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C’mon Baby Light My Fire

We’re going to set things on fire today. Twenty five years ago I met a gorgeous young woman named Nicole. And now she is my wife, and mother to my two beautiful kids. And it all started with Bananas Flambé – the dessert I made for our first date. I can’t be sure that bananas flambé was entirely responsible for everything that followed in my life, but it sure didn’t hurt my chances.

This is Nicole’s account of that date –

It was our first date. I had met Tony several months earlier and he said he wanted to cook for me. I drove to his apartment. He lived in a fancy high-rise on the intracoastal in Miami, 20-something floor. When I got there he had an aromatic tomato sauce cooking on the stove. He served a small first course of penne pomodoro, followed by a delicious chicken dish (I don’t quite remember what it was). We ate on a makeshift table which was a very big box his TV had come in. He covered the box with a crisp, white table cloth. We had plans to go to the movies across the way, but first he had a special dessert planned. He made a big show of melting the sugar, adding orange juice and peel to the pan, and sautéed halved bananas then sprinkled in some grand marnier and lit it on fire. We ate it topped with vanilla ice cream. What a perfect match, for a perfect evening now etched in my memory. 


Well… I guess it worked. And now, you can follow the recipe here and find the love of your life too. Let’s light up some bananas now.

Bananas Flambé

To serve 2, we will need:

  • 2 ripe bananas (but not over ripe or soft)
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • slivered almonds for topping
  • 2 tablespoons of Orange Liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of Brandy, Cognac, or Rum (for the pyrotechnics)

To prep, toast your almond slivers, juice enough oranges to have about 3/4 cup of orange juice (or just use juice from a carton), cut some large pieces of rind from your orange and lemon, and cut your bananas lengthwise.

Start by pouring your sugar into a saucepan on low heat. When the sugar starts to melt, add your butter and start mixing it all together. Be careful not to burn it. As it begins to caramelize, you can add your orange juice. The mix may start to clump but be patient, as the juice warms up the sugar will melt again. Add your rinds and use a fork to push them around to help deglaze the pan and make your mixture uniform again. Squeeze your lemon and orange into the pan, through a strainer to catch the seeds. Continue deglazing and mixing until it is uniform.

Now you can add your bananas. Prick the bananas up and down with a fork so that the bananas can soak up some of the mixture. Add your Grand Marnier or orange liqueur, and mix it into the sauce. Use a spoon to baste your bananas with the flavor of the sauce. You want to continue cooking until your bananas are soft and tender but not so soft that it will fall apart when you try to pick it up.

When you have reached that point, it’s time to set things ablaze. Turn up your heat to high, and add your cognac, brandy, or rum. The heat has to be high enough to reach the alcohol’s flash point, or it will not light. Ignite with a stove lighter or long match… and boom. You’ve got a show. The fireworks will die down soon. You can shut down your stove now and get ready to plate.

Arrange each pair of bananas like a close pair of parentheses, and drop a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream between the two. Drizzle your sauce over this, and decorate with your toasted almonds.

Listen to your date sigh with satisfaction, and enjoy.

Kitchen Philosophy. To Move Forward, I Look Back.

Scene: Evening of November 5th, 2014 – Transplant House Dormitories at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio

On the night of November 5th, there was a dinner for the “patient tenants” of the Transplant House where I’ve met many wonderful friends with circumstances similar to mine, all waiting for an organ transplant, and a second shot at life. That evening we further bonded. We ate, chatted, shared stories. And then reluctantly I headed upstairs, to get to bed early. Maybe it was too eventful an evening. I tossed and turned for most of the night, until then at last I finally fell asleep, and waited for dreams.

“Tony! Tony! TONY! Wake UP! WE NEED TO GO!”

“Huh?…What? Go Where?” I said. “…It’s dark outside… why…what’s going on?”

“YOUR NEW LIVER IS HERE!”  replied my assistant. “WE ARE GOING TO NEED PAJAMAS, AND YOUR TOOTHBRUSH, AND…  (etc. etc. etc.)

I was so confused that I understood absolutely nothing from that point on, and still in my sleepwear, I grabbed the car keys and said  “Let’s GO!”

And so that’s how my own second chance at life started.

Life can change just like that. It’s like the ocean – big and wonderful, and sometimes very scary. It’s completely out of your control. But unlike the ocean, you can’t really avoid it. Last year was one of the scariest of my life. The worst is over, but it is still scary. So I cook. When I cook, I am creating. I am in control of something. I cook because it reminds me – reminds me of who I am – reminds me of what I love, who I love, and who loves me. It puts my feet back on the ground.

