A Passion for Fresh, Simple Cooking
Jul 25, 2014 08:45AM
Tuscan Chef and Author Gabriele Corcos' Brooklyn Life
by Gayle WilsonFrom the tender age of 5, Tuscan chef and cookbook author Gabriele Corcos cooked with his grandmother. By 7, he was skilled enough to have earned an inheritance: her recipe for almond cake. He recalls, “She entrusted me with a family heirloom, although I didn’t really see it that way at first.” The recipe sharing was life-defining for Corcos. Besides freeing him from having to rely on her for cake, it reinforced his growing reverence for food and his love of family.
Corcos grew up in Fiesole (“Fee-so-lay”), a town nestled in the hills surrounding Florence, Italy, in the heart of Tuscany. His grandparents still enjoy life there in their 14th-century farmhouse and tend to their olive grove. Every summer, Corcos and his family journey there to savor several weeks of relaxing and reconnecting. It’s a welcome annual respite from the busy pace of life in their Brooklyn home of the past few years.
In 2001, life changed dramatically when Corcos met his future wife, actress Debi Mazar (from Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas and HBO’s hit series Entourage), in Florence at the home of a mutual friend. “I chased Debi to Los Angeles, and within a year of falling for one another, we married, bought a home and were expecting our first child,” explains Corcos. After a decade of L.A. life, the couple relocated their family to Brooklyn. “We like to keep life interesting and Brooklyn offered more of a community feel for us and our daughters (ages 8 and 12). We enjoy the distinctive seasons here, especially for fresh food.” With a grin, he adds, “Besides, by living in Brooklyn, we are that much closer to Italy.”
Now, as cookbook authors with a weekly family-oriented cooking show, Extra Virgin, in its fourth season on The Cooking Channel, the Corcos family never finds life dull. The couple is best described as ambassadors for Tuscan cooking—he a warm-hearted chef, she an actress and New York City foodie. Despite their notoriety, they lead an understated, non-glamorous life and embrace an uncomplicated approach to food, gardening and cooking. He is most comfortable in jeans and T-shirt with a glass of wine and plate of freshly made pasta. “We don’t pay attention to the celebrity element of our work,” he admits with a boyish tone. “Our focus is inspiring and teaching.”
How We Cook and Eat Like a true Italian chef, Corcos encourages others to “Enjoy life and everything in moderation, whether that’s pasta, cheese, or wine.” He believes in the beauty of simplicity. “There’s rarely a need to splurge on food or specialized pots and pans to be able to cook well. One can adopt key elements of a natural, farmer-like lifestyle without a lot of effort,” says Corcos. “Even though we don’t use strictly organic ingredients, we always strive for fresh and locally grown whenever possible.”
When he came to the U.S., the 24-hour supermarket experience excited Corcos. “Everything seemed very civilized, and I adopted it. But over time, I realized the relationship I had with the merchants I bought food from was superficial. It started to feel distant and impersonal.” Today, he speaks enthusiastically of the value and joy of buying and growing food on a smaller, more personal scale. “Gardens and farmers’ markets offer a connection to one’s food origins that is so important. To be able to understand and select organic ingredients and to know where one’s food comes from—it provides a deeper sense of nourishment beyond just eating.”
Even with conveniences of our modern lives, Corcos shops and tends to his garden daily for fresh ingredients. “It’s important to observe turnover in your refrigerator. We don’t buy anything in bulk except toilet paper.”
Sharing the Way A sure indicator that a cookbook will become a classic is when its new owner is torn between prominently displaying it on the kitchen counter or showing it center stage on a coffee table. (This is what happened when I brought the Corcos and Mazar cookbook, Extra Virgin, Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen, into her home). Sitting down to peruse the cookbook feels like inviting the authors into one’s living room to chat. Its recipes epitomize approachability with a laid-back vibe that’s engaging. It hums back and forth between their introductions to 120 recipes and offers glimpses into the couple’s life-long passion for food and cooking. It features mouth-watering food photography plus family snapshots. The book’s inside cover blurbs by 13 Hollywood celebrities and well-respected food icons such as Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay show a well-deserved reverence for the work.
From appetizers and main courses to dessert, the book’s recipes rely on easily sourced ingredients and even includes shopping tips for connecting with local farmers, meal planning and stocking the pantry with basics. On what he and Mazar most want from the cookbook, Corcos reflects, “To inspire and teach the language of food and nourishment that I’m blessed to have learned from my family.”
Corcos appreciates that his ease in the kitchen and passion for cooking isn’t ubiquitous. He shares, “For those that may feel intimidated by cooking, my advice is to simply push through that fear. If we prepare something and it turns out less than stellar, we try again. Have fun, keep things simple and enjoy experimenting.”
You Give, You Get When speaking of his drive to keep cooking and sharing his knowledge, Corcos chuckles, “Teaching our children to cook is an investment in our future. We are preparing them to properly care for us in our old age.”Quietly, he adds, “I want to instill a love and appreciation for simple, delicious and healthy food.” People are often surprised when he admits he doesn’t cook for pleasure. “My goal is to bring pleasure to family and friends and make them smile. This is the purest form of payback: the love one feels by caring for others.”
Gayle Wilson is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings. Connect with her at DashWriter.com.