cazzo!

Today’s WordBowl word is our first non-English term, used as a noun, an intensifier, an insult. Cazzo appears in countless phrases flung at enemies loved ones alike.   

For the literal minded: It means D–k.  So it’s our first profanity WordBowl word. 

Cazzo is from Ariella Papa, who writes about Italians & the words they say in A SEMESTER ABROAD

Peck in Milan, Italy

Peck in Milan, Italy

I was raised in an America that referred to relatives of spaghetti as “noodles”, dumped cans of Chef Boyardee in a pot and called it dinner, crowned Ragu the king of tomato sauces. My knowledge of wine was confined to Blue Nun, a German white with which I celebrated my fifteenth birthday by getting drunk with a monk on our flight to Rome, so I have always associated it with Italy.

How I landed, fresh out of college, a catering sales job for a lauded Italian landmark in the tony Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, is a bit of a mystery. The greater mystery, to my parents, was why I chucked a mortgage banking offer for food service.

The writing cocktail-or-coffee conundrum resolved

The writing cocktail-or-coffee conundrum resolved

Modeled after Peck’s in Milan, the business was in part a no-reservations café — the lunch lines snaking through the retail store with its beguiling bottles of oils, vinegars, crook-necked wines, take-away fresh prepared foods — as well as a  thriving catering business run out of the offices downstairs.

It was an immersion in the language of food, seasonal produce, imported products. Morning Amaros to settle the stomach, afternoon wine tastings to create perfect pairings.

The waiters and retail counter personnel spoke in a customer-charming hybrid English-Italian, the kitchen staff a staccato English-Spanish-Cantonese-Italian, while my catering van driver shouted combative Italian at inconvenient stop signs, parallel parking spots a scant too short.

I learned shouting did not necessarily equate anger.

The bilingual chef-owner delighted in introducing us to puttanesca (“whore’s spaghetti”) and cosce di manaca (plums known as “nun’s thighs”), reveling in the history of these confluences of — in his mind — the sacred (food) and the profane (religion).

TOO SOON showcasing Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) at The Beagle

TOO SOON showcasing Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) at The Beagle

After my first year, a new Sous Chef roared in on his Italian crotch-rocket of a motorcycle, sporting a shaved head and multiple piercings, brandishing tribal tattoos. He snatched sizzling bites from pans bare-fingered, flexing sculpted, scar-seared forearms. He wore tight pants to rival British rock stars.

Dangerous, the proximity to flaming fire, unctuous oils, the exposed flesh of bulbous vegetables. Our overripe world.

During high seasons, we were often the first to arrive, him kneading dough, me reviewing spreadsheets and schedules, us, alone, him in the open kitchen firing ovens and tossing pans, me in the cramped unfinished “offices” that doubled as storage, reworking budgets on what was even then an ancient computer, downing espressos.

He buzzed my phone from the kitchen requesting my presence for a tasting  — whether to taste a dish or a taste of each other left tantalizingly ambiguous — I joined him in the early morning kitchen light, pots steaming, the room already teeming with scent, rosemary and garlic and sweating onions as he massaged whole chickens with olive oil, lifted tasting spoons, licked his lips.

He smelled of smoke and meat and sweat.

You can, I suspect, envision the rest, the dramas both personal and professional.

To this day, whenever I catch a whiff of smoked or roasted chicken, I experience a titillating fission of excitement I pass off to others as mere culinary anticipation.

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cazzo! was handwritten with a Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) cocktail at The Beagle (east village, nyc) and with a Negroni (and espresso) at Morandi (west village, nyc)

 

 

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