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October 3, 2005

This chef sings with his supper

Yakima Herald (WA):

Puccini simmering with polenta, "Carmen" with cannelloni and Tosca with tiramisú. Where else but the State fair? Wedged between displays of elephantine zucchini and antique apples, there's a twice-daily serving of choral cooking — think of it as melody meets minestrone — in the Ag Building. "The Singing Chef," Andy Lo Russo, combines Italian food with Italian opera in free demonstrations for Central Washington State Fair-goers.

With the aura of aria, Lo Russo creates an Old World atmosphere, where mingling scents and flavors conjure a feeling of family togetherness, all centered on the kitchen. People who cook together, harmonizing all the while, are partaking in one of life's great pleasures, maintains "The Singing Chef." So he's showing Yakima how to do it.

While Lo Russo whisks and sautés, he's also crooning, leading audience singalongs of "That's Amore" and "Arrivederci, Roma." "It's all about enjoying the process," he says. "Get the family together, and sing, cook and bond." He adds, "When you're in a happy mood, you can transport yourself and your family from the kitchen to Italy."

It's a message Lo Russo underscores wherever he appears, whether it's on television on the Food Network, in Las Vegas, at special events, in opera houses or at state fairs. In Yakima, the tenor transforms chopped eggplant, garlic and onions, dolloped with red peppers and fresh basil, into "Bellini's Pasta Norma" (named after the Italian composer's romantic opera). It's as close as rigatoni can get to "Rigoletto."

Not only do audience members watch the process and smell the progress, they are also immersed in Lo Russo's bel canto throughout the hourlong show. "He's very good," notes Don Smith of Yakima, as he listens to Lo Russo whipping up the audience as well as a pomodoro sauce.

Lo Russo didn't start out as a crooning cook, nor as an opera singer for that matter. His earliest musical career was as a pop singer with Epic Records. Then about 12 years ago, as he was riding his mountain bike (and singing) near his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., he realized how much he missed his family — and the attendant joyful meals — in New Jersey. "I had an epiphany," he recalls. "I could combine my two loves, cooking and singing."

Posted by acapnews at October 3, 2005 9:01 AM