So here I am, new liver, new chances, new outlook. Back to the basics in so many ways. It’s good to get back to basics. It’s a way to rebuild yourself. So naturally, the food I want to cook these days is also back to basics. I’m dreaming of soups, ossobuco, pasta al forno, pasta e fagioli, and more. And here, for you, is one dish that pulls me back to my childhood. One that grandpa taught me, and that I am craving now. Pasta con Piselli e Patate e Cotto ( Pasta with Peas, Potato, and Ham ) Hope you enjoy this one.

Life after Organ Transplantation, and a Bittersweet Parting with Cleveland

Hi Reader,

Let’s catch up.

This is Jeff here, producer/editor of Ask Chef Tony – and I’m taking Tony’s place at the keyboard today to bring us up to date, and to offer our apologies for letting the blog fall so far behind. If you’ve been following, you know that Tony recently underwent a complete liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Tony had been in Cleveland since late October 2014 awaiting the chance for a matching liver. Fortunately, it came quickly and in late December came my first opportunity to drive out to Cleveland (from Brooklyn) to hang with Tony and see how his recovery was going, and also to help pack him up to go back home to New York, which he was more than ready for.

I had not seen my good friend since he left New York, and I felt in some way that I was now about to meet the “New” Tony, as the transplant operation marks the end of one journey and the start of another. Organ transplant, and what that involves, is something no one strives to be familiar with, unless, by misfortune, you have to (or unless you are a doctor). So, like many others, I tend to misunderstand it more than I understand it. Having accompanied Tony through much of the past year, I was amazed at how much has to be endured physically. Tests, IVs, blood transfusions, needle after needle, meds, antibiotics… the list goes on. But maybe the hardest part, for me, is understanding what the person is going through emotionally. I got to meet another patient at the Transplant House – Ashley Foster. Ashley is waiting for not just one organ but several. By listening to Ashley and Tony, as they spoke to each other, you can tell immediately that there is a closeness there that can only happen through an intense shared experience – like “war buddies” as Ashley put it. I was like someone at the kids table trying to figure out what the grownups are talking about.

I could sense that the trials and tribulations in Cleveland, while extremely difficult, also yielded some wonderful experiences for Tony, and that going home would bring some mixed emotion. I shot a bit of video and I want to thank Ashley and Tony for letting me share some of their thoughts with you.

Please find Ashley’s blog here: You’ll find links to her fundraising efforts if you feel inclined to help her out.

And for those of you able to contribute some financial help for Tony, as he works through his transition, you can donate here. Thank you.


Recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese (with step by step Video) – Plus, an update on Tony

Jeff here (producer of Ask Chef Tony), taking up the pen (or keyboard) for Tony on the blog. For those of you following Tony’s recent health issues, and the subsequent liver transplant surgery, I’m very happy to report that he is really recovering well for a guy who just had major surgery. I feel safe saying that we have made, it seems, great progress in getting Tony back on the road to where he wants to be. And a big part of where he wants to be is back in the kitchen. And you know what? A lot of people, including myself, can’t wait to see that.

So, in honor of that day, I went back into some older footage that we shot over the past year to see what I might be able to edit together while Tony is on the DL. I think I have rediscovered some gems. There are some that I shelved because of technical issues and some have gaps in explanation that need to be filled, but I’ve become a better video editor and over my many hours of constructing episodes and shorts I’ve figured out ways to convey more with less, so now was about the right time for me to tackle of few of these “lost” episodes. The one I decided to start with is the one I present to you today… “Salsa alla Bolognese”. After putting this one together, I was quite proud of it and quite frankly I’m wondering why I didn’t just go ahead and cut this one together right after we shot it. Well… irrelevant now. Ladies and Germs, I present to you… Ragu alla Bolognese. Enjoy.

Bolognese Sauce, Ingredients:

Amount: enough to feed small army

  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • 1 lb. Ground Veal
  • 1 lb Ground Pork
  • 2 Celery Ribs
  • 2 medium Carrots
  • 1 medium sized Onion
  • 3 whole spice cloves
  • 1 or 2 Bay Leaves
  • some Rosemary
  • 3 Garlic cloves
  • Olive Oil (of course)
  • 2 cups Red Wine
  • Crushed or Pureed Tomatoes (we used a big 6lb. 6 oz. can)
  • Salt and Pepper

Let us know in your comments what you think, either here, or on our YouTube channel “Ask Chef Tony”. Watch Tony on the channel, and we’ll see you around. Ciao!


Surgery Update: With Bases Loaded and Full Count, Chef Tony Knocks Liver Surgery Out of the Park!

Hearts are considerably lighter now. I spoke to Tony over the last couple of days and he is doing really well. Even over the phone I could hear the difference. And this is just a day after a major surgery. The doctors have said he “has beaten all odds.”

