Johnny Carrabba - Biography

Think of a famous chef, and adjectives such as "serious," "rigid," or even "arrogant " may come to mind. Not so Johnny Carrabba. Johnny's style of cooking is, well, fun. Talking about his upcoming PBS show, Cucina Amore with uncle and fellow chef Damian Mandola, Johnny says, "We're going to have fun… I mean that's what cooking is all about… having fun. Getting people's minds off of everyday stress and everyday chores… cooking is fun, you know, its entertainment."

Johnny Carrabba was born to be a restaurateur. His family, including uncle Damian, has made preparing great meals and entertaining a focus of their lives. After attending college at St. Thomas University in Houston, he began working in the local restaurants owned by members of his family. In 1986 he opened Carrabba's with his uncle, Damian Mandola. Their mission was to offer guests high quality Italian dishes in a warm, casual environment.

They wanted Carrabba's to have a real wood-fired pizza oven and an open kitchen where their guests could watch their meals being prepared to order. High standards, unique amenities like their Carside Carry-Out service (customers call in orders ahead and have them delivered directly to their car) and the balls of pizza dough young diners are encouraged to play with, are the ingredients that have made Carrabba's, now in fifteen states, a success.

Johnny not only takes cuisine seriously, he is just as concerned with the atmosphere in which his guests enjoy it. Asked what he loves most about Carrabba's , Johnny says, "I love the preparation and the excitement of it. It's like throwing a party at your home every night." The ambience that Johnny has created at his restaurants, with partner Damian, is warm, lively, and fun.

It's important to Johnny that his guests feel as if they are dining in the home of a good friend, and not in an atmosphere that feels too formal to have fun. As he tells his staff "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice." And, as he further explains, "You work hard to prepare a great meal and you can't wait to greet your guests and show them a great time."

With their upcoming PBS program, Cucina Amore, Johnny and Damian hope to pass along their attitudes about cooking and entertaining, their sense of fun and gusto for living. As Johnny explains, "Well, we can't follow in Julia Childs' footsteps… you know, we're just good old Italian-American boys, and want to show some southern Italian cooking."

Don't expect Johnny and Damian to stop at traditional Italian, however; with family roots in Louisiana and Texas, as well as their original homeland of Italy, and with local Mexican influences, they create an eclectic and interesting cuisine of their own. As Johnny explains, talking about their plans for Cucina Amore, "A lot of the food may not be traditional Italian… it's our version… what we grew up on.

It's going to be different. We've learned some great gumbo… some oyster loaves… some etoufee… we've even got a baked pasta dish with cheddar cheese in it. When you come from different areas in the United States, just like in Italy, you work with the ingredients that are indigenous to that area… you make the most of those ingredients." And, most importantly to Johnny, you have fun!

For information on Carrabba's Italian Grill, click here

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