And there he was, like a glow of light. I still remember the hard year of 2009 and its dreary and endlessly rainy summer. 2008 was the worst year of my life but ’09 was the most painful. The day I met Nick Stellino, however, was a spectacular one with bright sunshine and cool, crisp air. I do not know what made me look outside of my store at that moment, but I did. This giant figure that seemed 7 feet tall walked up to my storefront and started admiring the wine selection in the window. He peeked inside the store and was smiling. Nick Stellino always smiles. I immediately shouted, “THAT’s Nick Stellino!”. Growing up around famous people dulled me to the “allure” of fame and I am only impressed by people who have actually done something worthwhile. I walked outside to say hello and introduce myself. He had, and I am not crazy for saying this, a glow around him. I think he was with a friend but I do not remember. The glow was blinding me, but I made sure to check out how well he was dressed !!! We talked and exchanged emails. I wrote him asking for advice on some projects and Nick Stellino wrote back a carefully thought-out response. Not too many famous people would do that, I can assure you.
I was still a teenager when I first saw Nick Stellino on T.V. From watching him and listening to his stories, something about his voice, his character, and his very essence, made me feel that everything would be ok. As he enthusiastically worked around his kitchen, swinging his pony tail (he no longer has it) from left to right, and instructing the audience to “follow my fingers”, Nick Stellino captured the hearts of many. His fans remember his gesticulations and his food, but most importantly they remember the stories he told and how he made us feel.
I still remember, as if it were yesterday, Nick telling the world a specific, personal, and touching story while his food was cooking. He was feeling down and out and a bit pessimistic. He then looked over and saw his wife sleeping with their cat peacefully and the light from the sun illuminating them both. And he asked himself why he was worrying. He had all that he needed and loved.
Nick Stellino, the cat-loving, people-loving optimist was kind enough to send me an autographed copy of his latest book “Cooking with Nick Stellino”. Along with the book, he sent a beautifully written letter to me and my wife that touched us both deeply. It was filled with great advice about Life and Love. Nick Stellino serves up not just food, but inspiration.
Piazza Life was privileged to catch up with Nick Stellino.
1) What was it like growing up in Sicily?
It was to me like the only place in the world. It was the only reality I knew as a kid. I was 16 when I left. It was not until many years later that I came to recognize how much of an imprint that place had left on my soul.
2) Were you afraid to come to America? What were your expectations?
For as long as I can remember, America was my dream. I was relentless about creating, finding, and scheming the right opportunity that would get me here. When I finally arrived, it was so much more than I had expected. America nurtured my dreams and It gave life to my ambitions.
3) And did the experience match those expectations?
I went beyond what I ever thought possible, but now that I know how much more I could do, I am restless about all that I have not yet achieved.
I expect things from myself. Acceptance of the status quo is akin to defeat. Satisfaction with the current state of things is the beginning of defeat.
I saw my father dead on his deathbed. I felt the universe screaming inside my head. I felt my heart begging for one more second, but nothing came. That was his end.
I am a firm believer that I am owed nothing, and if I want to get somewhere, I better get moving now. Life has a finite amount of seconds in it. I want to live each and everyone of them pursuing my dreams and when my time comes, I do not want to think about what is that I should have done with my life.
4) Take us through your life from Immigrant to Stockbroker to Chef to TV Star to Motivational Figure.
Fear, disappointment, failure, anger, purpose, drive, intent, resilience, ambition, vision, determination, stance, strength, will to fight, kindness, gentleness, and LOVE above all, are the emotions that have shaped my adventure. There is nothing remarkable about me; I am no more or no less than the people that walk around me. TV is an illusion, Fame is a Drug. Wealth in terms of dollars, for sole sake of the almighty dollar, is a condemnation to hell on earth.
I am no shrinking violet, I am no poet, and I am not an artist. I am a man amongst men who, daily, gets a chance to do it all over again with the ambition of doing it better…. for once. As for the romance of being the stockbroker who became a dishwasher who became a guy who cooks on TV,…. well … I do not know what to say about that. It was not how I planned it, but I will tell you this, when I saw an opening I went through it head first, into the darkness, without a net. The most paralyzing emotion is fear. I am a man who fights against it on a daily basis.
5) You dress as well as you cook. Tell us how you go about selecting a wardrobe and then an outfit.
I am a vain, self-absorbed, peacock when it comes to my image. But that is just my costume. That is what I wear daily as I go into combat toward the pursuit of my happiness. My life is my stage and that is where I take my greatest risks and that is where I stand. Victorious occasionally, defeated many times, uncertain most of the times, but even at my worst… I look my best in my costume.
I have willfully developed a skilled understanding of what works for me, sartorially speaking, and I am not shy or reserved about displaying it with joyful panache.
6) What is one thing you would never wear? And do not say jeans!!! We know your wife finally convinced you to wear them !!!
Bell bottom pants, low rise pants, shirts that are too tight, blazers cropped too short, shorts, sandals with socks, anything ill-fitting with a prestigious label attached to it.
7) What would your last meal be?
8) How do you manage to stay so optimistic? Is it natural? Do you have to work on it?
I work on it every second of my life. An optimist, as defined in the dictionary, is someone who always expects the best outcome. My definition of being an optimist is slightly more involved. Being an optimist is more like “lying” to oneself (with the dream of a positive outcome) when facing an insurmountable obstacle, whilst concurrently undertaking a series of actions , with relentless purpose, intent, and inner drive until the aforementioned optimistic outcome becomes a reality.
In order to succeed in life and in cooking, one must be an optimist at heart. Otherwise, what is the point of living in fear of what cannot be done?
9) People who know you know that your wife made you a better man. And you love to admit that truth. Tell us how that happened/happens and who would you be without her.
I met her by mistake; one look at her and my world changed in an instant. Without her I would be nothing more then a cold-hearted bastard. She makes me want to be the better man I know I could be. She is at the core of my ambitions; she is the center of my conscience. She is the light; she is the truth. The rest is all bullshit.
10) What’s your idea of a perfect meal?
If I could have it, one more meal with my Dad. Just him and me. There’s so much I wish I could have said that I never got to tell him. I would like to see him smile one more time. I would like to hear his laughter again.
11) How long have you had your beard? Time-wise and length-wise ?
I had my beard since I was married (31 years ago). I only shaved it off two or three times, but it came right back on my face very shortly afterwards. I always had it well manicured because I am a vain man.
12) If you could cook for 3 people, who would it be?
My grandfather Nicolo’, my uncle Giovanni, and my father-in-law Saul.
13) Your top 3 favorite memories:
Her smile when I first said hello to her, her eyes when she said yes to my marriage proposal, and her voice when I lost all my money on a series of bad investments and she told me that I was the same man to her, even without a penny to my name.
14) Top 3 favorite restaurants in the world:
My house, my mother’s house and my grandmas’ house.
15) Do you believe in an After-Life?
I don’t know; I don’t spend much time worrying about it. I got this life right here, right now, and I still got a lot of living to do.
16) Can I be you when I grow up?
Don’t be me; be better then me. I have too many flaws.