Frank Isernio’s acceptance speech

2013 Angelo Pellegrini Award Acceptance Speech

Frank Isernio

October 25, 2013 

Hi All,

Isernio - darkened - crop-webWhat a pleasure and a great honor to be chosen as this year’s Angelo Pellegrini Award recipient. If I received an award in the Pope’s name it would be special but it wouldn’t have as much meaning to me as this one does. I’m humbled!

Why?

My earliest memories included fresh food from the garden to the table, a respect for the earth and the gifts nature shares with us. Looking back much was grounded from the simple life, the hard working immigrant roots. As a young man it started to be apparent that food and the pleasure of preparing and sharing it was very important to my happiness.

Angelo Pellegrini’s legacy was well known to me but until I first read The Unprejudiced Palate did I really grasp the magnitude of this man and his ability to articulate the timeless Italian food sensibilities practiced by so many of our immigrant forefathers. He was able to articulate what hadn’t been said before. He spoke to a way of life that all could benefit from. I was in awe of his ability to translate that life philosophy in a way that no one had before him.

I met Pelle for the first time in the early eighties. It was in the early years of the business, making sausage in the basement of an old house in Georgetown. I was working night and day but I made time to attend a wine dinner at Carmine’s [il Terrazzo Restaurant] which had recently opened. As always, good food and wine attracted me, but most importantly Angelo Pellegrini was the keynote speaker and I had to see and possibly meet this man that I had come to respect from his writings.

Pre-dinner we met and I introduced myself. Pelle asked what I did and we had a short conversation. As we were being seated, Pelle to my surprise said “Isernio, you come and sit with me at the head of the table.” I was honored to say the least. Pelle gave a magnificent talk, not just on the expected wine nuances of that night’s offerings, but to the inseparable bond that food and wine play together. I remember the sparkle in his eyes as we talked about our family origins and favorite food preparations.

Pelle asked if he could come to visit and see what I do. I eagerly invited him to come as soon as he could. Within a few days Pelle showed up to the basement sausage operation and seemed pleased at what he saw. That same day was memorable in that our very first computer was delivered as Pelle arrived. Pelle asked “why do you need a computer?” I wasn’t real sure of the potential yet and mumbled that “it will help us do accounting.” it really made me question our need for a computer if Pelle wasn’t sure why we needed one. Before he left Pelle said “I want to invite you to my home for dinner. I don’t make idle conversation, let’s plan a date.” I was overwhelmed with excitement and humbled by the invitation from this man for whom I held such a respect.

Isernio with wife Margaret and past award winner Armandino Batali

Isernio with wife Margaret and past award winner Armandino Batali

Many dinner invitations followed that first one. He would call and say “Franco, I’m making trippa [tripe] tonight, can you come join us”, or on another occasion, “If you can bring some caul fat, I’ll roast pig livers with sage in the fireplace spit. “ The delectable goodness of the food was closely matched by his great story telling skills. I felt such a kinship sharing this goodness with Pelle, Virginia, Angela, Brent and extended family. Over time I met food lovers from all walks of life that shared the Pellegrini table and home wine making celebrations.

Values Reinforced by Pelle

The richest possibilities in life are the simplest.

To share the table with friends and loved ones is at the root of all things meaningful.

Make it, grow it, share it.

Most truly great preparations have survived the test of time.

The American dream:  appreciation of the bounty and opportunity in America.

We are truly fortunate to have the choice to savor the best of both the new and the old world.

Respect for the many values of our peasant roots.

Never ever forget where you came from.

We’re fortunate to have the selection of food and ingredients today that simply weren’t available not too long ago. There’s a much greater appreciation for food quality and less pretentiousness in dining. Angelo Pellegrini was a disciple to this consciousness. He was with me in spirit as I evangelized the use and enjoyment of good sausage.My wife Margaret and I get much pleasure from sharing our table with dear friends and loved ones. Many times after an excellent meal I’ve said to her “I know Pelle would have enjoyed this with us. I wish he was here.”

We’re all guardians of Pelle’s philosophy. My heartfelt thanks for Pelle’s friendship, his example and his effect on me as a guiding light. We will continue to repay his time with us as a friend and example by keeping his values alive and sharing with others. I once heard that true greatness in a person is directly proportionate to how many people they have touched in a meaningful way. This measurement puts Angelo Pellegrini in the top echelon of greatness.

Thank you, Angelo, thank you all for this honor and sharing this tribute tonight.

 Photos by Bob Peterson