It’s obvious looking at actress Debi Mazar and her Italian husband, Gabriele Corcos, that they are madly in love with each other, but it’s their love for food that really heats up the kitchen. The couple went from the Web to television with their new show on the Cooking Channel, Extra Virgin. We talk with Debi and Gabriele about the best things in life; family, love and of course, food.
AndrewZimmern.com: An acclaimed American actress falls in love with a Tuscan-born foodie. How did that happen?
Gabriele Corcos: Florence, Summer 2001. Debi was vacationing in Europe and came down to Florence to visit Katia Labeque, a world-famous piano player that on that summer was recording a Latin-Jazz project. I was one of the percussionists/producer. During the very first dinner we had together at Katia’s house I asked Debi if she wanted to take a walk with me in the “piazza”, because I needed to go buy cigarettes. We exited the party and ended up grabbing a cocktail in a bar and sitting for three full hours on the steps of the Santo Spirito Church. We talked about life, travel, family, art and music. When we realized how much time have passed we started walking back to the house and I told her: “You are so cool, we should have kids together!” Without a pause Debi looked at me and responded: “Yes, we should!” We had not kissed yet, and we kind of froze for a moment… did we really just say that? On that night we tried to kiss cheeks goodnight, and we smashed lips by mistake. The day after we spent the day together, we walked hand in hand through the center of Florence and we exchanged our first “official” kiss on the Lungarno, close to the Ponte Vecchio.
Debi Mazar: …and we never left each other’s side since. Its been a decade, two kids later (Evelina and Giulia) and better than ever. I will add that I was visiting a famous French pianist (who played at Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie) Katia Labeque. We met there, and she said “if you are ever in Firenze, please visit.” So, I did, and she had a classical orchestra playing in her home while I stayed there. Musicians from all over the world. And she also had a Cuban band as well…which is where I met my Ricky Ricardo. The Italian version…Gabriele.
AZ.com: Together, you started a Web series called Under the Tuscan Gun. Why start a show on the internet and not on traditional media? And what in the heck is a Tuscan gun?
GC: When I arrived in the U.S., I did not have a social security number or a working visa. Debi got pregnant right away and was still working real hard on a one-hour series for CBS during the week, and a Jackie Chan movie in Canada that she would go shoot over the weekends. I ended up spending a lot of time by myself and started writing on my computer the incredible impression that the world of food here in the States made on my Tuscan soul. Groceries open 24/7 (never heard of it,) abundance of everything, supersize of vegetables… but also the lack of the genuine Tuscan ingredients, or at least the fact I had to really research where to go shop for food in order to re-create the recipes I was used to. I started considering how important my new food journey was going to be, given that all of the sudden I was feeding the mother of my child. I called my treatment “The Tuscan Cookbook for the Pregnant Male.” It was partially some sort of gigantic love letter to Debi, but also a way to convey the fact that all of the sudden I was going to be a father, and that had to be reflected by my kitchen duties.
I kept on writing for a few months, and then one day YouTube came around. One day Debi and I decided to use a little camera we were gifted with for our wedding, and shot ourselves in the kitchen making a very simple red sauce recipe for spaghetti. We had so much fun that from then on, every two weeks we would post a new video recipe. I designed our blog and started sharing our experience online. All of the sudden we started receiving tons of e-mails. People responded to our project in a way we never expected. We received e-mails from young mothers happy to have new ideas to cook for their kids, culinary students from around the world started commenting on our posts, and many viewers started praising our work and telling us that all of a sudden we brought their grandmothers back from the dead. This incredible response is what has been inspiring and fueling The Tuscan Gun for the past 5 years.
DM: All true. Basically, my book agent… by the way, I’m not a “writer,” but because I’m an actor with an “interesting” past, people have always wanted me to write a book. People wanted the “80s in NY,” or “Pregnancy style, life style.” I am a person of passion, and given the fact I’ve never “written” before, I deemed it gratuitous to produce a book just to make money. Timing was wrong, I wasn’t ready. I was just living in the moment. I always thought I’d do a book (or several) when the time was right, and I imagined, I’d just vomit it out organically, which is basically what happened when Gabriele and I got in the kitchen. We filmed an episode, and after a few glasses of some good Chianti, I came up with “Under the Tuscan Gun.” It’s basically my Mother-in-law, saying to me,”dai da mangiare a mio figlio alla maniera toscana,” which means,”feed my son and granddaughters in a Tuscan way!” Since I took him away from her, and lured him to the U.S.A.
Debi Mazar was officially under Tuscan scrutiny! I had to rise to the occasion. Our blog was simply for sharing good info. No advertisers. Obviously we had people interested, but they wanted to promote things like soy sauce, nothing to do with what we were doing or the brand. We were about controlling content and not making money to just sell out. So, we raised a community via the Web and an “awareness” over five-year period. And then, one day, we got noticed by relevant foodies, the world, and Cooking Channel! Going to TV was never the intention really. Although I must say, being an actor, this project is wonderful as I get to cook, act, write, direct, and be around my favorite person…my husband.
