INTERVIEW: Frank Imbergamo

TV Celebrity Chef Emeril LaGasse
features former North End resident Frankie Imbergamo
on his Food Network TV show

It may not rank up there with winning a $1 million scratch ticket, but getting the nod from TV celebrity chef Emeril for the best gravy and meatball recipe felt pretty fine to native North Ender Frankie Imbergamo last summerl. That recipe was one of four chosen from more than 1500 submissions to the Food Network’s Italian recipe contest. It earned him an appearance on the “Emeril Live” TV show where he shared an animated stove-side chat with the renowned TV food host and chef Emeril LaGasse. The TV program segment featuring Imbergamo first aired on Sunday evening, August 7th, at 8 p.m. on the Food Network. It will air again next Wednesday evening, February 15th, at 8:00 pm and at midnight on the same cable TV station.

Growing up on Hanover Street in Boston’s “Little Italy” where he attended both the Eliot and Michelangelo schools, Frankie still identifies closely with the neighborhood. It’s his point of reference. “It’s where it all began for me,” he says. “I have so many special memories of people – family and friends – and of times – both good and bad. A common thread, it seems, through all these memories has been love, comfort, and a feeling of belonging – a feeling of home.”

And although Frankie and his wife, Maureen, now live in Medford where they’ve resided for 10 years, he still finds himself back most weekends in “this wonderful Italian neighborhood” as he calls Boston’s North End, visiting many new and old friends and haunts. A TV producer and camera crew from the Emeril show followed Imbergamo several weeks ago as he walked down Salem Street, visiting stores, chatting with friends, buying ingredients for his award-winning recipe. They filmed him later at home in his kitchen cooking up his soon-to-be famous “Frankie’s Gravy and Meatballs.”

“A hug, a kiss, a word of kindness or encouragement along the way, and more often than not, a love-infused meal made from scratch and from the heart made all the difference in the world,” says Frankie with a deep sense of nostalgia. “Whether I partook of these meals in family-run neighborhood restaurants like the Blue Front, Giro’s, or Felicia’s, or at Grandma’s house, or especially in my very own home, I always experienced the best ingredients in these ‘home-cooked’ dishes.”

Partly as a result of his newly-found mini-celebrity status, family members and friends have been urging Frankie to assemble some of his favorite home-style recipes into a cookbook. “Through the years, I’ve enjoyed creating my own meals, in my own style, and always with the finest ingredients,” he explained.

So, with an encouraging yet firm push from Maureen, along with her accomplished editorial and creative design skills, the husband-and-wife team have produced “The Good Life! Favorite Italian Recipes by Frank J. Imbergamo”. The volume contains 40 recipes, including “Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers and Potatoes,” “Haddock Pizzaiola” and “Baked Lobster Pie.” It could easily be subtitled: “Frankie’s Food Lover’s Guide to Italian Comfort Food”. It’s recipes are that straight-forward and down-to-earth. It also includes a useful reference list pairing recipes with suggested wines.

It is hard to know where Frankie Imbergamo’s next steps will take him. There’s talk of a cross-marketing initiative with the venerable Pastene Company, America’s oldest importer of Italian packaged goods, which began as a pushcart operation in the North End in 1848. There may also be some future TV appearances in store. And, another Italian family cookbook may be in the offing. Yet wherever these and other paths take him, they will ultimately all lead back to the dinner table, the “Table of life” as Frankie is fond of saying . “I take great pleasure in setting a delicious meal before family ands friends. Their enjoyment is my enjoyment.” And so it is ours!

Frankie Imbergamo’s cookbook is available at Best Sellers Cafe, 24 High Street, Medford and in the North End at the Friendly Framers at 347 Hanover Street.