Lunch With Debi Mazar & Gabriele Corcos at Del PostoBy Kathleen Squires
October 9, 2013
Anyone who has watched the Cooking Channel show Extra Virgin knows that dining with actress Debi Mazar and husband Gabriele Corcos is highly entertaining. Not only do the duo know their food, the lively interplay between Mazar, an edgy, born-and-bred New Yorker, and Corcos, a Tuscan farmer-at-heart, could be the premise of a sitcom. Add raising two daughters and a large dog (and at one point, a mini chicken coop), and you’ve got Nielsen gold.
The convivial couple met us for lunch at Del Posto, during a rare break between filming the fourth season of Extra Virgin, answering queries for an upcoming cookbook, traveling to food festivals around the country and promoting new products for Italian coffee manufacturer Lavazza.
Butter is Butter, Lardo is Lardo
Gabriele looks perplexed as a series of canapés arrive and Debi dives in. There is a mini sandwich of ricotta and avocado between cucumbers; a lobster salad; and chilled tomato soup.
Gabriele: She hates eating Italian food out with me, because I’m always complaining that it’s not authentic.
Debi: It can be a nightmare.
Another series of amuses come out. This time, it’s a round of chickpea, black truffle and robiola cheese; a very crispy arancini tinged with saffron; and a ball of Swiss chard with prosciutto breadcrumbs and tomato marmalade. We’re handed the lunch menus. Gabriele is instantly scanning it.
Gabriele (to waiter): Tell me about the pork.
The server explains the heritage pork trio, and that it comes with ribollita alla casella and black cabbage stew.
Gabriele: I don’t understand. Why is there prosciutto in the ribollita? That’s not how we do it in Tuscany….
Debi shoots a knowing glance, while Gabriele good-naturedly shrugs it off and orders it anyway, along with a garganelli Verdi al ragu Bolognese starter. Debi also goes for the garganelli and striped bass.
Bread service is placed down on the table, accompanied by two small dishes, which the server says holds butter and lardo.
Debi: Which is which?
Gabriele: This is the butter; that is the lardo.
Debi: Which do you prefer?
Gabriele: (shrugging): Butter is butter, lardo is lardo. When we are filming the show in Italy, we're going to Colonnata to film the marble caves and do how to make the lard. But we were also filming in Lancaster in Amish country, and there was this little stand there with a girl who made butter with lard - like lard butter. As if butter needed the extra fat in there! I actually bought some because I just needed to taste it. It’s still in our fridge.
Debi: They had bacon on their pastries. Like a Danish with bacon on it. I didn't go there.
Gabriele: That’s right. They had a chocolate éclair with bacon on top.
Debi: (questioning thoughtfully): “Butter or lardo?”
She goes for the butter.
On What to Expect, Besides Amish People, on the Next Season of Extra Virgin
Debi: We’re going to be taking trips upstate, doing a Tuscany on the Hudson thing. And we will have five Italian episodes, visiting the caves, Venezia, truffle hunting, mushroom hunting. Hopefully, we'll get some porcini. And our property is an olive oil production property. For the first time, we'll do the olive harvest on the show.
Gabriele: So we're going to show you where we're going to press our olives, how we make our own olive oil.
Debi: We also did a weekend on the cheap, as a follow-up of that campaign that we did, Living Below the Line. I think it's really incredibly unfair that the government is cutting $4 billion in food stamps. There was a point where my mom went on food stamps. She needed food stamps. And it really helped us get through a rough time. But people are starving right here in America and the children are going to school with no nutrition. People are eating horribly. At the end of the day, it causes disease, obesity – that means your tax money goes up because you're paying for everybody's medical. It's just insane that people are hungry right here in America. It makes me want to get into politics just because you want to go fight for things. We had only $6 a day for the whole family. So that was breakfast, lunch and dinner. In New York City.
Gabriele: No greens, and no fruit for a week.
