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Chef Steve Martorano’s journey from South Philly to food stardom

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Cafe Martorano’s fifth anniversary with chef Steve Martorano at the Rio on Friday, May 18, 2012.
Photo: Erik Kabik/ErikKabik.com
By Steve Martorano

2012 Miss USA Pageant: Cafe Martorano

Cafe Martorano's Fifth Anniversary at the Rio

While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip and Las Vegas personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. Our thanks to them all. We continue today with self-trained chef Steve Martorano, who not only made mom’s meatballs famous, but also DJs the disco hits while he cooks them at his popular Cafe Martorano in the Rio.

Yo Cuz! Steve Martorano from Cafe Martorano in the Rio here filling in for Robin Leach. Growing up in South Philly, I never thought those words would come out of my mouth: me filling in for a classy guy like Robin, but as unbelievable as it is, here I am.

I pinch myself every day and never take anything for granted. I like to say that when you come to my restaurants, it’s My Life, My Food, My Way. Here’s a story from my book “Yo Cuz!” about a guy growing up on Sunday gravy. That's gravy, not sauce.

Me, cooking for celebrities like Matt Damon, Joey Lawrence, Cee Lo Green and Jim McMahon? That kind of stuff doesn’t happen to a guy who grew up on Sunday gravy. Yo Cuz! It ain’t sauce, it’s gravy. We didn’t have sauce in my neighborhood -- get it straight.

Where I grew up, on a Sunday morning, it was screw the alarm clock, you didn’t need it -- we had fried meatballs. You’d wake up after staying out late, and you’d hear meat sizzling, smell tomatoes with garlic, olive oil and pork.

Hangover or not, you wanted to get yourself out of bed to slap those meatballs on soft white bread with mayo or gravy. Yeah, mayo -- that’s the American side of me.

My mom made a pot of gravy on Sundays with pigs’ feet, pigs’ skin, ribs, sausage, braciole and especially meatballs. Some people baked their meatballs, some threw them right into the pot, but we fried ours first.

Before the meatballs went into the pot, we’d tear through a dozen of them. I’d make a gravy sandwich: sliced bread, gravy, grated cheese -- simplicity is always best.

Sundays were the best. Someone would always say, “What time should I put the water on?” referring to the water used to cook macaroni. Every Sunday, my mother would make rigatoni -- my favorite -- and keep the leftovers in the refrigerator. Late at night, I’d go downstairs, take out the bowl, pour a glass of homemade iced tea and watch TV.

Even cold macaroni out of the refrigerator was delicious. That’s how you knew your mother was a great cook. But everyone went to my grandmother’s house on Sundays. Everybody: neighbors, families and their kids, and there was always a feast -- a ginormous feast.

Gram made homemade ravioli, spaghetti and the best ricotta gnocchi. We usually ate Sunday dinner at 5, and by 8 p.m., Gram would bring me two jars of pickled pigs’ feet that my grandfather made. I’d climb into Gram’s lap and she’d feed me pickled pigs’ feet, and we’d put ketchup on them.

Her love and food kept our family together, and sharing that love of food with you continues to keep me together.

Our thanks to Steve for serving today’s gravy -- not sauce! Be sure to check out our other guest columns today from Human Nature, the Australian singers with that Motown Sound who headline at Imperial Palace, and hair guru to the stars Michael Boychuck. Join us again Thursday for two of the gorgeous glamour girls from “Fantasy” at the Luxor, Harrah’s comedy magician headliner Mac King and genius producer Zoe Thrall, who turns out all the hits with the stars at the Palms recording studio.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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