The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

CrossTalk pits actor, chef in spicy roundtable

JOHN ROCHE PHOTO

Actor-writer-director Chazz Palminteri and TV chef and cookbook author Daisy Martinez were the featured speakers at CrossTalk on Sept. 15.

 
By JOHN ROCHE

TV chef Daisy Martinez couldn’t have cooked up a better story than the real-life circumstances that led her away from acting and into a culinary career.

As guest speaker with actor Chazz Palminteri at the most recent installment of the CrossTalk series on Sept. 15, Ms. Martinez told the crowd that an unsuccessful audition for a role in a major movie convinced her to give up on acting and instead pursue her passion for cooking.

But what really spiced up her story was the fact that the role she failed to land was that of the girlfriend of Mr. Palminteri’s character in “A Bronx Tale,” the film he starred in and wrote based on his one-man play.

“You probably don’t remember me without my big hair and now that my knees aren’t shaking,” Ms. Martinez told her CrossTalk counterpart, who laughed as heartily and was as surprised as the rest of the audience to hear how their paths had crossed in the early 1990s. “That film changed both our lives, I guess.”

The CrossTalk series, sponsored by the Katonah Village Library and the Katonah Museum of Art, pairs two leading voices from disparate fields to talk on unrelated topics in order to spark some lively dialogue with those in attendance. Proceeds from the series support children’s programming at the museum and the library.

As National Book Award-winning author, library trustee and the evening’s emcee Judy Blundell said, the CrossTalk featuring Ms. Martinez and Mr. Palminteri exceeded even the expectations of those who created the series, as well as the local residents who flock to the discussions held throughout the year, alternating between the library and at the museum.

Last week’s CrossTalk was dubbed “Burritos Over Broadway,” a play on the title of the Woody Allen film “Bullets Over Broadway” that earned Mr. Palminteri an Oscar nomination along with an homage to Ms. Martinez’s ranking among the top celebrity chefs and cookbook authors focused on Latin cuisine.

In an often humorous and at times moving 20-minute talk, Ms. Martinez recalled her circuitous route from a child watching her Puerto Rican grandmother create family meals in her small kitchen to becoming host of such popular TV cooking shows as “Daisy Cooks” on PBS and “Viva Daisy!” on the Food Network and author of several cookbooks, including the award-winning “Daisy Cooks! Latin Flavors That Will Rock Your World.”

After growing up in the only Puerto Rican family in her Brooklyn neighborhood, Ms. Martinez started on a path to medical school, and met her husband, now a physician. Following stints as a model, actress and mother of four, she enrolled in The French Culinary Institute. Her first job out of the prestigious cooking school was a prep cook on the TV show “Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen” with Lidia Bastianich. One day during filming of that series, a producer spotted Ms. Martinez and asked her if she’d like a show of her own. She hasn’t looked back since.

“For me, food and cooking and entertaining have always meant family and friends,” Ms. Martinez said. “That’s still the case, no matter if I’m cooking on television or having people over to my home. Cooking and eating brings people together. I learned that when I was a very young girl.”

Mr. Palminteri, who now calls Bedford home, described how witnessing a mob-related murder as a young boy in front of his home in the Belmont section of the borough eventually led to his writing of “A Bronx Tale.” The play began as a one-man show in small theaters in Los Angeles and New York before Robert DeNiro saw it, offered to direct it and brokered a Hollywood deal for the movie that allowed Mr. Palminteri to write the screenplay and star as the mobster Sonny opposite Mr. DeNiro. Before that, various producers wanted to buy the film rights for “A Bronx Tale,” including one who offered Mr. Palminteri $1 million, but with the caveat that someone else would write the screenplay and a big-name star would portray Sonny.

Mr. DeNiro respected the virtually unknown actor’s wishes to write and star in the film version, and the deal was sealed with a backstage handshake between the tow men. “He told me, ‘Of course you’ll play Sonny and write the screenplay,’” Mr. Palminteri explained. “Bob said, ‘That’s the way it should be. This is your story. This is your life.’”

Although “A Bronx Tale” and other “wiseguy” roles are perhaps what Mr. Palminteri is best known for, he has appeared in more than 50 films, as well as a slew of TV shows and in theater.

He drew the biggest laughs at CrossTalk recalling how he went back to his old Bronx neighborhood soon after landing an understudy role for a Broadway play in the early 1980s. While he was celebrating at a bar with friends, one of the local wiseguys Mr. Palminteri knew called him over to congratulate him on making it to Broadway.

“He said he and a couple of the guys wanted to come see me in the play, and I told him he couldn’t,” Mr. Palminteri said. “He got insulted, thinking I was embarrassed about being from the neighborhood, but I told him it wasn’t that. I told him I was someone’s understudy.”

When the wiseguy asked Mr. Palminteri to explain what an understudy was, he told him. “I said that as an understudy, I only go on in the play if something happens to the other actor, like he gets hurt or sick. He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘So you want to go on? We could make it look like a mugging.’ I told him, ‘No, no, no!’ But that night and a lot of other nights afterwards, I’d look at that other actor and think ‘You have no idea just how lucky you are.’”

Mr. Palminteri, a resident of Bedford, also pointed out that he’s perhaps following in Ms. Martinez’s footsteps, having just opened an Italian restaurant called Chazz: A Bronx Original in Baltimore’s Harbor East section.

The actor-director-writer and Ms. Martinez both said it was important to them to be part of CrossTalk since the series supports programs at the Katonah library and the museum, particularly for children.

CrossTalk continues on Oct. 20 with “Music Makers and Shakers,” featuring singer/songwriter Dar Williams and MTV founder Bob Pittman. On Nov. 17, “Serums and Theorums” features doctor/author Joseph Sacco and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. On Dec. 15, “New Yorker, New Yorker!” has historian Ken Jackson and New Yorker cartoonist Barry Blitt.

For more information about CrossTalk or to purchase tickets, log on to www.katonahmuseuem.org or call 232-9555, ext. 0. Admission for each program is $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Reservations are strongly suggested. CrossTalk 2011 is sponsored by the Katonah office of Houlihan Lawrence. 


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

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SEPTEMBER 23, 2011