To be honest - and sorry, Joe - I thought it would just about do to help me wile away the time until my bus was due to leave. However, it turned out to be one of the most interesting books I have ever read.
Dedicated to Joe's grandmother, the book tells the story of his grandparents and parents in Istria and, from 1958, in the United States, to which they had emigrated [Istria having become part of Yugoslavia after the Second World War]. I found this fascinating as I had first read of Joe's mother, Lidia Bastianich, in Bob Spitz's biography of Julia Child, who thought highly of her. Recognising the surname Bastianich, I had looked her up and discovered that she was indeed Joe's mother and a chef and restaurateur herself. In Joe's book we learn just how hard she worked. Lidia Bastianich is now well known in Italy as a judge on Junior MasterChef Italia.
The book begins with the stunning statement from Joe that he used to hate Italy and you have to read on! Like all children, Joe just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else but the cooking smells in his house were different, as were the contents of his lunchbox, his grandmother leaned out of the window and shouted "Giuseppino!" as she saw him coming home and she didn't shave under her armpits. He always knew how much this well-educated, strong and determined woman loved him, though.
Joe rises to become a successful Wall Street bond trader but realises that he envies the art of the barman in his mother's restaurant and finally decides that it is the world of food and wine that is calling him.
Travelling to Italy to learn everything he could about wine, he felt he was making his grandparents' and mother's journey in reverse and we follow him as he comes to terms with the country and his place within it. He makes thought-provoking observations on the differences between the restaurant and winemaking businesses in the two countries and his love for Italy is sealed when he opens his beloved Orsone restaurant and vineyard.
Joe Bastianich has the same issues with Italy as most expats do - bureaucracy, the fact that all Italians do the same thing at the same time [with repercussions for business] and breakfast - or the lack of it. Having convinced the staff in several Milanese bars to make him toast in the morning, he says his next ambition is to get them to serve him a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich in New York deli style. Good luck with that, Joe!
The MasterChef story is here too, with some intriguing detail from behind the scenes, so anyone who is a fan of the Italian version will enjoy this book. And, with refreshing honesty, Joe tells us that he actually likes being famous.
The book also has some witty drawings and a glossary of Joe-style Italian. It's an interesting and relaxing read and I now can't wait for the next MasterChef Italia series to start. Keep hurling the bad dishes across the studio, Joe!