Males Manage Many a Menage

One is the husband of Atlantic Highlands Mayor Helen Marchetti. Another is a former mayor himself and a pharmacist. The third is a River Plaza child. Psychologist and the fourth a freelance studio mechanic from Highlands who mingles with Broadway stars and Hollywood glitterati. Each varies in age, personality and profession, yet all share a single expertise and passion. They are all men who love to cook. From their perspective, cooking is a great way to relax, even a little therapeutic at the end of a long day. The men say they don’t mind the clean-up and they don’t think cooking takes away even one iota from their masculinity. Indeed, as one of the quartet put it, “most of the great chefs are men anyway.” Michael Iannucci of River Plaza, director of the child study team for Highlands, Atlantic Highlands, and Henry Hudson Regional School districts, acquired his love for cooking as a youngster while watching his father, whom he describes as the “happy Italian...the guy who wanted to feed the whole neighborhood,” whip up batches of tasty Mediterranean treats. Today, Michael is the epitome of the happy Italian. Easy going, friendly with a warm smile that gets broader at the mention of his wife, children, cooking or work, the school psychologist credits his dad with his love for cooking. “Dad would roll up his shirt sleeves and just cook all day,” Michael recalls, reliving the days the family of ten lived in New York. He was a cab driver by trade, Michael says, adding, “but he loved his cooking. It was important to Dad to make it taste perfect and look as delicious as it tasted. And do you know, he always did.” While working towards his psychology degree at Iona College, Michael parlayed his culinary abilities into a side job to help cover school expenses. He took a stab at it professionally after graduation and now relies on it for, among other things, its “psychological therapy.” “There are just too many stresses in everyday life to contend with – you have to take the time off to enjoy every day,” Michael says. “Every day can be exciting, can be different, can be a challenge, can be fun. You have to make it that way yourself. I can do it best in the kitchen.” With four children and a busy schedule, the family stays home a lot, so Michael uses that time to teach his own children how to relax and enjoy the kitchen. Weekend breakfasts are the highlight of the Iannucci culinary escapades. That’s when the entire family breaks eggs together, whipping up huge fluffy omelets. The food preparation is only part of the fun. Hours spent in the kitchen with the entire family is a time of hearty discussions, shared confidences and parental encouragement for two sons and two daughters ranging in age from 1 to 7. During the week, his wife Barbara often prepares early dinners for the children, then Michael takes over to make something special for the two of them. Although Craig Claiborne is Michael’s favorite chef, he by no means restricts himself to Claiborne’s recipe’s. Indeed, his favorite thing to do is try a new dish at a restaurant, figure out what’s in it, and try to duplicate it in the comfort of his own kitchen. “It’s a nice kind of challenge.” He also loves the challenge of cooking for a crowd, especially if his guests are all standing around in the kitchen with him, laughing, talking and as he puts it, “enjoying the show.” “I love presenting food to people,” he says with enthusiasm. For instance, I give special names to even simple things. Ask her (his wife) about Sheraton Toast.” Michael recalls only one serious costly mistake in the kitchen, dating back to his college days. He was working in a district with abandoned boys between the ages of 7 and 11 and prepared a turkey for a sumptuous Easter dinner. He put the bird in the over the night before to get the flavor of long, slow cooking. Just one problem. “I was too long and too slow and the bird was ruined,” Michael recalls. “So there I was for Easter dinner, taking 13 little black boys to a restaurant.” However, much it may have dampened his spirits, the experience left his enthusiasm for poultry undaunted. Chicken is still one of his favorite things to cook coming second only perhaps to “Gigantic lobsters” He’s not comfortable with baking or making desserts and thinks the presentation of an attractive and colorful dish is as important as its taste. It’s about the same for Peter Marchetti of Atlantic Highlands. Pete’s wife, Helen, a nursing home administrator, is also mayor of the borough. With the time both her jobs consume, Pete says it’s easier for him to take over the kitchen after his day’s work at the New Jersey Natural Gas Company., So every night, it’s Pete who prepares the family meals, and on weekends, it’s generally Pete, often Pete and Helen together, who turn out the