During the pandemic and through the lens, one writer discovers a community that nourishes his soul.BY ANDREW COTTO | SEPTEMBER 30, 20200 SHARES
The author with his daughter Sophia.
Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 crisis has hit us all; we have been heartbroken, uplifted, unmoored. To help document the moment, Edible Jersey is sharing stories from our community.
Food was a huge part of my life prior to the pandemic. Cooking at home was not just a part of my everyday affairs, but a highlight. I spent much of my day thinking about what we would have for dinner that night and looking forward to both the preparation and the consumption. Quarantine didn’t change that at all, but food did play a new and valuable role of my life during lockdown.
In order to keep busy and (hopefully) contribute to the sense of community, I began hosting a Saturday night “Aperitivo Hour” reading series, live on Facebook and Instagram, from my kitchen. I’d whip up a cocktail, read food/wine passages from one of my novels (which all feature lots of food and wine) and soon demonstrated how to prepare a meal (or something similar) referenced in the readings.
Communicating with a remote audience was new to me, so I asked my teenaged daughter, Sophia, to assist with the production in order to have another live human being in the room and to share comments from the audience embellished with some of her own. She also popped on screen to say hello and goodbye, and added much to the events by functioning as an adorable liaison to the audience and an invaluable sidekick to me. We had a blast. Yes, I had to pay her.…
I never worried about audience size since it’s hard to control, but a good number of people joined in each week (certainly more than the average turnout at a bookstore reading), and many more watched later when I posted the videos on Facebook and YouTube.
To keep busy and (hopefully) contribute to the sense of community, I began hosting a Saturday night “Aperitivo Hour” reading series, live on Facebook and Instagram, from my kitchen.
The hardest part for me was the cooking demonstrations. They usually involved a lot of gymnastics while I was reading (putting on water to boil; taking the focaccia out of the oven, etc.), and cooking something in front of a live audience is not my forte. But the cooking segment was when I felt most connected to the audience and why I had invited them into my kitchen in the first place: to share some food and drink together.
The respective events have reminded me how important food is to my fiction and to my life. Almost immediately after the lockdown was put in place, I put down a non-food related project to begin the sequel to Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure just to immerse in the pleasure of the gastronomy I’d have to conjure as I wrote. I’ve never been as productive with a novel (it’s under contract but not quite done!) and I expect to complete the full-length manuscript within six months of lockdown/safe distancing (if you’ve never attempted a novel, trust me: That’s fast!).
I’ve also spent an enormous amount of time these past months writing articles about food itself and, more importantly, the people who love it. Among those I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know include celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito, Nicole Russell of Last Dragon Pizza (whose love of pizza inspired a pizza business out of her home in Rockaway Beach, NY), and Allison Alavera who sold her successful Oakland, CA restaurants to return to New York and open Pasta Louise, a community-focused eatery in Brooklyn.
And that’s the biggest takeaway from all of this, and what has helped me more than anything else during this agonizing and often lonely time: I really like people who love food. Food people are my people. The readings have been so much fun and full of an enthusiasm that would not be there if food, in various forms, was not featured; people I’ve invited have invited their friends who have become my friends. All of this has nourished my soul.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not happy about the insanity and suffering caused by COVID-19, but there is no doubt that my life is richer in many ways now than it was before the pandemic began. And it has to do with the recognition of food’s value in my life beyond just what I cook and consume at home.
Editor’s Note: For information about upcoming “Aperitivo Hours”, follow Andrew Cotto on Facebook or Instagram at andrewcotto. All events are available for viewing on his YouTube channel. Information on Andrew’s novels and articles can be found on his website. On October 8th at 6pm, Andrew will host an Instagram live session with Jersey native Cara DiFalco of Cara’s Cucina, the Emmy-nominated YouTube cooking show.