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Italian Traditions in the Kitchen – 5 tips for family dinner bonding

5 tips from Food Networks Joey and Melissa Maggiore

By Brooke McLay |

Joey and Melissa Maggiore know about food and family – Italian style. As the brother and sister team behind the unscripted Food Network series Family Style, they’ve pulled hilarious sibling pranks on each other, grappled together through stressful moments, and unified their oft opposing personalities to make their new SoCal Italian restaurant, Tommy V’s, a success. To the Maggiore’s, food and family is serious business – it’s how they make their living – but food and family are also deeply personal.

Their father, Tomaso Maggiore, grew up cooking alongside his mother in their family restaurant in Palermo, Italy, and opened a series of successful Italian eateries after emigrating to the U.S. Joey remembers riding home from school, trying to decide which of his family’s 14 restaurants he’d get off the bus to work at each day. “Restaurants were our playground,” recalls Melissa.

Today, Joey and Melissa aren’t just successful restaurateurs; they’re also devoted parents. Joey and his wife, Cristina, have three children and Melissa is a single mother to two. Drawing from their rich Italian history, traditions, and passions, both Joey and Melissa are devoted to teaching their own children about the joys of food and family.

Here are five Italian traditions from the Maggiore siblings that’ll turn dinnertime into quality family time:

  • Go Grocery Shopping Together.

    The Maggiore’s make grocery shopping a family affair. They travel with their children to farmers markets and teach them about where fresh food comes from, what it looks like and what it smells like. “In our culture, buying fresh ingredients from local growers, cooking together and gathering around the table is a big event.” Food isn’t just about sitting down and eating.

    Try getting the kids involved tonight by inviting them to gather the ingredients for Joey’s Incredible Festive Pumpkin Ravioli in Butter Sage Sauce

  • Make the Kitchen a Hangout Area.

    In this day and age of Quick! Fast! Food! Now!, children are being regularly booted out of the kitchen to make food prep more convenient for adults. But there’s no “get out of the kitchen!” in the Maggiore household – they abide strictly to the old Italian idea of the kitchen being the gathering place. They turn on music, turn off the TV and call their kids into the kitchen to chop, talk and cook together. “It sometimes is the glue that holds us together,” says Joey.

  • Let Your Kids Cook.

    There’s no Italian mother guilt when it comes to teaching kids how to cook. Cooking is a life skill, and it’s a great way to connect with your kids. Valuable, precious times can be spent while working in the kitchen – it doesn’t have to be seen as a chore. “What happed to teaching colors with food?” the Maggiore’s ask. As kids work at your side, helping you prepare a meal, opportunities to teach and connect will be created.

  • Create a Family Holiday.

    Big family meals are a once- or twice-a-year tradition in most homes, but not in the Maggiore family. Mealtimes shouldn’t be saved for holidays, says Joey, who is kicking off a “Gather Around the Table” campaign in 2011. The Maggiore clan gathers as a family weekly and encourage other families to start a similar tradition in their own homes. Gather around the table and cultivate the lost art of face-to-face communication. “Family is the core of our lives, and bringing everyone together to stay connected, to enjoy the beautiful food that is prepared, adds richness to all of our lives.”

  • Let Everyone Be Themselves.

    “We love each other, we trust each other, we fight with each other, we play practical jokes on each other. We’re family,” says Melissa of her relationship with her brother, Joey. The Maggiore’s seem to have a unique gift for accepting family for all that it is: The mess, the mayhem, the joy, the sorrow, the ultimate togetherness that comes when you decide you’re in it together. As you gather your own family around the table, don’t expect perfection. Be willing to talk about real life. Start conversations and listen to your children. Talk about what’s going on in the world. “We’re so caught up in our own little worlds, sitting on the computer, Facebook. We’re so detached. We forget to just shut everything off, sit around the table and talk.”

joey and melissa maggiore

After pursuing a journalism degree at Arizona State University, Melissa Maggiore decided her passion for food, wine, and hospitality could not be ignored. In May 2010, She opened Tommy V’s Urban Kitchen in Carlsbad, California, the subject of Food Network primetime series Family Style.

Assisting as the executive chef and concept creator of his parents’ restaurants for two years, Joey Maggiore got his big break when he opened Joey’s California Bistro in 1999. In 2010, Joey Maggiore and his sister, Melissa, opened Tommy V’s Urban Kitchen. He and Melissa also work for his family’s new endeavor, Tommy V’s Italian Chop House in Del Mar, California.

joey and melissa maggiore on facebookFollow Joey & Melissa Maggiore on Facebook

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About Brooke McLay


Brooke McLay

Brooke McLay is a recipe developer, food writer, food photographer, and cooking show host for Babble, General Mills, and Good Cook. You can find and follow her latest whims at Cheeky Kitchen. Read bio and latest posts → Read Brooke's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “Italian Traditions in the Kitchen – 5 tips for family dinner bonding

  1. vineyardhunter says:

    I love this! I grew up learning how to cook with my mom and I’m teaching my daughter to do the same. She’s only 3, but she has been helping me in the kitchen since she could stand up on her own. We eat dinner together as a family every night. Friday nights we have a picnic on the family room floor while watching a movie.

  2. Rufus Griscom says:

    Great advice … we just had a third child and more cooking and family meals is definitely part of the plan.

  3. Rufus Griscom says:

    p.s. Cooking was central to my life growing up — my mother is a great cook — but my parents had a traditional view that cooking was a woman’s work, not a man’s, so my brother and I were not cultivated as young chefs in the same way that my sister was. With three sons who have a great interest in cooking — most kids are natural mixologists, I think — we definitely plan to adopt the Italian view.

  4. Mo says:

    Is this not the norm anymore? Typically, most grocery shopping is done with kids in tow, or at least in my family anyways. My son loves helping me bake and make dinner, it obviously encourages him to eat more if he knows that he made it.

    Each night, we sit down and have dinner at the table and talk. No TV, no phones (unless my husband is on call) and no distractions. Have people gotten so far away from this that we need a guide on how to bring our families together?

    I don’t think it’s necessarily an Italian thing (my husband is Italian, I’m not) but more of a family thing. Families of all ethnic backgrounds either already do, or should want to interact with one another and cook/eat meals together.

  5. Brooke McLay says:

    Great comments Mo, Rufus, and vineyardhunter! These really are great, time-tested tips that will benefit families from all cultures.

  6. pa says:


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