bountiful buffets for hordes of friends and relatives. Like Mike, Pete credits a parent with his enthusiasm for things culinary in this case, his mother. “It was always a dab of this, a dab of that” he recalls. “I couldn’t help but get interested in how she did it all the time.” His mother cooked more from instinct than from a cookbook, .Pete explains, so “it was a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I watched. I cooked. I tried the little bits of this and that, and now I have it down pat.” It wasn’t until he was out on his own that Peter started putting together all those tricks he had learned years earlier. Today, his food preparation runs towards the simple and the basic and like Michael, he enjoys cooking with chicken. His favorite recipe is a casserole of it, cut up and layered with peeled and quartered potatoes with thin slices of onions mixed in, olive oil poured over and paprika spread on top. Baked at 350 degrees for about 1 ½ hours, Pete says it’s delicious. “I could make a meal of the potatoes and onions alone, even without the chicken, “ he says, “I make it for Helen and the girls, (her friends ) all the time.” A favorite vegetable combination is a broccoli and corn bake, made with canned cream corn and frozen broccoli, mixed with egg, breadcrumbs, chopped onions and butter, then topped with more butter and breadcrumbs and baked for 45 minutes. Besides the fun of preparation, it’s “seeing people enjoy what I make” that makes cooking so much fun. He knows he’s really made it when one of his guests says, “put a star by that one.” Like Michael, Peter isn’t very big in dessert preparation and does not do any bread baking at all. “I can’t see spending the time making when you can buy it,” he explains. Is there any hobby Pete likes better than cooking? “Yeah, golf,” he ways without hesitation. But then he’s quick to add, “but I’d never let Helen go hungry.” Dick Stryker of Atlantic Highlands is the former mayo who also likes to take over the kitchen. Though not with the regularity as Peter. Dick, a pharmacist who owns Bayshore Pharmacy in his hometown, also looks on cooking as a form of relaxation and sees putting recipes together kind of like mixing prescriptions. He likes to cook alone, without the assistance of his wife, Pat, and likes trying new recipes, new types of food and unusual combinations. But he loves to cook for others, and with four children, four grandchildren and a host of appreciative friends left over from his years as mayor, harbor commissioner and a host of other municipal positions, he’s always got a hungry audience. “Pat’s a great cook,” he says but adds, “sometimes it’s fun for her to get out of the kitchen and let me take over.” Seafood is his favorite dish to prepare – not unusual considering the family’s close proximity to the waterfront, and he insists on using only fresh seafood. He tends towards a number of shrimp and clam dishes, preparing them generally as main courses rather that appetizers. Jim McGrath lives in Highlands with his wife, Kay, and their daughter, Gena, the only one of the McGrath’s six children still living at home. A freelance studio mechanic, Jim is often gone from home several days at a time. But he loves to spend time winding down in the kitchen and relies on a combination of recipes from his book collection and his own thoughtful experimentations to turn out the dishes everyone loves. Unlike Michael, Peter or Dick, Jim loves to bake breads, loves to work with yeast and sweet dough, and delights in making special cakes for special occasions,. He’s got a mean reputation for turning out spectacular Irish soda bread and likes the texture of winter wheat flour. His favorite things to cook “are whatever my guests want most.” On each youngster’s birthday, he explains, they get to choose their favorite dish and he prepares it. It might be a paella for Gena or cabbage and bacon for Maureen. ‘But if it tastes perfect t to them, then it’s my favorite recipe for the time,” Jim says. Jim also cooks for large crowds and local residents can remember several dinners for hundreds he prepared for fund-raising events, benefits or local clubs. For large crowds, Jim is always assisted by a corps of volunteers “I have to be, it takes one person just to crack all the eggs when you‘re making a couple of hundred omelets!” His only concern is that he’ll have enough. He cannot remember any major disasters in the kitchen but admits to not being particularly pleased with a couple of things he made, dishes that nonetheless won raves from diners. One was a very hot chili that apparently made some friends happy but was just a tad too spicy for his taste. “Guess I’m my own harshest critic,” he says, chuckling, before adding, “or they’re just too polite.”


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