CHEF SANDRA CATENA
I am a first-generation Italian-American, and was born in Newark, New Jersey on June 25, 1958. My mother was born in Molise, Italy, and came to America in 1948, after World War II. My parents, brothers and I grew up in the home that my grandparents, Romeo and Teresa Cicchino, owned. My father is second-generation Italian-American, and his family is from Avellino, Italy. My paternal grandmother, Helen Catena, made the best cannoli I’ve eaten.
My first language was the Molise dialect. Italian culture and traditions were alive and well in my childhood home. Foods created at home were farmer’s foods. My grandmother and mother cooked three homemade meals a day. Real foods, herbs and spices were used. We ate salads with lunch and dinner. Dessert at my grandmother’s table was fruit. My mother usually baked a cake. Grandma Teresa cooked predominantly vegetarian foods while my mother cooked more “American.” Her foods contained more meat and cheese.
I was born a foodie, and like everything about food. The colors, textures, and fresh tastes of vegetables, raw nuts and fruits are refreshing and energizing. Linguine, rigatoni, fusilli, penne, spaghetti, cavatelli, shells, bow ties, and elbow pasta with aglio olio, pesto, marinara sauce, tomato sauce with meat, and tomato sauce with seafood are all different yet delicious, and I enjoy each of them. As a kid, I wanted to learn to cook, yet, no one would teach me. As a teen, I’d ask my grandmother specific questions on how to make the dishes she specialized in. She’d give me just enough information in Italian to get me started.
Through trial and error, I became a good cook. I enjoyed cooking for friends and hosting dinner parties. I cook the foods my grandmother made. Like Grandma Teresa, I cook with clean food, herbs and spices.
On February 15, 2011, I founded The Feisty Italian, and in November 2011, wrote my first cookbook entitled, The Feisty Italian Cookbook. After operating The Feisty Italian in New York City for 3-1/2 years, I moved my chef service to Los Angeles where I worked as a Personal Chef, and taught cooking classes at The City Of Santa Monica right on the beach. In 2015, I relocated to Manhattan where I teach cooking classes and create meals for my clients.
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