Ham is the traditional Christmas meal, but for Rocco DiSpirito, growing up, the centerpiece of the dinner table on Dec. 25 was none other than a bird.
"We had like squab on Christmas — pigeon," he tells MomLogic in a video interview with his mother, "Mama" Nicolina.
Not that he’s complaining — the lack of the usual suspects of American holiday meals are the chef’s favorite family holiday traditions because "it was always so interesting how we did nothing American." That’s thanks in part to his mother who only recently learned how to make sweet potato pie.
"This is a big deal for her to put mini marshmallows on top of anything," Rocco says.
It’s easy to see where Rocco gets his love of cooking from. Mama, as she’s affectionately known, is a whiz in the kitchen. Known for her famous meatballs, she concocted a new snack for her son’s sweet tooth — Pizza Frita ("fried dough"), in which Mama will take leftover dough, fry it and dip it in honey or sugar.
"I gave him a piece of dough and let him have fun," she says.
"It was pretty cool," Rocco adds. "It was the original Play-Doh."
That’s not the only thing the 41-year-old learned from his mom as he says the greatest thing she’s taught him is to be nice to people — even though Mama hasn’t always been nice to him. Recalling a childhood tale that was seemingly wiped from Mama’s mind, Rocco says his funniest memory of his mother was her chasing him down with a wooden spoon when he misbehaved.
"She would run down the block and like throw a wooden spoon at me that still had hot gravy on it," he says. "This was a long time ago. Back then corporal punishment was still legal, I think."