Andy LoRusso, The Singing Chef, whose client list includes Ellen Degeneres, Susan Lucci and John Travolta, has moved his crowd-pleasing show from Santa Barbara to Naples and Marco Island. And true to the famous maxim “the show must go on,” he’s now catering to virtual audiences by offering free online cooking and singing classes during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
The affable LoRusso’s long-lasting career as a celebrity chef came together much like one of his Sicilian grandmother’s recipes.
First, he had to acquire all of the necessary ingredients: singing, entertaining, cooking, marketing. Then he had to combine them in a unique way that would make even the most discerning Italian chef exclaim ‘Che bella!’
Of course, to achieve fame in any given field, one needs a few breaks along the way. LoRusso was no exception.
His first break came when he was signed as a singer by Epic Records as a 22–year–old in his native New Jersey. Another big break came when he brought the house down on two separate appearances on the Donny & Marie Show in the late 1990s.
Of course, there would not be The Singing Chef if it weren’t for his Sicilian grandmother, who used to put him down for naps next to her homemade pasta.
“I used to be called Pasta Bambino,” said LoRusso, who aptly describes himself as gregarious. “The babies were so small, they used to lie the babies down on the bed where the pasta was drying on a sheet. I would wake up with a ravioli in my ear,” he said with a hearty laugh. “That’s just how it was on my grandmother’s side of the family. So that first cookbook was really an ode to my nonna from Sicily.”
That first cookbook, “Sing & Cook Italian,” published in 1991, has sold over 50,000 copies, according to LoRusso. His recently published cookbook, “Sing & Cook with Andy LoRusso The Singing Chef” is available on Amazon.com. LoRusso dedicated his second cookbook to his father, who earned a Purple Heart during World War II.
LoRusso’s time with Epic Records was a great introduction to the big time for the gifted singer.
“It began when I was signed to Epic Records in the late 1960s,” LoRusso reflected. “They liked my voice. They gave me a couple of songs, The Fool on the Hill, by the Beatles, and Young Girl by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.” Two other songs he recorded for Epic were The Great Magic of Love and Dancing Master.
LoRusso spent much of his life in Santa Barbara, after having grown up in New Jersey. He’s been in Naples for around five months now. He achieved much of his fame as The Singing Chef while in Santa Barbara.
Another break for LoRusso came when he was introduced to voice coach Giovanna d’Onofrio.
“She was 88 when I met her,” LoRusso said with decided respect. “She helped me to develop my voice to sing the bel canto method, so I wouldn’t ruin my vocal cords.”
The bel canto technique is the Italian vocal technique of the 18th century, with its emphasis on the beauty of sound and brilliancy of performance.
“Giovanna was a really big inspiration to me when I started to think about putting that first cookbook together about my family, and celebrating my family.”
LoRusso’s love of cooking was nurtured early on in New Jersey, where his Sicilian grandmother was a role model for his cooking and singing. It took some experimentation before he was ready to put his grandmother’s recipes into print.
“She would make a large portion of each,” LoRusso explained, “because not only did she have to feed a large number of people, she froze some of the cookies and pasta she made fresh. So, I had to take like five dozen eggs and bring it down to maybe four or six eggs. And five cups of flour, I had to bring it down to one and a half cups. I had to do all of the conversions. She would cook a lot of things. An abundance of things. So she was a big influence.”
LoRusso’s springboard to national prominence came when he was featured on the “Donny & Marie Show”. The audience loved him.
“Donny and Marie were instrumental and inspirational with their TV show,” he said. “Having me as a celebrity chef on their TV show, that really started the ball rolling nationally for me. I was still in touch with them when they closed their show in Vegas last November.”
Suddenly, The Singing Chef was in demand in large and small markets across the country.
“I appeared on numerous national and regional TV programs,” he said.
The Singing Chef also played well in Turkey and at the Isle of Wight Festival, where LoRusso met Sting.
“When I did the Isle of Wight Festival,” LoRusso recalled, “I met Sting and the Police. I did The Singing Chef show. It was a food and wine tasting. I did two shows, one each day. There were about 2,000 people at my show. There were about 40,000 at Sting’s show. He was on another stage. I took some food over to Sting’s green room. He said, ‘Oh, a singing chef, I’ve never heard of that before. This is wonderful!’ It was just nice to be acknowledged for sharing my passion with that genre of music.
“Sure enough,” he reflected, “my career has blossomed. It’s been a wild ride.”
LoRusso has made his living as The Singing Chef for decades now. While this speaks well of his marketing acumen, the chef’s special ingredient bubbles to the surface when he is before an audience—even when it’s a virtual audience on Zoom.
“Okay, we have a pot on the stove boiling water,” LoRusso confirms with his eager cyber students. “So, is everyone using the farfalle except for Louie? He’s using the bowtie. It reminds me of Spring and the butterflies.”
His positive attitude and encouraging nature shine through as he brings his students through the process of creating a meal.
“We’re going to have a sautée pan on the stove for the asparagus,” he instructs. “How many of you have steamed the asparagus for the prosciutto wrapping? Remember, when you’re steaming the asparagus, you don’t want it to get too soft. So, steam it to the best of your ability. Excellent! Oh, beautiful. Kirsten let’s see your asparagus again, it looks beautiful. You have it wrapped and all ready to sauté.”
At the opportune moment, The Singing Chef leads the group in song. “When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie…” It’s the “Donny & Marie Show” all over again as his class sings along with glee.
“Bravo, bravo, bravo,” LoRusso exclaims as they finish singing.
As all of his budding chefs complete their meals, LoRusso offers some final tips.
“When you’re finished with your dishes, give me a good presentation,” he encourages. “Because as they say, ‘We eat with our eyes first.’ So, make a nice presentation on a platter. Take it out of the bowl, toss it, put on a little lemon juice, some lemon zest, fresh basil, fresh Italian parsley, put it all on and toss it all together real nice. I always put red pepper flakes—that’s just because half of my family is from Sicily, so I like the red pepper flakes,” he says with a laugh.
As he inspects his students’ work on his Apple laptop, a satisfied smile comes across his face and begs the question: What does he like more, cooking or singing?
“The eating,” he says with a smile. “It always starts with the eating aspect of it. But being an entertainer, and having the whole package, using my skills and using my passion, it just worked. 28 years later, it just all worked for me. It’s all family-related, it’s all celebrating my family as second-generation Italian Americans. It really became a full career. I do enjoy eating, a lot.”
If you would like to join Andy LoRusso for an online cooking and singing class, visit www.singingchef.com/contact. You can email LoRusso for information about upcoming dates, times and recipes. All recipes used during the Zoom classes can be found in his latest cookbook, available at www.singingchef.com/shop. You can also follow him on Facebook: facebook.com/andylorussothesingingchef.