If the name and face of Chef Jaime Laurita are familiar to you, it may be from appearing with his family on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”. But there is so much more to this Barrington, Illinois resident than the few times that we’ve seen him on BravoTV. Jaime Laurita has been a “celebrity chef” way before the term was part of our pop culture, and he has been an ambassador of quality and taste for just as long. Despite having worked with the biggest rock stars and famous elite of our time, Jaime lives a quiet and elegant life with his husband, Rich, and their potpourri of animals (dogs, cats and birds).
Jaime graciously opened his home to me (and Kari from A Grace Full Life acting as my photographer) for an exclusive interview to talk about what influences him, the philosophy that is rooted in everything he does, the exciting new product line that he is developing, and, yes, “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”.
MM&J: How did you get your start in the kitchen? Who were your cooking influences?
Jaime Laurita: I come from a family of 11 brothers and sisters – with me being number eight. Back in those days in a big Italian family, it wasn’t that a man couldn’t be in the kitchen, but it was really more a place for the women. My grandmothers and aunts were always there, helping my mom cook and the guys did the bulk of the yard work and the “manly” things. I loved watching the women engage my sisters in cooking and I was the best kitchen voyeur you’ve ever seen. Every now and then, I’d be allowed to peel carrots or do something small. Food was always the center of my family, and usually the only peaceful moment in the house. I was basically born in to a tornado of energy. And it was a great place to be around the energy of food because we were so passionate about cooking. My parents did not come from a wealthy place so we were always eating a lot of Italian-style comfort foods, things like pasta piselli [pasta and peas] and pasta patate [pasta and potatoes]. Lots of dishes that you can easily spread out to feed a large group of people. And then you had to be a fast eater – there were a number of my siblings with bigger appetites. I’m still a fast eater to this day! To answer your question perfectly, my exposure to food started at a very early age. It used to wake me up in the morning – the smells of my grandmothers frying meatballs in the kitchen. I would have loved a reality cooking show with my grandmothers – all their fighting in the kitchen would have been hilarious!
MM&J: You’ve toured the world as a private chef for dozens of high-profile musicians. Can you share one of your favorite experiences from that time?
Jaime Laurita: I’d love to share all of them because I’ve had so many moments where I’ve had to pinch myself and say, “Am I actually in this room?” I’m from the 80s and I’m an 80s boy – I had a mullet, Cavaricci jeans, Capezio shoes and I’ve always loved to dance. I love all of the artists that came out of the 1980s. Think about a gay man THISCLOSE to Madonna. I was face-to-face, in Madonna’s bedroom, talking about design. I was in her dressing room every single day. There were so many moments that I forgot she was “Madonna”; seeing her come in wearing a sweat suit, baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses and say to myself, “Here’s that lady again”. A while later, she’d come out of the dressing room all ready for a show and I’d wonder, “How to hell did I get here?” I had that type of moment with every single artist. I’ve worked with ALL of the greats – the most amazing musicians in the world. Sarah McLachlan, Steven Tyler and Aerosmith, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Barry Manilow just to name a few. I would have these moments in the dressing room where I would walk in and see them maybe not looking so pretty (because we all have them) and I’d be reminded that they are real people too. A memorable moment was when Sarah [McLachlan] was on the piano and was doing a riff for “Angel”, one of my favorite songs and it hadn’t come out yet. She called me over to listen to it and it was just a time where I thought, WOW, I’m one of the first people to hear this art. What’s really cool about my career – and I figured it out when I was working with the Stone Temple Pilots – is that I’m doing the same things they are doing. It’s all about creation; creation is everything. I’m there in the dressing room or I’m in their home cooking, and as I’m creating a dish they’re also creating something. So, there are too many moments like that to recall. I have a whole reel of memories from these artists that are really, truly blessings.
MM&J: Speaking of Sarah McLachlan, what was it like to write a cookbook with her? [“Plenty” – published in 1999). I know asking a chef to pick a favorite recipe is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child but is there one that’s your favorite?
Jaime Laurita: Yes, I could definitely pick one. I’m very passionate about Italian cuisine – I have a master’s degree in it. Risotto is a really great dish and I think I make the best risotto. I’d compete with anyone against my risotto. So that would be my favorite from the book.
The book came about because I was on the road with Sarah and she was begging me for the recipes of the dishes that I was preparing for her. She was shocked when I told her that I don’t write anything down. Dishes just come to me – that’s how I cook. There’s no rhyme or reason. I stay in tune with the season, I find the best ingredients, let them talk to me and before you know it there are several courses on the table. I’m being honest about the whole question to the universe when I ask, “Where does it come from?” Because there are times that I am at the cutting board and all I have around me are ingredients and I say to myself, “Here we go again”. It just happens.
MM&J: Was it a good experience? Would you do it again?
Jaime Laurita: Oh definitely, I really want to do another cookbook. And I have several thousand cookbooks in my mind.
MM&J: Your personal philosophy is all about love and gratitude. How do you think this is reflected in the products that are developing?
Jaime Laurita: My product line is very special because what I’m dong is incorporating my sense of style [fashion, food and music]. The product line is important because I’m giving the consumer the very best of the quality ingredients I can find. The first wave of products is coming from Italy. I’ve connected directly with the growers, the olive oil producers, the pasta production people and I’m doing a very high-end quality for a very fair price. When people buy my products I want them to know that there was a lot of love and care that went in to their selection. Coming soon is a pasta that I call “Pasta Perfetto”. In my opinion it’s the perfect pasta because it’s bronze-cut, which allows the pasta to be porous and, if cooked properly, the sauces with stick to it. Only a bronze-cutting machine can give you that kind of quality; regular pasta won’t do that. Not only am I giving you a great product, but also it’s a quality product with recipes and the energy of the love and gratitude I have for being given this gift of cooking, all woven together. When you are using my products I want you to feel good about stepping up to the stove. So many people tell me that they hate to cook, they don’t like to cook, or don’t know how to cook. Cooking can be fun and easy with the right ingredients.
Speaking of “Pasta Perfetto”, Chef Jaime Laurita has graciously donated us a sample of the Bucatini THAT’S NOT AVAILABLE IN STORES YET as a giveaway! As an extra bonus, he’s signed it too!
Stay tuned for Part Two in our series when we talk about Jaime’s extensive studying in Italy, his work with an amazing coffee company, and the birth of Bello Boy Rose Petal Moscato and The Perfect Prosecco. PLUS ANOTHER GIVEAWAY!