Earlier this year I taped a piece with my buddy Mario Batali for his show The Chew. My staff and I were so excited to have the filming crew and Mario himself to our Sweet Melissa’s, and spent the days leading up to filming getting the shop spiffied up and looking just right. Everyone lent an extra hand to make the window displays bountiful and vibrant with cakes and decorated cookies, colorful teacups and shiny new cookbooks. The display case was spotless and filled with beautiful cakes, lemon meringue tarts, peach raspberry pies and sweet almond bread puddings, and the top of the case chock full of chestnut honey madeleines, chewy chocolate chip cookies, walnut linzer tarts, and hand rolled croissants. Fresh flowers filled the table vases, and we even gave the kitchen a fresh coat of paint! The filming went great, Mario, as usual, was a PLEASURE to work with and it really felt like two friends just hanging out and goofing around.
I met Mario years ago ( I think it was 1996!) on Cornelia Street in the West Village. I was the pastry chef of Home Restaurant, a tiny little restaurant owned by husband and wife team David Page and Barbara Shinn. Even then, Mario was a robust man sporting a ponytail, shorts and his signature orange Crocs. I was impressed with him then- he wasn’t a huge star yet- this was the first year he would host “Molto Mario” on the young Food Network channel. But he was larger than life, warm, friendly and TALENTED. Po was near impossible to get into back then, Mario’s food and his tiny jewel of a restaurant were changing our expectations of what “going out for dinner” would become. Still, when I asked for a reservation, I was treated like a VIP. He is and always has been, a class act and a TRUE gentleman. Fast forward 17 years, and Molto Mario, now one of, if not THE, most famous chef in the world, was coming to my little shop to cook with me. I was ready, the shop was ready. We taped the whole segment straight through, without a “cut!”and no retakes. Something to be proud of 🙂 And I certainly was.
After months of waiting, the piece was finally to air on October 1st. This was very important for us, for Sweet Melissa’s to receive national coverage, and an expected resulting boom in business. We had been struggling for months to keep our door open, what with increasing rents and a decreasing economy, and were probably putting to much weight on this exposure. However, we told everyone we knew to tune in, tweeted and posted on Facebook. Friends and family were so excited to watch, and those who couldn’t were recording on their DVR’s. This was the week of the Government Shutdown, and while we watched the coverage on the shutdown and its effects on our nation, we were not directly affected at the time. Sure enough, at 1:00pm, the President took over the airwaves, and my piece on The Chew was cut. When they returned to regular programming, the last minute of the segment was airing- just the last bit where the hosts, Mario, Carla, Daphne, and Michael, were tasting the hand pies we had lovingly baked off and sent to them that morning. Oh, they really loved them, and as they oohed and ahhed at the flaky crust and scrumptious cherry berry filling, I burst into tears.
Needless to say, the resulting “lack of segment” did not do as we had hoped it would, and we had to close Sweet Melissa’s door a few weeks later. Some would say this re-airing is kind of a “punch in the gut” and for a moment, when I learned of it, it felt like one. But as my husband Chris and I work on getting together funding and a plan for a shop in our hometown, it is a good reminder to keep going. I am good at what I do. People love my product. I love making people happy. And although I may have closed one door at 175 7th avenue, Brooklyn, there are many that remain to be opened. I look forward to the day, very soon, where we can establish ourselves in this new community with the highest quality bakery our neighbors have ever known. A shop where my husband, our child, and I can reap the joys of providing for a community who embraces us and where our doors will remain open for many many years to come.
To” Great New Beginnings” in 2014! Happy New Year everyone!
Stay tuned for the recipe for “Cherry Berry Hand Pies”!