When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, it's time to visit bella Carmina Casso at Ciao! She reminisces about the day she felt liberated, as well as her Chi-town roots. The homespun wisdom actually starts in part one, but we give props for her brutal honesty in today's segment.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Scrutiny by the public was tough at first. When you put your best foot forward, and someone criticizes you, it knocks you down. The day it sunk in that you can't please everyone was the day I felt liberated. My job is to just serve the best food I can every day.
What would your last meal on Earth be?
Spaghetti with homemade meat sauce.
Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
My mom and dad – they are the reason I had the guts to open a restaurant in a depressed economy (2009) with no experience. Just the passion, super hard work (ethic) and great recipes. Not to mention a husband who can sell ice to an Eskimo with his enthusiasm and passion for our food!
Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
I worked in restaurants in high school and college, but cooking was always a hobby. I'm just a home cook sharing my recipes with the world. This is our first time opening a restaurant. We are so blessed to be so well-received by so many!
You're not from Orange County. What brought you here?
I was born in Chicago, and later, my family moved to Orange County. I went to school in the Bay Area and met Ray. I talked him into moving down to OC to open Ciao! Deli & Pizzeria. The rest is history.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
For breakfast, we love to go to Flappy Jack's in Orange. Consistently great flavor, and huge portions you can share. For a great Italian beef sandwich we go to Portillo's in Buena Park and get the Big Beef with sweet and hot peppers. It is close to the beef sandwiches we love in Chicago (This chain originated in Chicago.). For the best pastrami sandwich, we go to Langer's in Los Angeles. It is worth the drive!
What desserts sell out?
My mom's homemade tiramisu and the Oreo cheesecake.
How do you like your pizza?
Margherita-style with tomato and basil.
Last movie you watched:
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
Biggest challenge to owning your own business.
Having time for yourself. I need a freaking haircut!
What dish would you tell newcomers to Ciao! to try first?
The Chicago Italian beef with a pepperoni pizza. Or baked ziti or lasagna. Or Ray's hoagie with pepperoni.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I'd be in health care, cooking for fun like I did previously.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
If you don't have a passion for food, do something else.I love what I do now — so rewarding!
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
Opening another location!!