Two women honor family during St. Joseph's Day feast
By Gabrielle Alfiero
Chelsea Melissa Muller-Daka and Caroline Chirichella were both raised in Italian households, learning to cook from their grandmothers. Both have fathers of German descent, but grew up connected to their Italian heritage.
"The Italian takes over," Muller-Daka said.
The Italian cuisine they learned in their grandmother's kitchens inspired their careers in food. Muller-Daka is the chef and owner of Sicilian restaurants Bar Eolo and Pastai in Chelsea. Chirichella was a classically-trained opera singer who first traveled to Italy for an opera festival in Ischia, and returned for culinary school in Florence. She now works as a caterer and instructor, teaching children's pasta and pizza cooking classes, and founded Magic & Pasta, a dining and event service in which she prepares private Italian meals.
On Sunday, March 16, the two women teamed up to celebrate St. Joseph's Day at Muller-Daka's Bar Eolo. Muller-Daka spent her childhood summers in the small Sicilian village of Sant'Anna, along with her grandmother and family, where the Catholic feast day was elaborately celebrated, and cooking was a daily activity.
Chirichella remembers weekends spent in her grandmother's kitchen in Williamsburg, begging for Italian home-cooking instead of the fast food meals her older brother wanted.
"I hated McDonald's," she said. "I would not eat it. We would go home and I would be in the kitchen and I'd pull on her dress and I'd say, 'Will you make me meatballs and pasta and chicken cutlet?' And my favorite dish that she made was fried cauliflower. I would always beg her to make this for me, and she always made it for me."
For the food-filled holiday, Muller-Daka planned a special menu for Bar Eolo, and built a three-tiered altar for the holy family, decorated with statues and images of St. Joseph.
Muller-Daka remembers her own grandmother's St. Joseph's Day festivities, and the sfinci that she made ever year in celebration.
"She would really go all out on St. Joseph's Day," Muller-Daka said. "I just love the idea of doing something that she would have done, in her honor," she said =during a break in kitchen preparations.
"When you have these beautiful memories that are centered around family and food, I want to keep those memories alive," said Chirichella. "If I eat fried cauliflower now, if I make it right, the taste and the smell is so similar to when she was around."