Mo Rocca Back in the Kitchen with New Episodes of ‘My Grandmother’s Ravioli’
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 • 4:58pm
Mo Rocca is who I want to be when I grow up.
That we were born in the same year is something I choose to ignore because it only underscores the fact that we started out of the gate at the same time, but he leaped over the hurdles while I kept tripping over my shoelaces and stopping for a snack.
Mo is a journalist, humorist, and political satirist whose familiar face and distinctive voice have been regularly featured over the years on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and NPR’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” He’s been on Broadway, he’s written for TV, and he’s currently a correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning News.” Add to it the fact that he graduated from Harvard where he was president of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and you may begin to understand why I wish I could dislike Mo. But damn if I can figure out how - he’s one of the coolest, most talented people I’ve ever met.
Now he’s a regular on Cooking Channel, where he has been the host of Food(ography) for several seasons, and is now back with “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.”
The first “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” aired in February as a special. It was so successful and so many people sent in requests to be on the next one that Mo had to get back into the kitchen with more grandmothers and grandfathers to pinch his cheeks, tie an apron on him, and teach him how to cook. "My Grandmother's Ravioli" is now a series.
I interviewed Mo prior to the first special, and again as he was promoting the new series. I also spent a little time with him this week at the show’s premiere party held in the Food Network’s kitchens. It's clear that he’s pleased with the way “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” has taken shape, and is excited for the premiere on Wednesday.
I watched the first of the new episodes on a CD given to me by Cooking Channel, and he’s right to be excited – it’s a great show. I love seeing the grandmothers and grandfathers demonstrate how they make their favorite recipes, I love hearing the stories they tell him… but as a journalist, I think I get the most joy out of seeing just what a great time Mo is having. He loves doing this, and it shows.
“In every episode I’m learning something new, and it helps when you’re a tabula rasa, still knowing very little about cooking,” he told me. “The range of grandparents is so surprising, from Gaetano, a 91-year-old grandfather who taught me to use a shotgun, to Chris, a firefighter who’s a grandfather at 45.”
We were momentarily united in feeling completely aghast that someone so close to our age could be a grandparent. We knew it, of course, but knowing it and facing it are quite different matters.
Mo said what struck him is that although there are plenty of funny moments in the show (watch for the “Electric Company”-style breakdown of the word kreplach with Ruth Tieg, the Jewish grandmother), so many of the grandparents were so open to discussing the challenges they’ve faced in life. Ruth, for example, hid in a barn in Poland for a year when she was six to escape the Nazis.
“That’s just unimaginable to me,” Mo said. “But never did she not want to have her own family.”
Although he is talking with real people about their real lives, Mo hesitates to call it “reality TV” because of the rather toxic connotations the label carries. But it is reality. It’s the real kind of reality, the unscripted and honest kind that is meant to tell a story and not shock or anger viewers for a cheap ratings boost. And that’s where Mo’s journalistic talent really shines through – he gently draws the stories out of these older people, interacting with them in such an easy, loving way that for a moment you forget he isn’t really their grandson. And when you watch him with them at the inevitable family dinners that are the big ta-da at the end of the cooking lessons, you get the feeling that for awhile, they’ve forgotten it too.
“I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this,” Mo told me. “When you think about ‘reality TV,’ you wouldn’t want to be related to most of those people. But the people I meet you do want to be related to. Our episodes usually end with a family meal, and the grandparents we have on the show are people who are big enough to just embrace the messiness of their families. At the end you’re thinking, ‘These people really love each other.’ There’s such a bond there.”
He meets some characters, that’s for sure. There’s the “Cookie Oma,” who Mo calls a “wonderful and wacky woman” whose husband is an Elvis impersonator. There's Meena and Mona, Indian grandmothers who are best friends who met here, after they moved from India 40 years ago.
“I was excited to be in the kitchen with them so I could call say Eeny, Meena, Mona, Mo,” he joked.
Several of the grandmothers and their families were at the premiere party, and kept things lively. Ruth offered to teach me to make gefilte fish, while her daughter, Sherry, explained to me that she submitted her mother’s application to be on the show, then told her what she’d done.
“She said she would have been happy just to make the first cut,” Sherry said. But she made all the cuts and is now smiling on the couch beside Mo in the show’s promos. She was beside herself with excitement during the party, hugging Mo and telling everyone how awesome he is. There is no question what kind of an impression he left on them – at any given time during the party, there was a grandmother putting the squeeze on him, and usually a line forming behind her.
When I interviewed Mo before the first episode of “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” he told me the whole concept of the show started with his own grandmother and the way she would cook big, wonderful meals from scratch for her family who would, as families tend to do, gobble it all down in a matter of minutes. He told me if he had the opportunity now, he’d spend time in the kitchen with her, learning how she did it. This show is a way of doing that.
“It will take me many seasons of lots of grandparents to get to the level of my own grandmother,” he said.
The show’s title was inspired by his grandmother, but it actually came from Nora Ephron.
“We were out for a drink one night after she’d been a guest on ‘Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!’ I was telling her about the idea for the show and she said, ‘Mo, don’t you see it? The name of the show is ‘My Grandmother’s Ravioli.’ It helped when I took the title back to Cooking Channel that I could tell them it was Nora Ephron’s idea.”
“My Grandmother’s Ravioli” premiers Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 8:30 p.m. on Cooking Channel.
Christy "Ty Pott" Potter is a longtime journalist and food writer. "A Spot of Ty" features interviews with celebrity chefs, as well as glimpses of her own adventures as a home cook.
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.