The very first person I interviewed for The United States of Arugula was Giorgio DeLuca, the more florid and Italian half of the Dean & DeLuca founding duo. (Which was really more of a trio, given the role that Joel Dean’s partner, Jack Ceglic, played in the store’s conception and look.) One reason Giorgio was my first interview was that he’s local: I can walk to his penthouse apartment from my non-penthouse apartment. But the other reason was that he loomed large in my culinary awakening. Visiting the original Dean & DeLuca on Prince Street in 1977, its first year, when I was eleven years old, was an epiphanic moment for me. The array of stinky cheeses and olive oils and whole-bean coffees and (then-novel) prepared foods made me realize that there was a lot more out there to eat than what my supermarket in central New Jersey offered. Alas, I was not one of the customers that Giorgio belligerently and profanely sales-pitched into trying fresh chèvre back then. (See page 202 of the book for specifics on this.)
I’m pleased to say that, at Giorgio’s request, I’ll be the guest speaker/reader at a dinner he’s giving at his restaurant Giorgione on Saturday, May 19, in conjunction with the New York Toasts Italy festival being put on that weekend by Bene, an elegant American magazine devoted to all things Italian. There will be other events featuring other fine people at other fine restaurants–Mario Batali’s hosting a dinner at Otto, his pizza place; Cesare Casella and Bill Buford are doing their Brokeback Toscana Style routine at Maremma; and Silvano Marchetto and his wife, Cancer Vixen author Marisa Acocella Marchetto, are pairing up for a presentation at Da Silvano. But your entertainment dollar will go furthest at Giorgione. For one thing, Mr. DeLuca is an adorable, charismatic old-school New York neurotic. Then there’s the fact that I actually “do” a Giorgio voice when I read his quotes from my book, and it comes out disconcertingly like a bad Christopher Walken imitation. (Both men grew up in Queens, so it’s not totally off-base.) Order tickets today by calling Mary Beth Hubbard at 212-717-6380, ext 117, or by visiting Bene’s site.