LAKEWOOD RANCH — In his new cookbook, “Hazan Family Favorites,” Giuliano Hazan talks about a typical Friday night Shabbat dinner at his grandparents’ house.
Sephardic Jews, Hazan’s paternal grandparents hosted the dinners.
Hazan, an Italian chef, teacher and author, who has written award-winning cookbooks, runs a cooking school with his wife, Lael, in Northern Italy, and teaches classes out of his Sarasota house, grew up on food.
Hazan’s mother, Marcella, opened the School of Classic Italian Cooking, in Bologna, Italy, when her son was 17 years old.
“My grandfather was not allowed in the kitchen,” Hazan said. “That was my grandmother’s domain. That didn’t stop him from contributing. His contribution was his criticism. He would say, ‘The okra is not burnt enough.’ He was right. I enjoy the bits on top that were charred and crispy.”
So, what might earn hurt feelings at most homes comes across as passionate food-lovers speak during Hazan Shabbat dinners.
As part of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee’s 2012-13 Jewish Book Festival, Hazan will speak and answer questions at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13, at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch.
There, Hazan — the International Association of Culinary Professional’s Cooking Teacher of the Year in 2007, whose cookbooks have earned a James Beard Award nomination and the World Cookbook Award for Best Italian Cookbook in the English Language — will talk about his new book and career.
Hazan’s story started where any cooking prodigy’s might.
Born in New York to Italian parents, Hazan stirred his mother’s risotto as a 9-year-old in the family’s kitchen. Sitting in the kitchen, first in New York, then in Italy, briefly, when his parents moved back there and then back to New York, Hazan observed the family way — how his mother would cook with little spices and few sauces, letting natural flavor take over.
Hazan probed for each night’s dinner menu, sometimes asking his parents what would be served for meals weeks into the future.
“Meals were an important part of the day,” Hazan said. “It was not something you had to do, but something you looked forward to. We would always sit down and eat together. It was always, ‘What are we going to eat and make?’”
By age 17, Hazan began working as an assistant at his mother’s school in Bologna.
But, then, Hazan’s relationship with food became decidedly normal and he strayed from his mother’s path.
After earning a B.A. in French literature at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Hazan enrolled in the Trinity Rep Conservatory, a professional theater program in Providence, R.I He wanted to act in and direct shows.
He even faced the usual college-aged challenge of scavenging for food without home-cooked meals.
“I was suddenly missing all the food I was used to,” Hazan said. “I was hungry.”
Hazan toured schools, acting in children’s shows.
But he quickly found no money in theater and returned to what he knew.
Hazan taught cooking classes on the side and catered for small parties, before becoming a partner in a take-out Italian food shop in Providence.
“I kind of stumbled into it (cooking) by default,” Hazan said. “But I enjoy it. I enjoy it a lot. (Mom) was pleased. And theater became a tool to help me in teaching. After all, it is kind of a performance.”
Hazan returned to Bologna, where he served as both teacher and director of his mother’s cooking school.
It began a 30-plus year teaching career.
In 2000, Hazan and his wife opened a cooking school of their own, Cooking with Giuliano Hazan. Each spring and fall, the couple — along with their partner, Marilisa Allegrini, of the Allegrini Winery, in Valpolicella — offers culinary and travel enthusiasts a taste of Italy at Villa Giona, a restored Renaissance villa outside Verona.
Hazan still lectures and travels across the U.S. to teach, talking about straightforward and easy-to-make homecooking.
Recent cooking-school appearances include Sur La Table, Ramekins and Central Market. He is also working on a project in Houston, for which he aims to turn his first book, 1993’s “The Classic Pasta Cookbook,” into an e-book.
Hazan likes to talk about the first meal he and his wife made together, chicken with green olives, and the broader significance of it.
“I later found out one of the few foods she doesn’t like is olives,” Hazan said. “But that’s OK. Making food for someone is very much an act of love. You put your heart and soul into it, even if it’s not her favorite.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
Jewish Book Festival
What: Speaker Giuliano Hazan,
chef and author
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13
Where: Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
Details: The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee continues its 2012-13 Jewish Book Festival with the appearance of Giuliano Hazan, an award-winning author and teacher who also runs a cooking school with his wife in Italy.
Info: Tickets can be purchased on the Jewish Federation’s website, jfedsrq.org or at by calling 371-4546, Ext. 119.