The Romance of Food

Wayne's Frank LaMendola Shares Some Thoughts to Help Your Next Kitchen Date Night

Article by Don Seaman

Photography by Frank LaMendola

Originally published in Wayne Lifestyle

Frank LaMendola is an interesting guy. While most people are lucky to find one passion to keep them occupied, this Wayne resident has found three. Not only is he a teacher at Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, he’s also a chef as well as a handbag designer. Oh, he’s also an artist. Maybe it’s best to just stop counting at four.

So as we take a moment to think about the romance of food, we thought that Frank would be the perfect person to speak with about what romance from the kitchen is all about, and get a few cooking tips to help for your own romantic dinner. 

What makes food romantic?

For me what makes food “romantic” is having the opportunity to share the experience and fun of preparing a meal together with that special someone, and then of course enjoying and sharing a meal together. Please include candlelight.


Where is your go-to spot for a romantic dinner?

I really prefer having a romantic dinner at home. When I lived in Manhattan for several years, however, my all-time favorite restaurant to take someone on a date was always Le Zie in Chelsea. Authentic Italian cuisine and very nice atmosphere, especially if you request that back dining room which is very cozy with the perfect ambience.   


What’s your favorite food to order when you just can’t?

My favorite food to order out would be sushi. It’s a lot easier to order than to make and it doesn’t have to be served immediately after preparing.


What’s an underrated romantic type of food? 

I’m a huge fan of Thai cuisine. I love its amazing balance of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty flavors often finished with aromatic herbs


Cooking to try to impress someone when you’re not a “kitchen native” takes a special kind of crazy. In fact, it’s rumored that a high-ranking member of the Wayne Lifestyle crew actually once staged a homemade meal for a dinner party that he’d ordered out, messing up the kitchen and dirtying pots and pans along the way. We asked Frank for a few “cheat codes” to help avoid such a failed sitcom moment from happening again in the future.


What’s your ultimate kitchen tip for overmatched cooks? 

I think what is important when cooking with someone else is to share the experience and to remember it is all about having fun. Who cares if the other person doesn’t season the same as you do or may be a bit messier in the kitchen? Although a messy cook literally drives me crazy…


What kitchen advice would you give someone looking to impress a first date? What’s a simple, but can’t miss, meal to make? 

Simplicity is always a good idea. Uncomplicated recipes are best and never try out new recipes unless you are super adventurous and don’t mind not having things turn out the way you expect them to. Broiled chicken, grilled meats or even poaching fish seems to work out fine. Also I always like to prep in advance, especially the sides and dessert.


What’s the secret to timing a meal properly so that it all comes out together? 

I think the timing of a meal is all in the planning of a meal. For example, usually I plan a meal and then prepare the dessert first, the sides also can be made in advance — some kept at room temp, and some may need to be kept in the oven until ready to serve. Saving the main course to prepare before serving minimizes the level of stress you may have in the kitchen. But sharing in cooking the meal almost always changes the dynamic and makes it much more enjoyable.


What’s the most important cooking tip you learned? 

The most important cooking tip I learned from my mother is “clean up as you cook”.  Not to allow pans and dishes to pile up until after the meal is completed. It allows me to stay focused, eliminate clutter, and makes the entire process much more enjoyable. If you have a dishwasher, I suggest emptying it before you cook and fill it before you serve your meal.


How did you become interested in cooking? 

Being raised in an Italian family it’s all about food, whether it’s holidays or just everyday dinner with family. As a child we always had dinner together as a family and I was exposed at an early age to helping in the kitchen.


You’re a baker of some elaborate cakes. What’s the best one you’ve done? 

To date on my own I would have to say probably a three-tiered carousel cake, On the Food Network, I would have to say the most recent filming on The Big Bake filmed this past October. I can’t disclose what the cake was, but it measured over five feet tall and included a lot of amazing dynamic elements which made it an incredible show stopper piece.


How has the Food Network experience been? 

The entire experience and process was very surreal at first. There is so much going and it’s all about being creative, focused, having the ability to work as a team member and at times as a team lead, and most importantly to be able to be flexible – especially when things are not turning out as planned, I knew the minute I stepped on set for my first time on Holiday Wars last year that this would not be the last time. I have been on other shows that are scheduled to air next season and plan on continuing this path – it's so much fun and I get to continue to learn which for me is so enjoyable. 


Cooking isn’t your only passion. You’ve also appeared on QVC for your handbag designs, and you’re also a teacher. What can you tell us about those?

It was very interesting how going on QVC all came about. At the same time when I was cast for Holiday Wars (Season 3 / Episodes 3-7) I was also asked to begin designing for a handbag brand called Lodis.  Having been a handbag designer for several decades, I saw this too as an amazing experience to not only design the product but to go on national TV to promote and sell it. What really fascinated me is how at this stage of my life and career I have been given the opportunity to share my creativity in a such a vast way. QVC is so much fun, and the organization and the people in it are fantastic to work with. 

Tell us a little about what you do at the Mary Help of Christians Academy. 

I have been teaching at MHCA for the past 5 years in Culinary Arts and Fashion Design. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I get to share with my students the two things I am most passionate about. Having never had the experience of teaching before, I have learned that by sharing my experience, knowledge and God-given talents, that I never take for granted, I get to inspire our students. As a creative person teaching and sharing is one of the greatest joys I have ever experienced. 

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