The Singing Chef Andy LoRusso is returning for a second year of Cooking for a Cure, a virtual event to benefit DMRF on Friday, January 28, 2022 at 5pm Pacific/7pm Central/8pm Eastern. He recently shared details about the event and how he became involved with DMRF.
DMRF: We’re so pleased Cooking for a Cure is back for another year. What can people expect?
AL: Thanks for having this for the second year, and I’m really excited about it. Last year it was wonderful to meet so many people and this year I hope to meet new people plus have some of the folks come back with their families. It was exciting to see the families in the kitchen, being safe, and just having fun, drinking a little wine, smiling, singing along with me. And I hope this year will prove an even greater success. The two recipes that will be doing this year are the pumpkin ricotta cheesecake, which is very popular, and also the lemon pasta, very simple. And we’re going to keep it that way. We’re going to keep it simple and clean and have people just enjoy themselves. I’ll be giving instructions how to make those two dishes so people can follow along and at the same time, we’ll have fun while we’re doing it. So I’m really looking forward to the second annual Cooking for a Cure event for sure.
DMRF: You’ve shared that you became an advocate for dystonia awareness because the disorder hits close to home. What can you share about your experience with blepharospasm?
AL: Well, a couple years ago I realized that I had this condition, blepharospasm, where my eyelids were constantly closing, especially at certain times of the day. I went to my eye doctor and he started giving me Botox® which I still do every 90 days. It helps about 50% for me. I did some research, I went online, and I found that blepharospasm is a form of dystonia. And it definitely has affected my very, very active life—especially sports and cycling, which I really miss doing. So now I walk five or six miles a day, which fortunately is kind of easy down here in Naples, Florida because the weather is so nice, but, it definitely had an effect on me and still does. And I wanted to find an organization, a support group, to talk with other people potentially who have experienced this condition, or this type of dystonia, and sure enough I found an organization in Texas. They were very open and receptive. And then I went to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation site and that is how it all started, deciding to help as much as I possibly can with my notoriety as The Singing Chef to possibly give back whatever I can and get that support and understanding of this condition and how one can make the best of it.
DMRF: For almost 30 years you have traveled the world as a best-selling author, recording artist, celebrity chef, and entertainer – you seem to bring a real joy to what you do. As a kid, in the kitchen with your grandmother, is this where you discovered how food and good cooking and good company could be such a powerful combination?
AL: Well, the beginning of it all, really, was when I came out of my mom and my mouth was wide open and I started to go, “Ahhhhhhhhh!” This guy is going to be a singer for sure. People often ask me what came first the singing or cooking and I say obviously the eating! Being raised in a very loving and wonderful warm Italian-American family was really a blessing for me and being raised with my grandparents from Sicily. My mom’s mother, my Grandma Grace, and also my dad’s side of the family. My dad’s father lived with us after his wife died, my other grandmother. So it was wonderful to hear the family stories and grow up in that environment, which most children do not have that experience of being raised with her grandparents nowadays, but mine was such that we would go to Grandma’s house every Sunday or Wednesday and she would always make these wonderful food dishes. Now, of course, wow, around the holidays it was phenomenal. To see the bed covered with cookie shapes that my mom would stay up late at night making, the Italian chocolate spice cookies, which was in my first cookbook. And then also the pastas that my Grandma would make at her house and lay out on the sheets of the bed, they were wonderful, these pastas that you would make fresh while the gravy—as they call it in New Jersey—was cooking, the sauces. My Grandmother Grace would always have music playing when she was cooking: Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, Carlo Buti. It was a wonderful experience, creating that whole mood in the kitchen. So this was a big influence for me to publish my first cookbook back in 1991 called Sing and Cook Italian. We did over 50,000 copies. And also being on the Donny and Marie show was an inspiration that I was doing my work—I was following my passion—and that I was on to something. Because it was just me, I was being myself, celebrating the family unit and sharing as much as I could those recipes that I grew up with, most of which were Italian-American recipes, which many people in this country were raised on. All of that really inspired me to put the first cookbook together and continue on my path for the last 30 years as The Singing Chef.
