Tell me about your childhood and family. Where were you raised?
Geno: I was born on Staten Island, New York, grew up and was raised on the Jersey shore. My mother was a hairdresser. My father was a world-famous tattoo artist. I saw a lot of different things at a young age. My parents were divorced when I was a kid, so I had two big Italian families on both sides. Both of my grandmothers loved to cook. I grew up cooking and hanging out in a tattoo shop. I saw things that made me who I am today. My father was a very hard-working man who built an empire. By the time I was fifteen years old he had six different tattoo shops on the Jersey shore. So he was a visionary; he was one of the founding fathers of tattoo art. It helped me to become who I am today. I can’t draw. I can’t even draw two stick figures. I can’t cut hair. But I think by seeing both of them with their careers, I gained the ability to cook and to interact with people. That’s why I chose to be a chef.
It sounds like you had a lot of business exposure.
Geno: Oh yeah, my father was definitely a great businessman. He was always doing some type of deal. My mother and hair salons, so on my weekends I was in either in a tattoo shop or hair salon. So I would see business and I was always interested in—you know what I mean? I was always interested in that register: cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. But growing up I was always cooking. Ever since I can remember, I was always standing next to my great-grandmother asking her, “What’s that? I wanna make.”
And I would kind of get shooed away because growing up in an Italian home the men really aren’t the cooks. You know I mean? I don’t really remember my uncles or my father being in the kitchen. They would dabble and everything like that. I remember making sausage and salumi with my grandfather but the day-to-day cooking was done by the women in my family. That was our Italian heritage. On Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving while I was growing up, the men would eat and hang out, and the women would cook and clean and do the dishes. But I was always the one in the kitchen. Always with my great-grandmother, always with my grandmother, always with my aunts trying to learn what they were doing. I was fascinated about food.
How old were you?
Geno: I can remember when I was five or six years old rolling out dough and making raviolis with my great-grandmother. To me, that was everything. And as I got a little older, I would make sausage with my grandfather on the holidays, because that’s when he made it. And the salumi, he would make once a year. I remember those times, and they are very much a part of who I am today.
That’s a great heritage to have generations of Italian family members, grandparents and great grandparents.
Geno: My great-grandmother, she is still alive. She is 102 years old. She is amazing and we still talk today. We still talk about recipes; we still talk about her memories as a kid, and it’s crazy. So growing throughout my entire culinary career she was the one person I would always lean on and talk to. I would tell her what’s going on in my life, and she would help me out by giving me basic advice. As you get older you appreciate the older generation. You start to understand what they were saying. I remember, growing up in my childhood, certain things my grandfather would say—now they begin to click in. They didn’t click in when I was twenty; I didn’t care.
I had a great childhood. I grew up on the ocean. I grew up fishing. I grew up skateboarding and surfing. We were the East Coast kids, just like the West Coast kids. You know I mean? It was the same thing. I lived in a beach town. I fished during the summertime. I fished in the wintertime. I belong to the oldest fishing club in America. It’s called Albury Park Fishing Club. I’m a third-generation member of this fishing club. I still send my dues even though I don’t fish (laughter).
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