Many in Philadelphia know Mariano Mattei as a musician, producer, and co-owner of Philly Sound Studios. What they may not know is that Mattei is also a talented chef. That all changedlast week, when the South Philly native appeared on the Food Network’s “Cooks vs. Cons.” There he competed alongside other amateur chefs as well as professionals, winning over audiences and judges alike with his homemade pasta skills. Although he was eliminated in the final round last Thursday, we got the chance to chat with Mattei about his life in music and food, as well as his plans to open up a pizzeria in Point Pleasant.
So how did you end up on “Cooks vs. Cons?”
A friend of my sister posted on her wall asking, “Doesn’t your brother cook?” So I filled out the online application and they called me within the hour. The next day they set up a Skype interview followed by photo and video submissions. Next thing you know I’m invited to cook for the producers and be filmed. After that I got the on the show!
Very cool. Were you surprised by the final round? I know I was.
I think the best dish won! Everything on that show is a surprise because you simply never know. When that clock is ticking, the pressure is on!
You seem to thrive under pressure with all that you do. Locally you’re well-known as a music guy. When did you first start cooking?
I actually learned to cook very young from my Nonno and Nonna. Every Sunday was a feast with the entire family and they used to let me help out. I loved cooking from day one.
On “Cooks vs. Cons,” you talk a lot about your grandmother. Tell us about her.
She’s very family and food oriented. She’s the stereotypical grandmother who needs to feed you at every moment.
What’s the greatest lesson she’s ever taught you?
“Chi va piano, va lontano!” It’s a catch phrase of hers that means “he who goes slow, goes far.”
As a musician, do you find any similarities between cooking and making music?
I think for me it’s the creative part of both that I enjoy. Music and food are the two things that really put me in the zen state. I don’t think about anything else. It’s peace.
What have you been working on musically?
There is always something happening. I’m working with two great artists about to break out , Giada J. and Joey DiTullio. We’ve also upgraded our main console at Philly Sound Studios to a Trident Vector A432 48- channel monster!
That is a beautiful console. How about food? Cooking up anything exciting? How about that pizzeria you mentioned?
So my father and I have a place at Point Breeze and Wharton. We’re looking to open a pizzeria there with an acoustic, singer/songwriter venue on the second floor. It’s in the works but there is so much more work to be done. It’s going to serve up pizza, pasta and arrosticini.
It’s the perfect combination of all the things you love. While it’s in the works, what Italian restaurants in Philly should we check out?
Oh that is tough one! You can’ go wrong with any Vetri restaurant. On East Passyunk, I’d hit Tre Scalini.
Last question for you, can you share any of your Nonna’s recipes with us?
A lot of them are secret family recipes but I do have a food blog on Facebook called La Cucina di Gigi, where I share some of my favorites.
Be sure to tune into the Food Network this Thursday for the finale of “Cooks vs. Cons” at 9PM.