INK BLAST | DEBI MAZAR, STAR OF HBO’S ENTOURAGE, IS COOKING WITH GUSTO
By Juleyka Lantigua
Onscreen she may play tough, independent and feisty women—like Shauna Roberts, the no-nonsense publicist on HBO’s Entourage—but Debi Mazar can easily be unhinged by a bite of delicious homemade pasta prepared by her adoring husband, Gabriele Corcos. “I consider myself a good cook but he was just so good and quick and simple and Tuscan,” she explains. Gabriele’s home-style cooking and Italian culture have taken center stage at home and online. In 2007, the couple created Under the Tuscan Gun, an online cooking show filmed in their home kitchen.
The no-frills, barebones production quality is offset by the charming and often hilarious chemistry between them. Best of all, Gabriele’s easy, rustic, and delicious recipes have found a loyal following among foodies and home chefs around the world. “Once we were out there with the first episode, we started getting an overwhelming response from people. They felt we were very natural, that they could relate to us in the kitchen because we’re not chefs, we’re feeders,” Debi recalls.
The seed for the show was planted a few years ago during one of Debi’s pregnancies. (They have two beautiful young daughters.) She was away on location shooting a Jackie Chang movie and Gabriele, who was new in town and did not have many friends, was stuck at home by himself for a couple of days. He started out writing “a long love letter,” with recipes from his grandmother and family stories. That morphed into a 70-page document he called “The Tuscan Cookbook for the Pregnant Male.” Debi came home and he presented it to her, saying, “Look what I did over the weekend.”
“I read this incredible book and I was like, ‘My god, we should try and turn this into a cookbook!’” Debi took the manuscript to an agent who was more interested in having her dish about all the cool and influential people (like Madonna) she’d hung out with in the 1980s. “I’m like, that’s not what this is all about. This is my new life! Whatareyoutalkinabout?” So they shelved the idea, until one night about a year later when they decided to take out the video camera and film a recipe from Gabriele’s book.
“When we saw ourselves together on tape, we were like, ‘Oh, my god, we’re kinda funny together. This is fun!’ We decided to start sharing recipes online,” Debi explains. They invested a measly $40 on software to launch the site, and went to work. Today, it’s basically a one-man operation out of their Los Angeles home. “I grocery shop, I cook it, I write the recipes, I design the website, I take the pictures, I edit the videos, I produce the soundtrack with musicians out of New York, then I post it and I maintain it on the web. Then I do the dishes,” Gabriele quips.
The show owes its name to Gabriele’s Tuscan mother, who nudged Debi (“Cook for your husband! Cook for your children!”). “It was like I had a gun to my head,” Debi laughs. During a typical episode, Gabriele’s artistic sensibilities around the kitchen (“I don’t measure, I just go by eye”) lovingly collide with Debi’s New Yorker sass (“Could you talk slower? You’re from another country”). “Sometimes he’ll say something and I’m like, I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. I ask questions so that Joe Blow can follow what we’re doing,” Debi explains.
The result is endearing, hilarious and totally addictive. It’s like watching Lucy supervise Ricki while he’s directing his Cuban band. And the chemistry between them is undeniable. So much so, that while taping an episode by himself, Gabriele, seeming slightly sad and withdrawn, needed several takes to compose himself. “See, having the wife gives me more confidence,” he tells the camera sheepishly.
Judging from the big plans in the works, Gabriele has gained a lot of confidence about the potential for the show. They are in talks with a major reality-tv producer to create a cooking/home renovation show on location in an estate outside of Florence with 6,000 olive trees and a fourteenth-century house. The estate was a wedding gift from Gabriele’s parents. “My goal in Florence is to get the countryside going again, the olive oil, the vineyard. But most of all, I intend to purchase a property and open a bed and breakfast/cooking school,” Gabriele offers.
He sounds so determined, that I can envision the place, nestled among lush rolling hills, deep in the Italian countryside. It’s easy to believe someone whose heart moves to the beat of a different drum, a conga drum in this case. “I have been studying ethnomusicology for the past 15 years, by myself, no school. I just traveled — Cuba, Brazil, Israel, Morocco and then conservatories in Paris and Florence,” he recounts. After years as a radio DJ and music producer, he still performs in Los Angeles with local acts.
Before launching their website, which has received up to 300,000 hits in a single week, Gabriele and Debi entertained offers from potential backers to open a restaurant. But that was never really an option for the resident cook. “I don’t want to lose the poetry,” Gabriele explains. “I want to come home and still want to get in front of the stove and cook for my family.”
If all goes well, they will soon be bringing their recipes and loving banter to homes across the country. But, from all indications, the basic philosophy that sparked that first cooking flame will remain intact. Debi puts it best: “We’re able to go to the local grocery store in whatever town and turn out a really fierce, cool, simple meal that is focused around the community of family and trying to feed your family.”
Check out Debi and Gabriele's episodes and recipes at www.underthetuscangun.com
"Juleyka Lantigua is a journalist and editor whose work appears in national newspapers and magazines. For more info visit: www.juleykalantigua.com."