Debi: Yeah. I mean, soda is cheaper than milk. And we all felt horrible. Like, no energy. But my girls, they learned that poverty is not selective, that it just happens. And they also learned how lucky they are and what choices they have. They also saw how hard we were scrambling to come up with ways to make lunch or dinner interesting. They were eating mortadella every day - it’s the cheapest meat there is.
You’ve Been Chopped
The pasta arrives. Gabriele is happy with it. He shares about his experience on Chopped All-Stars and whether he would do it again, though he was eliminated in the first round.
Gabriele: I would absolutely do it again. First of all, it was for charity. So anytime that I can do anything that brings attention to a cause, I will do it, regardless of the dismal results. If I won, they would have given $50,000 to the Food Bank. But win or lose, food is not about that. Some of the other contestants got really, really fierce and very, very aggressive. I was slightly put off by it because I'm like, we're all competing for charity here! Pulling stuff out of the basket wasn't easy. I had very weird ingredients and I'm not a trained chef.
Debi: They actually asked me to do it, too, separately. And I said no, because I can't turn jelly beans and pork tongue into a dish. I just don't know how to do that. I mean, the thing is the ingredients can be kind of offensive, like gross.
Cookbooks for Pregnant Males
We discuss their upcoming cookbook, Extra Virgin: Recipes & Love from Our Tuscan Kitchen, coming out in May as the entrees come.
Gabriele: It all started off with a small manuscript that I wrote years ago while Debi was on set.
Debi: It was originally called “The Tuscan Cookbook for the Pregnant Male.” He was pregnant, too. This was like 10 years ago.
Gabriele: She was on set and I was alone. I thought, how do I live this experience of all of the sudden being the guy that feeds his wife, that feeds the unborn child? How are my habits going to change and how I can I send out a message to other young fathers? Because we also have seen this generation change in terms of fatherhood. I am not the father that my father used to be. The roles are very, very different right now. Fathers are much more involved. They wake up at night to feed the baby. They're more around.
Debi: I brought this idea to this person that wanted to be my book agent. He said, 'Honey, men don't buy cookbooks and men are not pushing baby strollers.' We were ahead of the curve on that one. What he wanted was a cookbook talking about celebrity crap. Now, finally that we got the show and we got some traction, the moment that we moved to New York, we were able to start meeting with publishers and we sold it in a day to Clarkson Potter.
Gabriele briefly did time as executive chef at Bevacco in Brooklyn Heights, yet pulled out a few weeks later due to his schedule. We asked if there would be a return to restaurant world.
Debi: God, I hope not. I really hope not. Because you know what, I never saw him. And I never got to eat his food. And then I had to cook the food that he cooks for my girls, and they were complaining that it wasn’t like his.
Gabriele: What I experienced in the restaurant, it really saddened me because it really showed me the gigantic distinction there is between the back of the house and the front of the house. The fact that food gets prepared but then, ultimately, it just needs to be sold… ‘We've gotta pay the rent, the bills, the stuff.’ And your story gets so diluted and lost into the necessity of recouping your costs or making that extra buck, or making sure that your menu reflects some imaginary status that you are trying to achieve.
Debi: But actually, you said you might do it in Tuscany. The whole restaurant culture is different over there.
Gabriele: I just want to cook. Take my time. Sit down. My dream is to work really, really hard here in the States and to find the capital to go back to Italy, recoup my farm, redo the vineyard, and do my vegetable garden, and then have cooking school there and cook. And maybe bring some of the American chefs over. Maybe say, 'Hey, Michael Symon, do you wanna come over?' Or Jason Neroni in Los Angeles or Chris Cosentino in San Francisco. 'Come over let's do a week of offal Tuscany!' Can you imagine?
Debi: As long as I don't have to eat it. When I went to [Chris Cosentino’s] restaurant, there were some things he was putting on the table...tendons, heart and all that kind of stuff.
Gabriele: And it was a very small get-together with probably 30 or 40 chefs. Like, very, very young chefs. The only thing that they were talking about, 'I have this pair of lungs. I still have a half of the calf's brain. How about that spleen that we got the other day.' I was like, 'Really?' They were really, really into it.