AZ.com: What makes your new Cooking Chanel show Extra Virgin different from other cooking shows?
GC: Our show is a hybrid that has not been done before. We do let people take a look to our life in a very personal way, but at the same time the reality element is what actually drives the recipes we feature. We always try to approach the writing of our episodes as if they were real moments in our life. This is how we live, how we cook for our children, our family and our friends, regardless of the show. Our kitchen is the warmest room of the house. It’s its heart, the same way it was for our grandmothers. We do not have a television in our kitchen, we do treat it as a sacred place that exists not just for quenching our hunger, but where we talk about our days, where we bond as a family.
DM: It’s a hybrid. We winged the first season. I’m a private person and didn’t really want to let people into my personal life. I’ve tailored it in a way, where it’s all about the food and add small moments from my family life that are controlled, and relevant to the food. Traditional “dump-and-stir,” seemed like a loss of using our talents; to make people laugh, and feel invited into our actual home. We are cooks, not chefs, and don’t want to shove information down people’s throats, so giving a “domestic comedy” element felt more natural, more relatable to real folk.
AZ.com: You both have a lot on your plate, so to speak, how do you fit it all in?
GC: Oh, it is real hard and exciting at the same time. We really do not have a support system here in L.A.; our families are either in Italy or in Florida. It is us and our daughters. So family always has the priority, even if that sometimes means slowing down business a bit, or forcing ourselves to do something with our daughters rather than spending hours on the phone or on the computer. We do indeed have many ideas, a few products we would like to introduce into the food market here in the U.S. like our Limoncello, the bread grill we use on the show and the t-shirt line I created as a joke for the taping of Extra Virgin (I did not expect to receive over 2000 e-mails requesting them!) Also, I am writing a new food centered show, already shot a pilot and in the process of giving it the final touches before starting to shop it around.
DM: I drink good red wine! Seriously, we put kids first to avoid the guilt. We haven’t slept eight hours in 10 years, and constantly multi-task. Thank God we are both “type A” personas. Gabriele and I have each other’s backs. We are a team. Both travel separately, so one of us is with the children (unless we are promoting Extra Virgin. That’s the hardest part of doing our show.) Often, as an actor, I travel…never for more than two weeks away is the rule. We try to stay open minded, and always continue to dream and try to make things happen. We almost never take real vacations and spend little on new stuff. We try to create the beauty in our lives. We keep a beautiful home with love, fresh paint, flowers, good food, and friends! Anything else is icing.
AZ.com: How did you each develop your individual cooking styles? Why do your styles blend together so well?
GC: It’s all about love. Having somebody to cook for is always the best way to get going in the kitchen. Our styles blend well because we always cook together, we do not even think about our “individual background,” we just get at the kitchen counter and make it happen. It is a lot of fun and very romantic, as if Debi and I needed another excuse to be attached by the hip. We are always together.
DM: Mine are developed out of literal survival, and a great curiosity in general. We play great music, we inspire each other in the kitchen. Obviously, Gabriele is the Tuscan, so I’m always impressed being someone who loves history and tradition. And, also, if you have it together in the bedroom, the kitchen is the most obvious next place to feed it all.
AZ.com: Favorite restaurants for a date night?
GC: Our favorite restaurant in Los Angeles is Angelini Osteria. Gino, chef and owner of the Osteria, is not from Florence. He comes from Rimini, which is a city on the Adriatic Coast of Italy, a couple of hundred miles north of Florence. Despite the fact that regional cuisine is incredibly diversified throughout Italy, his food is the closest thing to home I ever experienced here in the U.S. I am actually working in his kitchen these days, a couple of times a week, no pay. I just enjoy terribly the sound and the smell of an Italian kitchen. I love being the new guy, the outsider that has to pay respect to the existing hierarchy. I chop, I dice, I clean, and I observe carefully everything that is done. It’s a real blast!
DM: I concur…
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
GC: Prosecco and Beer. Leftovers from last night’s BBQ with our dearest Italian friends: roasted peppers with garlic, chard with garbanzo beans and pancetta, a couple of pork sausages and a few pork ribs and a half of a very thick steak that we will consume today for lunch over an arugula salad. Milk, eggs, yogurt, strawberries, pineapple, mortadella, prosciutto, pancetta and guanciale. Pecorino, Fontina, goat cheese, burrata and some Italian Taleggio. Broccoli, salad, carrots, celery, parsley, chives, zucchini, beats.
DM: Mayo, catchup, Dijon mustard, flaxseed oil, bee pollen, fresh picked aloe-vera from my garden (for burns,) salted butter, assorted fresh jams, fresh almond butter, prosecco, O.J., coconut water, almond milk, fabulous cheeses, frozen sauces (we pre-make for those nights where you can’t cook)..,and yes, confession here: chicken nuggets (that are healthier and free range) for an occasional moment of “f*** the kids.” Let’s feed the kids early, so we can make that dish with hot pepper, or mushrooms, or something adult and sexy that we know they will never eat.