I haven’t yet met Steve Martorano, who I predict will become the next HUGE face in the food world. (I’m not often wrong about these predictions just as I said in my January 2011 interview with Nadia Giosa who has exploded onto the scene since then.) Like Nadia, Steve was recently a participant in the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival along with Buddy the “Cake Boss” and a bunch of Food Network stars. Although he is not a regular on Food Network, I guarantee you he will be very soon—he’s got all the tools and talent.
Now I say I haven’t met him yet, because I certainly plan to, and so many of my friendships and collaborations have first started via facebook. Getting to know Steve Martorano through social networking, I have come to several conclusions on how similar we are. While unlike me, he resembles a heavyweight more than a cook—something one may be intimidated by if you don’t look past a person’s exterior—but following his day-to-day posts, you will see that just like me, his reverence for classic Italian-American dishes are his biggest passion and he is truly a gentle giant with a lot of love in his heart for all things Italian-American.
Just like “Rocky Balboa,” a character whom we both clearly draw inspiration from, Steve has went from underdog to champion. I have not reached the pinnacle of success that he has, but Steve is someone who I now am also very inspired and motivated by. How can you not be? He preaches positivity, determination, and reaching for your goals on a daily basis. If you don’t know his story, here’s a guy that grew up in a rough neighborhood, who had no money but worked hard despite adversity…
He started his journey by handing out flyers for his home-based dinner delivery service during the day and making chicken cutlet sandwiches (among other things) out of his basement in Philly at night. This slowly grew to him eventually opening up his extremely successful Café Martorano restaurants. Of course there’s a lot in between that, and it is all based around his principles and ideals of never giving up and believing in yourself.
Steve has gone on to publish a book with recipes and details all of his trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. He has merchandise, jarred sauce, wine, and countless other things built around his “brand.” His marketing is exactly how it should be done, from his signature “Yo Cuz” catchphrase to his constant dedication to collaborating with his counterparts in front of the camera…whether it’s on youtube, radio, TV or whatever media outlet. It’s scary how much our philosophies parallel each other! Oh and one other thing, one of Steve’s most famous dishes are yes, MEATBALLS.
He is a guy who stays true to his roots and does his thing the way he wants to do it—and at the end of the day—it always goes back to the food. The simple food of Italian grandmothers, not the fancy high-end stuff that so many celebrity chefs try to ram down our throats. That’s why Steve calls himself “the Italian American Cook” and that is still a cuisine that is highly neglected and underrated. And that’s why I wanted to write this blog and do a little Q and A with him—to spread his message and showcase that family fare I will always help perpetuate.
Of course like any public figure who may look or talk a bit different than your “vanilla” chefs out there, he gets his fair share of haters and criticism. But does he change to appeal more to the “masses”? No. He is who he is and you gotta respect that. Especially when it has led to so much success, with so much more coming for him in the near future. The following is our conversation on what’s next for Martorano and all about where he came from and what day-to-day life consists of for this “Rocky Balboa” of the kitchen…
JOHNNY MEATBALLS: I haven’t been to one of your restaurants yet, everything I’ve read about Café Martorano and the pictures I’ve seen make my mouth water! If you had to choose, what is your all-time favorite Italian American dish to eat?
STEVE MARTORANO: Linguine and Clams. White.
JM: These days, food and entertainment are now hand and hand and you seem to certainly embrace the fame aspect. Have you always been a “showman,” determined to achieve notoriety or did it come as a surprise to you? And would you say people know you best for your food or for your personality, or both?
SM: I was a DJ back in the day, so it’s in my nature. Both I hope…but my food is the real star, not me cuz. I’m just a cook who’s food is famous.
JM: I was truly touched by the video you filmed when you returned to your hometown of Philly. Do you go back often and do you think it’s important to always stay connected to your working class roots?
SM: I try to make it back a few times a year. Listen, I’m still a part of the working class so I’m in touch with it everyday.
JM: Steve, you have said so yourself, you definitely don’t look like the average cook, and I definitely compliment your style and your attitude for always being true to yourself. I get my share of haters who put down the way I talk and dress, and I guess this goes with the territory of being a public figure. How would you respond to your critics who may dismiss your cooking ability simply based on your unconventional appearance?
SM: When they can take a walk in my shoes, then they can judge me. Jealously breads false friends and true enemies. I really believe that.
JM: You’re the ultimate entrepreneur and someone who gets the idea of branching out into different things. Besides cooking and being in your restaurants, between your appearances, web series, your book, plus your wine and pasta sauce, clothing and jewelry line, you really have your “brand” on everything. Is there one aspect of all of the above that is your favorite?
SM: I love to create. So as long as there are new avenues to pursue, I will. I love it all...Especially since proceeds from the clothing and jewelry go back to helping kids in the community.
JM: What’s next for Steve Martorano?
SM: Hopefully a show. Random house just picked up my book so look for “Yo Cuz!” 2nd Edition in the near future.
Well Steve, I have to say, as a fellow Italian American cook, you preach the values and principles of the Italian American heritage perfectly. To me, it’s all about classic comfort food, and not this high end stuff that too many celebrity chefs try to pass off as real and authentic. You my friend, are the real deal and I can’t wait to visit your restaurant and taste your meatballs…and I am gonna bring you some of mine from New Jersey!