Think of a famous chef, and adjectives such as “serious,” “rigid,” or even “arrogant ” may come to mind, not so with Johnny Carrabba. Johnny’s style of cooking is, well, fun. Talking about his PBS show, Cucina Amore, with uncle and fellow chef Damian Mandola, Johnny says, “We’re having fun… I mean that’s what cooking is all about… having fun. Getting people’s minds off of everyday stress and everyday chores… cooking is fun, you know, its entertainment.”
Johnny Carrabba was born to be a restaurateur. His family, including uncle Damian, has made preparing great meals and entertaining a focus of their lives. After attending college at St. Thomas University in Houston, he began working in the local restaurants owned by members of his family. In 1986 he opened Carrabba’s with his uncle, Damian Mandola. Their mission was to offer guests high quality Italian dishes in a warm, casual environment. They wanted Carrabba’s to have a real wood-fired pizza oven and an open kitchen where their guests could watch their meals being prepared to order. High standards, unique amenities like their Carside Carry-Out service (customers call in orders ahead and have them delivered directly to their car) and the balls of pizza dough young diners are encouraged to play with, are the ingredients that have made Carrabba’s, now in fifteen states, a success.
Johnny not only takes cuisine seriously. He is just as concerned with the atmosphere in which his guests enjoy it. Asked what he loves most about Carrabba’s, Johnny says, “I love the preparation and the excitement of it. It’s like throwing a party at your home every night.” The ambience that Johnny has created at his restaurants, with partner Damian, is warm, lively, and fun. It’s important to Johnny that his guests feel as if they are dining in the home of a good friend, and not in an atmosphere that feels too formal to have fun. As he tells his staff “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” And, as he further explains, “You work hard to prepare a great meal and you can’t wait to greet your guests and show them a great time.”
On Johnny and Damian’s new PBS program, Cucina Sicilia all the recipes are based on family classics that find their roots in Sicily at the southern tip of the Mediterranean. As you experienced on their series Cucina Amore, Johnny and Damian will pass along their attitudes about cooking and entertaining, along with their sense of fun and gusto for living.