By Dierdre Anderson
Pop-Pop, aka Vincent Scailo, my Italian grandfather, sparked my initial love for food. Namely, the preparation part.
Growing up, family get-togethers were all about the food. Of course we loved to eat, but with equal passion we loved to create. Together. While Grandma Helen simmered and stirred, my mom seemed to constantly chop garlic as others shucked clams. I never viewed it as drudgery—it was about family, and an expression of love. Pop-Pop also owned a restaurant in Manhattan. It was the only restaurant where, as a child, I was allowed to go behind the bar and squirt my own drink from the soda gun. Man do I miss that magical feeling.
At around 16, I was exposed to a more “gourmet” spin on things. Joyce, my then-boyfriend’s mother, was an avid cook and food enthusiast. Her kitchen pantry made my head tilt to one side, as things like candied violets and saffron had been completely foreign to me. She even took a couple of cooking classes with my now-culinary hero, Jacques Pepin. The Art of Cooking became my first coffee table book way before I had my own coffee table.
At 20, I made my first steak au poivre, and learned the hard way that you really mustn’t get too close to the pan when you ignite the cognac. The utter unpleasantness of singeing off three-quarters of my eyebrows was far outweighed by the creamy decadence of the dish, and somehow achieving a perfect medium-rare steak.
Fast-forward about 20 years of working as a chef and caterer, I achieved my dream of opening a restaurant: a little 40-seater in, what I soon realized, was a terrible location. I went under in the worst possible way—the kind where you show up and realize the locks have been changed. Traumatized, penniless, and spiritually crushed, I left the food business for good. Or so I thought.
A few years later, I read the book, Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner of Prune on the Lower East Side. Her beautiful descriptions of food, coupled with the accounts of her wild and tumultuous ride in the industry, ignited a spark that would ultimately get me back in the business. But this time, I’d do it without risking any types of even remotely soul-crushing experiences.
I am now a private chef. I provide weekly meals for families, delivered or prepared on site. The weekly meals range from the super simple to the decadent and exotic. Nicaraguan churrasco, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, zarzuela, and Portuguese pork and clams are all part of my repertoire. However, if your goals include gluten-free and/or vegan eating, I’ve got you covered. On occasion, I cater fancy dinner parties and bask in the glory of real chefdom.
My clients have included a former CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Manhattan fashion designer Valentina Kova, and a former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. I catered two Clinton fundraisers in 2016—and even got my picture with Bill. Other notable political guests have included New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, former UN ambassador Samantha Power, and congressional hopeful Tom Malinowski. To be fair to the Republicans, Henry Kissinger once told me that he loved my lamb chops: “So to speak.”
All the name-dropping aside, I take equal pleasure in serving families without fame or political notoriety. Sure, it’s super cool to get applause from a table full of bigwigs, but hearing a seven-year-old tell you that “I now love fish because of you” makes my heart sing, and puts some “butter” on my soul. I also have an Internet radio show called “Food for Thought” which will be advertised very soon on a billboard in Times Square. At ten seconds an hour, I anticipate approximately 120 minutes of fame, at least for the month of March.