook regional dishes" in one of Italy's newspapers. After the concept was a hit, the restaurateur continued to bring on more grandmothers from around the world into his kitchen through word-of-mouth and personal references.
Now, Scaravella's unique kitchen staff includes dozens of women from far-flung nations including the Dominican Republic, Syria, Nigeria, Poland, Argentina, and more. Rounding out the predominantly female staff is one male "nonno" from Calabria, Giuseppe Freya, who is the resident pasta-making expert. "He makes the raviolis, he makes the ricotta gnocchi, he makes tagliatelle, he makes the pasta sheets for our lasagna," Scaravella says.
Since swapping trained chefs for grandmothers, the restaurant has taken off, with people paying visits from near and far. While many visitors are Manhattanites who hop on the ferry to get a taste of home, Scaravella adds, "I regularly get phone calls from Australia, from England, and from Italy to book reservations."
Of course, so many passionate cooks in the kitchen is guaranteed to cause some stovetop turf wars. "Each one of these grandmothers feels like they're the boss... So when you put all of these grandmothers that are all at the top in a room together, they all feel like they're in charge and they're wondering what that other person is doing there," Scarevella says.
Still, dealing with a tough group of no-nonsense nonnas is more than worth it for the restaurateur to give happy diners a taste of home—even if their own grandma's cooking is out of reach.