Rick Tramonto: Mobster's Son to Master Chef
By Amy Reid with Kristi Watts
The 700 Club
Rick Tramonto grew up the only child in a close-knit italian family. Rick’s childhood ended abruptly one Thursday afternoon when his dad made a shocking confession.
“My dad asked me to take a drive with him. I remember him telling me that tomorrow morning when we get up, ‘I’m not going to be going to work. I’m going to be going to the airport and getting on a plane and going to Mexico.”
Rick thought it might be for a vacation. So he asked his father what he was talking about.
“He said that he was going to run away. He had embezzled a bunch of money and was in trouble with the law and needed to disappear for seven years. At first, it felt very exciting. It felt like being in a movie. It was like mafia, like growing up mafia.”
The next morning they all sat around the breakfast table and had breakfast.
“I couldn’t stop thinking, wow, this is really happening. I skipped school that day and I went to my best friend Vinny Rupert’s house. I’m telling Vinny, you know, this is what my dad said, and what do you do? Let’s get high. So we smoked a joint and got high and sat on his porch all day.
“I don’t think my dad thought that anything was going to happen for a few days.”
But, that afternoon while he was at Vinny’s house across the street, they saw federal agents come to his house and siege it. Vinny said Rick should go and see how his mother was doing.
“I remember walking in and my mom was sitting down being questioned. After the officers left I sat down with my mom and I told her dad told me this yesterday. He’s gone. And I don’t know when he’s coming back and you could see in her eyes that she was blown away.”
Two days later, Rick’s father was arrested as he was boarding a plane to leave the country. He was sentenced to five years in prison. At 15, Rick was suddenly man of the house.
“We lost our home; we lost our life when that happened. The best thing that I could’ve done at that time was to leave school to get a job. The only place that I could get a job without a high school diploma at that time was this Wendy’s that was opening up.”
Rick went from flipping burgers to higher end restaurants. He discovered he had a talent for cooking—he also discovered God.
“I met somebody who went to a Christian church. I accepted the Lord at that time. I was going to that church for two years.”
Rick began climbing the culinary ladder. Along the way, he met his future wife and business partner, Gale Gand. Rick and Gale apprenticed with some of the best chefs in the country and overseas. Rick worked hard to become a successful chef and God faded to the background.
“My state of mind was that I was going to work. Work was going to become my god. Work was going to become my thing. I was determined to be the best chef that I possibly could be.”
“Who were you trying to prove that to? Was it yourself?” Kristi asked.
“I think it was myself. I think it was my dad. I think it was my family.”
Rick worked in Europe for a while.
“I started to work with all the guys that I really wanted to work for: Chef Pierre Gagnaire, Chef Paul Bocuse, and Chef Michel Guerard. And really started to travel - France and Spain and Italy. Then Gale’s mom died and everything came to a halt and we moved back to Chicago. At that time we had the opportunity to do a little restaurant in Evanston called Trio."
The success Rick and Gale had enjoyed in Europe exploded in America.
But underneath the surface, things were starting to unravel. Rick and Gale decided to divorce, but plans continued to open their new restaurant, called Tru.
“In this hand, my life could not be better - I have this world class restaurant, I signed my 4th book deal, I’m getting all these accolades, yet my marriage is trashed. I’m living in some apartment with no furniture, working 80 hours a week, trying to get my life to make sense.”
“In that one year I had lost my mom, I had lost my marriage, I had lost my dog, lost my house.”
“I remember getting in my truck driving to Tru, and turning on the radio and hearing a pastor preaching, telling a story about sitting at the feet of Jesus - the Martha and Mary story. And I’m listening to it for about 15 minutes. I remember pulling over the side of the road, putting my car in park, and listening to this story of that God is the god of the second chance, God is good, God loves you, God knows you by name. And that it’s going to be okay.
“Jesus was saying, 'Martha, Martha, you worry about so many things. But you’re not worried about what’s important. I’m important. Stop worrying about all this other stuff.' That’s what got to me the most.”
Rick’s focus turned back to God.
“All I’m doing for two years is working and going to church. And God put me in this cocoon of healing, giving me the opportunity for me to forgive my dad, myself, the anger, the abandonment, you know, that it wasn’t about them. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the blood of Jesus.”
Two years after rededicating his life to the Lord, Rick got a call from an old friend.
“Eileen Carroll, whom I met when I was 15-years-old at that Wendy’s in 1977 - she was the sandwich girl next to me being the burger guy. But we had always been friends.”
Rick and Eileen began spending time together whenever they could. Their long distance relationship grew.
“This went on for two years. And it’s kind of like, duh, you’re supposed to marry your best friend, aren’t you? She was my best friend.”
Rick and Eileen married. Rick also worked to restore his relationship with his father.
“I brought my dad to live with me and Eileen and the kids, because my kids never got to know my dad. And God healed mine and my dad’s relationship. And my dad got to spend time with my boys. So that was a very powerful time for me.”
A few weeks before his dad died, Rick prayed with him to receive Christ.
“That was a blessing to me to be able to have that moment. God is so good. God is so good.”
Rick is grateful for God’s love that has brought his family full circle.
“We serve the God of the second chance. God is a good God, a loving God, a kind God and wants to bless us and wants us to know that we’re loved.”
Mezza rigatoni with Mussels and Asparagus (Serves 4)
½ lb. mezza rigatoni, cooked al dente (according to pkg. directions)
12 stalks asparagus, steamed and blanched
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon Garlic, chopped
1 pinch chili pepper flakes
1 lb. black mussels, cleaned
¼ cup dry white wine
Juice of half a lemon, half an orange
¼ cup tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup chicken stock
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat; add onion and garlic. Sauté briefly and add chili pepper flakes. Cover and cook gently over low heat for about a minute. Add the mussels and toss gently. Add white wine. Cover and steam for about a minute.
While the mussels cook, heat the mezza rigatoni in boiling salted water. Add asparagus to the mussels. Toss gently. Add juice of lemon and orange, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Drain rigatoni and add to the mussels. Toss over high heat. Add chicken stock and butter. Cover and steam approx. 1 minute.
Ladle into serving dish and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped fresh basil.
Grilled Shrimp wrapped in Pancetta with Lemon Aioli (Serves 4)
½ garlic clove, minced
1 large egg yolk, preferably from an organic egg
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
Juice of ½ lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Vegetable oil spray
12 jumbo shrimp in the shell (10/15 count)
12 thin slices pancetta
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Put the garlic in a mixing bowl. Add the egg yolk and mustard and whisk. Still whisking, slowly add half the olive oil to create an emulsion. When emulsified, pour in the rest of the oil, whisking well to combine. Whisk in the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the basil. Set the aioli aside.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill; the coals or heating elements should be medium hot. Lightly coat the grilling rack with vegetable spray to prevent sticking.
Peel the shrimp, but leave the tails on. Devein and clean the shrimp.
Trim the pancetta slices so they are about 6 inches long. Wrap 1 shrimp in each slice of pancetta.
Brush the shrimp with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the pancetta is crispy and the shrimp is cooked through. Turn once.
Arrange 3 shrimp on each plate and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Pass the aioli on the side for dipping.
Copyright 2007 by Rick Tramonto
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.