In the Limelight with Clarissa Burt interviews Rita Romano: International Celebrity Chef
Hey everybody, it’s Clarissa Burt! I love Rita Romano and you love her along with me because you’ve seen her probably different times on social media that we came out with a lovely, beautiful cookbook the “Italian Gluten Free Gastronomy Cookbook, ‘The art of savoring and preparing gluten-free dishes'” The story behind it is I lived in Italy for 30 years and found out the hard way that I am highly gluten intolerant, gluten-sensitive. Rita, on the other hand, is a world-renowned chef with many restaurants and cookbooks. We collaborated and we’re so thrilled with the book. It’s got 70 different recipes in it, each has a beautiful photograph that Rita took. Every recipe is gluten-free and we get the internationality of Rita with her being Italian. I’m thrilled because we got to come out with something I don’t think has ever been done which is the marriage between gluten-free and Italian cooking. Food in Italy is full of gluten. You have pizza, pasta, and pane.
Rita Romano: It’s a combination people are looking for especially when they’re going gluten-free. They crave that flour in pasta or pizza. That makes a total different.
Clarissa: My manifestations were of the anaphylactic shock type so many times I was rushed to a hospital not knowing exactly what was wrong with me. It was always after eating, as I assume going into the digestive phase and I’d break out into an anaphylactic shock. I never went anywhere without an epi-pen from how afraid I was. Many people think gluten is a fad or a diet thing. It’s not, it’s a serious problem for a lot of people. As I understand it, the aberration of the GMO of flour, the way it’s being bleached, reworked and processed, has brought gluten and wheat grain to a level of difficulty indigestion. I’m sure someone else can explain it much better than that.
People are having manifestations they can’t explain. It could be topical, skin, or gastric. I’m going to suggest you check out to see if it’s gluten by eliminating it from your diet for a week and see what happens. Plus, gluten is in so many more things than you could ever imagine like different grains, grain alcohols, medications, condiments.
Rita Romano: It’s the proteins in the flour you need to know. Some people are allergic or intolerant of that particular protein. They have to find out what, to their bodies, really works.
Clarissa: There are a lot of misconceptions about what gluten is. Go online and do yourself a good search so you can understand better. A lot of children are experiencing this as well. Do yourself a favor, take a deeper dive or ask your doctor about it. Gluten or no gluten problem, this is the cookbook for you.
Rita Romano: You could easily do this without doing gluten-free. You could just replace the pasta and such.
Clarissa: Exactly. The recipes were studied by Rita to make sure there was no gluten in them. A lot of us are astute now about taking deeper dives and studying our labels.
Rita Romano: Reading labels is the main thing. There are many hidden factors in different ingredients.
Clarissa: When creating the book we’ve always said I was the creative director you did the pictures and the recipes. Rita was amazing to work with, the kindest soul on the planet.
Rita Romano: It was mutual.
Clarissa: We’re both Tauruses I will say that but the question I had asked you is where did your love of cooking come from? Rita is the last of twelve children.
Rita Romano: Yes I’m the baby of 12. My passion was food and I loved to eat. I had good taste buds. When I started opening a restaurant with a partner, he thought I had something special because I understood food and I could critique, go through the rest and say, “This is good. This is not good.” Doing it I found more interest in it because I wanted to eat well, I had to cook for myself.
Clarissa: Were you influenced by your mother or grandmother?
Rita Romano: I had my sister who was a fabulous cook and I lived with her in Las Vegas. She raised me since my mother came to the United States.
Clarissa: Which sister was that?
Rita Romano: Lucia, the fourth one down. I loved her ideas of cooking, she bought all the best ingredients. We lived in La Spezia for about three years together and her husband. She cooked meticulously with beautiful vegetables, fruits and so forth. Everything was so great. I just observed, I was only eight, nine years old at the time but I loved to eat. I looked forward to eating everything she made, it was amazing.
Clarissa: She was a great influence in your life then?
Rita Romano: Yes, a great influence. I would go to the piazza and shop for the neighbors at 8, 9 years old. They would give me a list of what they wanted I would then negotiate with the vendors and get the prices down. Then, I would buy the brioche in the morning from the money I saved. I’d go home with long red hair, they couldn’t see me, just two bags on the bus. I got to learn about being at the piazza, what to buy and so forth.
Clarissa: Your first restaurant was here in the States wasn’t it?
Rita Romano: Yes. It was even filled out here in the Phoenix. I have three restaurants.
Clarissa: Though your family is in Philadelphia.
Rita Romano: We all lived in Philadelphia first and then they came to Arizona.
Clarissa: We have the Italian connection, Philadelphia connection. I’m Clarissa Rita, you’re Rita, We’ve been in Phoenix.
Rita Romano: I was doing gluten-free and she needs gluten-free. It was God-given.
Clarissa: It was serendipity, for sure. Your first restaurant was here in Phoenix and as an entrepreneurial woman, where did the idea come from? It’s one thing to cook in your kitchen for friends.
Rita Romano: To make it as a business, absolutely. Mine came from dating someone who was in the restaurant business. He built the restaurant and then would sell them. When we met at the time, I didn’t cook, and he says, “Rita, you’ve got something here.” We’d go out to the restaurants, I could name everything and all the details. I would cook for him but not too much. Finally, he said, “Why don’t you come in, guide me through the food.” because he wanted sauces for pasta like the ice-cream, 31 different flavors.
So I did. I took out six, eight months and did all the research, whatever needed to be done for the 31 different sauces. I came up with them and I helped with the opening décor, get it started, then I would be out. It didn’t work that way. We opened early, it was called Pasta Paradise. I went from getting him started to running three different restaurants. I was fortunate because my sisters, Lucia and Antonietta, were excellent cooks and I hired them to be in the kitchen. That’s how things got started, I stayed and worked at the three restaurants. thrive in that word. The economy was down at the time in the early 90s. We were going to invest to do franchise and it didn’t work out because people lost the money but the concept was amazing.
Clarissa: That’s where you decided, “Let’s take a couple of steps back.”
Rita Romano: I thought the economy isn’t good, this is not a good idea. We were in downtown Phoenix on Thomas and Central it was a good time to pull out but the concept was amazing and whoever came to the restaurant they would come all week. It was so funny because since it was a pasta specialty I’d go to each table and teach everyone to eat spaghetti. They would cut it I said, “No, no, no. You have to learn the Italian way.” I would go there and twirl the pasta against the wall of the plate and they loved it. With something new, I’d ask them to taste it. I could’ve kept one but I didn’t want to.
Clarissa: Well that’s the end of the interview! I couldn’t wait to have her back so I could interview her and you could get to know her heart the way I do. You can find the “Italian Gluten-Free Cookbook” on Amazon for the digital version. For the hard copy version, you can go to ClarissaBurt.Shop and it’s under the FeelGood tab. We have the Italian version out, all translated into Italian, from the standard system to the metric system. You can find that version on Amazon.IT. Thanks so much for joining in, we’ll see you next time! ✧