Fresh off a rocky season 4, Renee Graziano, star of VH-1’s “Mob Wives,” has teamed up with her sisters for a new cookbook, “How to Use a Meat Cleaver: Secrets and Recipes From a Mob Family’s Kitchen.”
Renee, Jennifer and Lana Graziano have compiled 100 of their favorite family recipes, including penne with fried eggplant, chicken with sausage, peppers and onions, and, of course, Sunday gravy.
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The daughters of Anthony “T.G.” Graziano, the capo of the Bonanno crime family, say making the cookbook was a way of saying thank you to their parents.
“Our parents have been so good to us, above and beyond, especially me,” says Renee. “So this was just a chance to say ‘thank you, I love you’ and we can pass it on to everyone.”
Lana also had family in mind when writing the cookbook.
“I would say that I want to dedicate this to my grandmother,” Lana says. “She taught me so much and I wanted to kind of pay her back. She taught me at a very young age how to make Sunday gravy.”
Though, in the Graziano household, even the gravy can be a point of contention.
“I call it gravy, Renee still calls it sauce,” Lana says. “We still fight over that.”
Jennifer, creator and executive of producer of “Mob Wives,” mentioned the importance of food in the family’s upbringing.
“Food is part of our heritage,” Jennifer says. “Restaurants have been in our family since before I was born, honestly — my father had a few, Lana had a few. It’s just a natural fit for us based on that.”
The cookbook might be just the beginning. The Graziano sisters plan to open up a new restaurant all their own.
“We’re opening a family restaurant together,” Jennifer says. “We’re going to do a sisters restaurant. I think that the cookbook and what we have coming makes the most sense for the three of us.”
The recipes in the book act as a source of unity for the Graziano sisters. Food brings them together and reminds them that they have each other.
“Growing up, food was everything — food is still everything,” Jennifer says. “Every Sunday we sat down at a family dinner, all together. Whenever we were fighting, soon as we sat down at the dinner table it was all about the food.”
Renee, too, acknowledges the large role food played when she was young.
“I think food plays a role in everybody’s family, no matter what culture,” Renee says. “It’s the one time people come together and they kind of put their problems aside. As soon as you start eating there’s no more fighting everything is put to rest.
Stories of those fights can also be found in the cookbook. Renee particularly remembers being stabbed with a fork over a meatball.
Perhaps even more fun, is the time she survived a dinner disaster by substituting Wise potato chips for breadcrumbs.
“I was having my whole family over and halfway through I ran out of breadcrumbs,” Renee says. “I was like ‘oh my God, what am I going to do?’ So I’m like ‘alright, I’m gonna wing this. I got the Wise, I crushed 'em, I mixed 'em and I put 'em in; there wasn’t a meatball left over.”
Even though she successfully duped her family, Renee now makes sure she’s always prepared.
“I make sure I have enough now,” Renee says. “But that’s like a college kid who smokes pot. They go to college, they smoke pot and they’re like ‘oh, I’ll just use anything.’ I didn’t smoke pot but I used the potato chips.”
Full of recipes and those kinds of anecdotes, “How to Use a Meat Cleaver” remains a work of the Graziano family.
“We know how to cook, we’ve had restaurants all our lives,” Renee says. “So we shared a little piece of our secrets from the kitchen.”