Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
“Oscar de la Renta was an immigrant and aren’t we proud and grateful that he was?” Hillary Clinton
On the final day of Fashion Week, February 16, the United States Postal Service unveiled a forever stamp to honor iconic designer Oscar de la Renta, who died on October 20, 2014, at age 82. The first-day-of-issue ceremony was held in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall.
While one of the stamps features a black and white portrait of the designer, the other ten showcase what he was known for – the beautiful and colorful fashion worn by a who’s who of women from many professions and countries.
Besides Clinton, the officials who spoke included former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Anna Wintour, Artistic Director of Condé Nast and Editor in Chief of Vogue. CNN’s Anderson Cooper introduced the speakers.
Chefs used to confine themselves to writing cookbooks. Then along came Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, which shocked diners everywhere. Behind those swinging doors, chefs were doing more than turning out haute cuisine. They were also drinking too much, doing drugs, having sex, and, if angry with a customer’s complaints, spitting on a dish before it was delivered to said diner.
Bourdain is now an international celebrity. His CNN show, Parts Unknown, has placed him on the culinary map, both literally and figuratively. And his first book triggered an avalanche of other chef tell-alls. Italian chef Leonardo Lucarelli is the latest entry into the field. His memoir, Mincemeat – The Education of an Italian Chef, chronicles his rise and fall and rise again in various restaurants across Italy. With little formal training, Lucarelli worked his way up the food chain, eager to do everything from washing dishes to cleaning tables, anything for the opportunity to learn from talented and, in some cases, neurotic, chefs. “The difference between a chef and a sociopath?” he writes. “I don’t believe there is one.”
While working in restaurants, Lucarelli also earned his degree in anthropology, a discipline which certainly allowed him to study the restaurant business and the players from a fresh perspective. He’s also a terrific writer, able to describe his surroundings, his co-workers, and the food being prepared with colorful language. (The book was translated from the Italian by Lorena Rossi Gori and Danielle Rossi.) The result is an engrossing read that will be eaten up (pun intended) by food aficionados.
Like so many chefs, Lucarelli first learned about cooking from his parents. His father was only 40 when he died, but his enthusiasm for cooking inspired his son. “I so admired the way my dad was able to turn cooking into pleasure,” he says. “Mom fed us; dad delighted us.” Soon, Lucarelli was cooking for his teenage friends, inviting them home for lunch. The first present he gave his first real girlfriend was a loaf of home baked bread.
Of course, Lucarelli might have continued as a home cook, preparing food for family and friends. But the life of a chef proved to be a huge draw. “These days chefs are hip, they’re top guns,” Lucarelli writes. Restaurants now favor glass windows and open kitchens, providing star chefs with a stage where they can perform for the customers. Yet what goes on in the actual kitchens is not ready for prime time viewing. And through his experiences – he worked in 15 different restaurants in Italy, including in Lazio, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Vento, and Trentino – he takes us into those testosterone-drenched, overheated workspaces where tempers flare, accidents happen, and somehow the food emerges to dazzle (most times) the guests.
There’s a pecking order in kitchens, and Lucarelli beautifully describes his co-workers, many of them immigrants looking to start a new life in Italy. There’s Sofia, from Nigeria, who manages to wash pots and pans in a minuscule sink, all the while keeping her head down and avoiding trouble. Sandro, a chef with a beer belly, was caught stealing and fired. Lucarelli would work for Sandro more than once, with varying degrees of success. Lucia, a waitress with double-jointed knees, told Lucarelli she had had two abortions and was pregnant again. Giulio, the “young-dude chef,” was constantly snorting coke.
Lucarelli was serious about becoming a fine chef, but he was not immune to all the distractions that have derailed many talented cooks. He writes about his drug binges (he snorted coke and shot up heroin with a brilliant cook, Emiliano), sex orgies (one threesome with his boss, Michele, and Michele’s girlfriend, Vanessa), and an ill-timed motorcycle ride (he and Vincenzo end up getting arrested and charged with possession.) Although his skills continued to improve, holding down a steady job proved to be a challenge. Those managing restaurants were often more interested in the social aspects, eager to attract a fashionable crowd, than they were in the food. And in one instance, the restaurant Lucarelli worked in was trashed overnight, ostensibly because the owner, Arturo, was in debt to the wrong people.
Then there were the inevitable accidents – burns from grabbing a too-hot skillet, a cut from a too-sharp knife, and, in one case, the near severing of a thumb from a meat slicer. Cooking, we learn, is a dangerous business.
Despite it all, Lucarelli knows that he will continue to work as a chef. “The truth is that I could have tried any number of improbable careers without finding one that I love as much as this,” he writes. “What other job would allow me to peep through so many cracks in the wall of life?” Now, thanks to his memoir, we get to peep, too.
Wendy Walker spent 32 years at CNN, 18 of those as the senior executive producer for Larry King Live. Criminal defense attorney, Mark Geragos, worked with Walker serving as a consultant. The two are now executive producers of the new ABC drama, Notorious, a behind the scenes look at what goes into producing a cable news show.
For news junkies who miss HBO’s The Newsroom, Notorious, might help curb those cravings. The ego-driven personalities on and off the set yield soap-opera worthy story lines. (Just consider the recent developments at Fox News.) Piper Perabo plays Julia George, a “powerhouse” who produces the Megan Kelly-like talk show, Louise Herrick Live. Daniel Sunjata plays Jake Gregorian, a high-profile defense attorney who often winds up in a chair being grilled by Herrick. Yet what viewers see is only part of the story. George and Gregorian are very much a team, massaging and managing the news for both their benefits. When one of Gregorian’s clients is found at a murder scene, his hands covered in blood, the duo will find events spiraling out of control. Can they trust each other? Stay tuned.
