His big Italian family fits the streotypical spaghetti and meatball portait, with one major difference: Chef Michael D'Andrea's family shares their famous recipes with Staten Island and lucky Miamians. De'Andrea grew up in the kitchen and learned from mom, dad and sisters that the best food comes from love, served jumbo style, and only with the freshest ingredients. He's on his own now, but maintains their traditions at Macaluso's in Miami, where regulars get their own table and tomato sauce never comes from a can.
When did you first know you were destined to be a chef?
I was born in the restaurant business, working for my family with no vacation and sick days. It was a weekend when I started cooking with my sister [that] I started to feel a connection with what I was doing. I kept it hidden for a while, but I knew at that point I wanted to own my own restaurant.
What’s the best cooking advice your family ever gave you?
Mother/Grandmother: You always have to cook with freshest, best ingredients and always cook with your heart. The best advice is don’t overcook something because you're afraid of undercooking it.
Father: Consistency is everything. If you make bad lasagna, you have to make it bad all the time.
How would cook your steak?
Steak is based on mood. If you’re aggravated and want to dive in to a bottle of red wine, you're going to want it rare. I always ask a person how they feel that day.
First dish you learned how to make?
Peas and macaroni. It’s a simple dish, but there are certain ingredients you can’t substitute. Simple peas and tomato sauce. I carry that same tradition today. That’s the fondest and first memory I have of doing that dish with my mother.
What makes a dish worth putting on the menu?
You have to prepare that meal like you would doing the same for your family. Sit and feel if the dish triggers a memory. I avoid commercialized, it’s an intimate thing, so it should be presented with love, honor and tradition.
So how do you keep Italian food healthy?
If you abuse olive oil, it will be bad, if you don’t, it will be really good for you. I know what’s going into the food. If I'm not eating macaroni, then I’m eating fruit. If you put something fresh and natural in your body you can’t dispute that it’s not healthy for you. People say in Miami people eat out every night, but there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you’re not opening up a can.
What brought you to Miami from Staten Island?
It was a girl. It didn’t work out, but everything else did, so I stayed. I was a late bloomer when it came to intelligence, but I followed my intuition.
Has the fam visited Macaluso’s?
Yes. They were the ones I was really worried about. Whenever critics come I’m going to put my best technique into it, but the biggest challenge was having my sisters come and eat my food. I didn’t want to hear it was good. I wanted to hear “it’s just like ours.” They were like “wow.” Later on, after putting more love and effort into it, they’re saying "it’s better than ours."
What does Macaluso’s add to Miami's dining scene?
There were no meatballs here when I came here. When I started, people were like, "what the hell is that?" Meatballs took off right away because it was quickest thing I could put out. Next thing you know, everyone has meatballs on the menu.
What should novices buy from your market for a simple, delicious, home-cooked meal?
My marinara sauce; in a couple months I’m going to start selling vintage Macaluso’s marinara sauce. At home I’ve consumed sauce two-and-a-half years old and it’s like wine. Tomato turns purple. We have no preservatives, so it can last for years. That’s going to be a new trend. People are going to start to buy vintage marinara.