DMRF: One of your latest endeavors is the launch of your Signature Sauces, a portion of proceeds from which benefit DMRF. Was it difficult to decide what recipes to offer?
AL: Well, the sauces have been out a little over a year and they’ve been very successful. I’m in 101 stores at the moment and next year will hopefully include more stores so that people have more access, as well as through my website. But what I hope to accomplish here is having the sauces be very simple for people to use, and having a quality premium product—as you open the jar it’s almost as if Grandma is right there in your kitchen cooking for you, the flavors and the aromas that go into the recipes that I’ve developed. And I created a few recipes up on my website that go along with, are a marriage if you will, with each sauce. They make it simple for people to have a real flavor of the old-world tradition of sauces, right in their kitchen for their family and friends. It was a labor of love. People are sharing and posting five-star reviews on my Google page after they’ve served my sauces for their family and friends. I feel very blessed in that. But especially if you’re trying to feed a family, or you are in a situation where you don’t have much time but you want to have a good meal, coupled with a nice green salad, some pasta or a casserole is a good staple that you can do very simply and easily and make a dish that everybody is going to love and come away from the table feeling good at the same time.
DMRF: Any words of encouragement for others in the dystonia community – or even a favorite meal to provide a little comfort on a tough day?
AL: One of the things, I just did this today, I like to do casseroles with my pasta sauces. For example, take the tomato basil sauce. A lot of people like it especially if they’re vegetarian—and they’re all natural ingredients by the way, in all my sauces. And so, what I do periodically, I make an eggplant parmesan casserole. Now, that really goes a long way, especially for a family. You can have it the next day. You can reheat it. You can make sandwiches with it. You can get good mileage out of that. Then yesterday I made my grandmother’s sausage and fennel sauce, and I made a rigatoni with Kalamata olives, and I topped it with ricotta cheese. Before I added the ricotta cheese, I baked it in the oven. I had it actually for two days. The ricotta on top was sort of like a little snow mountain for Santa Claus to ski down—this is one of his favorite dishes I happen to know. One of the biggest sellers is my vodka cream, which has chunks of San Marzano tomatoes in it. And that particular sauce can be used also in a casserole or another thing I’ll be doing for friends for Christmas is making a pizza. If I don’t make the dough myself, I buy a pound of dough in the store. I put olive oil on the dough and then I’ll add the vodka cream sauce and spread it nice and thin over the top. Then I’ll cover it with either baby shrimp or roasted or grilled chicken. Or I’ll use artichoke hearts in water, chopped up very fine. I’ll put some extra basil on it and maybe green olives, possibly, but not necessarily. That makes a great pizza. Put some extra virgin olive oil around the edges and bake it in a 500 degree oven for maybe 15 to 20 minutes—everybody’s oven is different. Serve it with a nice green salad with fresh tomatoes and you got yourself a wonderful meal, and you can get the kids helping out. It’s a great thing for a family to get involved in. So that’s lately what I’ve been doing with my three sauces, they’re like my three sons.
DMRF: Any additional details you’d like to share about Cooking for a Cure?
AL: The secret ingredient is the singing. The singing brings the air of fun. With my first cookbook my desire was to bring families back together in the kitchen, cooking together, and then adding the aspect of singing, especially the Italian songs, creates that Italian mood in the kitchen, that feeling. When we cook in a happy mood, it helps digestion. When we keep the negativity out, when we can leave the office, leave the stress, and set up a happy mood in the kitchen that creates a happy family. And hopefully that will be happening on January 28 with a lot of new people for our Cooking for a Cure event that DMRF is so graciously having again this year and I am so excited.
The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancing research for improved dystonia treatments and ultimately a cure, promoting awareness, and supporting the well-being of affected individuals and families.