Notorious benefits from a strong cast. Perabo doesn’t rely on the athletic moves she displayed as CIA agent Annie Walker in USA’s Covert Affairs. George’s power comes from the information that she possesses. (When she discovers her boyfriend, an ambitious judge, has been visiting prostitutes, she doesn’t just break up with him. She puts him on notice that she’ll hold onto that nugget until she finds a good time to use it, a time bomb if there ever was one.)
Daniel Sunjata and J. August Richards (Photo credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
Sunjata has an impressive resume that includes major roles on FX’s Rescue Me and USA’s Graceland. As Gregorian, heexudes the confidence and arrogance befitting an attorney who boasts a star-stunned list of clients. Gregorian and George are both used to being in control. There’s a sexual tension in their relationship which, we assume, will also be part and parcel of the show’s theme.
Kate Jennings Grant (Herrick), who has a long list of TV and film credits, recently won rave reviews for her performance in the Broadway revival of Noises Off. On set, Herrick is all business, asking the hard questions, never letting a guest off the hook. Off set, she’s often found in her dressing room canoodling with her latest boy toy. Jennings Grant manages both sides of her character with ease. She’s a delight to watch.
Kate Jennings Grant (Photo credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
The supporting cast is also strong. J. August Richards plays Bradley, Gregorian’s brother and law partner, who takes the lead in the pilot’s subplot, a blackmail scheme against one of the firm’s clients. Jake may be the face of Gregorian & Gregorian, but Bradley is the one who keeps the wheels turning. Sepideh Moafi is Julia’s assistant, Megan Byrd, who also watches out for her boss’s welfare. Ryan Guzman plays fresh-faced Ryan Mills, an intern who got the job because his father is head of the network, but is eager to prove himself and impress Julia. His first move involves tricking Jake’s associate, Ella Benjamin (Aimeé Teegarden). She’s initially angry, but who can resist that fresh face?
Notorious follows the trend of many shows these days where an entire season is devoted to solving one crime. (TNT’s Murder in the First has done that for three seasons.) Anthology shows demand commitment on the part of the viewer. But once that viewer is hooked, the ratings follow. All things considered, Notorious has cast out a strong line.
Notorious premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday, September 22, 2016, on ABC.
Top: Piper Perabo and Sepideh Moafi, Credit: ABC/Eli Joshua Ade
Kenyan-born Zain Verjee spent 14 years at CNN as an anchor, reporter and interviewer, before bringing together her passion for Africa and interest in online communications with the creation of aKoma, a digital storytelling platform. Beyond the many countries she has covered as a reporter, Zain also invests her personal time in understanding people around the world.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I was hosting the mid-morning radio show in Nairobi, Kenya, on the 19th floor at Capital FM, when I heard a loud bang and felt the building shake. At first I thought it was an earthquake. We saw smoke coming out of an area of downtown Nairobi. It was a terrorist bombing of the U.S. embassy in August 1998. This shifted my personal interest from music and entertainment to hard news, and a desire to understand more about the world and why this happened.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
It was serious, impactful and I developed a huge depth of knowledge, for both the issues at stake and how to present them in a way that viewers or listeners could easily process.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I trained on the job and I believe that’s the best way to learn. You can turn to the internet today for tips on how to be a better journalist, a host, a reporter, a producer, a fixer, an engineer, whatever you would like to be—you can learn by doing. Take advantage of all learning available online, for free and combine it with finding a space to do what you love. Make it happen.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I received a great deal of encouragement. I learned to rely on a handful of folks I trust and really take their opinions and critical feedback to heart. Being a public figure means you are fair game and everyone has a point of view. You can’t take all of it on, so you have to filter what makes sense and what doesn’t. I have been quite fortunate in that at key moments of my career the right person was there at the right time, championing my career and encouraging me to take risks and believe in myself.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
No. I am grateful for everything I have experienced.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I’ve completely redefined myself and my goals, while remaining in a space I am interested in and passionate about: storytelling and Africa. I view growth as key to a career. While in London with CNN, I felt I was no longer evolving either as a professional or as a person and I knew that to learn and achieve more I had to move outside of CNN and traditional media. So I left the company in March 2014 to start aKoma, a digital storytelling platform that aims to bring unique African stories and perspectives to the world. I’m creating akomanet.com with a core team and am very excited about our progress. Digital and social media are the future and I want to be on the front-lines, applying my traditional media knowledge to it, and taking new risks. It’s been very challenging and at the same time exceptionally rewarding.
If you can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
My battle with my skin has always been a challenge. I suffer from severe psoriasis and when I have a flare up, I do not feel completely stable! There are natural and traditional methods of healing. I have done both.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
The most useful skill I have is the ability to laugh at myself and not to take everything too seriously.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am most proud of receiving my Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at Oxford University this year. It was very hard to juggle CNN and writing, and then a start-up and writing. I tried all different genres of writing: a screenplay, a book of poetry, memoir, short stories and fiction. I deliberately put myself out of my comfort zone and evolved as a writer. My brilliant CNN producer and I co-wrote a sitcom (she did most of it) and I am really proud of the work. It’s set in a TV newsroom where the prime time shows and the morning shows battle each other for guests!
Any advice for others entering your profession?
With a changing media environment and the pace, pressure and access to varied forms of information, it matters more than ever to stick to the principles of solid journalism. The cardinal rule is “it’s better to be right than first.” Don’t forget that, and enjoy the journey.