So this about the best post I could have hoped to put up today. It’s been edge-of-the-chair tension over the last couple of days since word got to me that a matching liver had come in and that Tony was on his way into surgery. Just a couple days ago, the post I had intended to write was in draft form and I had been speaking to Tony and trying to shape into words the feelings and experience of being in such a waiting game and situation, as he was. I had also been collecting various forms of well wishing from fans and collaborators of our YouTube show. One idea I had was based on a video that our friend and collaborator Francesca sent to me to help Tony along. When she heard about Tony’s situation, she made a Minestrone con le Cotiche. It was a great gesture as I know Tony gets excited to see people making and keeping Italian cuisine alive. I was going to title the post “Let’s make Minestrone for Tony”. Realistically though, it is still a long long road back for Tony, and I’m sure he’d still appreciate some home cooking, so I’m going to post her video here.

You can find Francesca guest hosting our channel in our Mushy Tomatoes Episode or in another episode about exploring Italian Cuisine in NYC

If there are any fans out there who would love to perk up Tony’s spirits by showing what you can cook up on the stove, please send it in to me ( ) and I will happily post it up here or on our channel. Keep sending the love and the hugs.


Jeffrey Chuang (Producer – Ask Chef Tony)

UPDATE…A Match was Found and Chef Tony’s Liver Transplant is Happening NOW!

Hi Fans of Chef Tony,

This is Ask Chef Tony channel producer Jeffrey jumping in once again to write for Tony. Here’s the BIG NEWS. I was just about to try to jump on the keyboard to finish up a half written post here about how the wait list process was going and about how Tony was meeting new people there in Cleveland and etc etc etc, when suddenly, bling, new text message from his wife Nicole. Reads – “Quick update: new liver arrived today. Tony in surgery at Cleveland Clinic. I’m flying to see him.”

His new friend in Cleveland, nurse Michele Anthony wrote on her Facebook today – “Tony is in the OR… God bless the hands that care for him today and always… When I kissed him good luck, he said ‘I’ll get the liver, you get the onions.’”

That’s all I can tell you for now. I will post again as soon as I hear more.

Yours Truly,

Jeffrey Chuang (producer of Ask Chef Tony)

This is a little gold elephant that has become my good luck charm. I'm posting it here today to cash in the remainder of its good luck for Tony's operation.

This is a little gold elephant keychain that has become my good luck charm. I’m posting it here today to cash in the remainder of its good luck for Tony’s operation.



The Waiting Game Begins… First Week in Cleveland.

Tony in the kitchen

The journey has started.

Hello Again Food World,

I’m back at the keyboard. Finally a little time to update all of you on the progress of my visit to Cleveland, ever since dropping the big bomb on you all a short while ago. For those of you not sure what “bomb” I’m referring to – I’m on a waiting list for a liver transplant. If you want, you can watch my little press conference about it here.

So yes, now I am in Cleveland, Ohio where the expected transplant will take place. I knew since the beginning, and now can confirm, that it was going to be a very intense week for me once I arrived at the Cleveland Clinic. As I prepared to leave new York, I remember a little anxiety setting in (more than a little to be truthful). I got very little sleep the night before, feeling so anxious to get on the airplane heading toward a new chance. Even scheduling a trip out here was a tricky task, as I’ve had to have many procedures to deal with the numerous issues that crop up when you have a seriously ailing liver. We had to choreograph everything to ensure that the flight from New York was perfectly timed with a window of opportunity when I would be healthy enough to make the flight itself. So it finally happened – the trip to scout things out, and make the necessary checkups and arrangements here in Cleveland. The flight was a pure pleasure, sitting next to Nic, my ever so supportive wife. We arrived early afternoon and were greeted by our hostess for the week, Shelly, not knowing if we were going to stay with her, or have to look for an alternative. It turns out that she made us feel very comfortable and the week is most likely going to turn into a longer stay.

Nic and Shelly, Cleveland

My beautiful wife Nic on the left, wonderful new friend and host Shelly on the right.

Sunday afternoon, after we chatted and got to know each other a little better, she showed us to our room and we had one of the best nights of sleep in a long time, even though i knew that come Monday morning, I was going to be in for a medical marathon… and indeed it was.

We arrived at the Cleveland Clinic 6:30 am Monday  all ready to go, Shelly being the first one outside in her car with a cup of coffee (Shelly happens to be also a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic), she dropped us off and went on with her day. We went to the main desk and we got a printout of all the procedures that would be done during the week, emphasizing the ones on Monday. My initial fear and anxiety started fading away after I saw the great professionalism that this hospital had to offer. It’s amazing how much your confidence can be boosted when you find a level of trust with the people around you. Well, trust or no trust, I still had to go through my obstacle course of medical tests and procedures… no getting around that. Some of these probings were a little more intense and painful, such as a nuclear test of my heart function, which involves drinking some kind of magic potion that makes your heart glow under this machine so the doctors can closely view the heart and make sure that I am in the best shape to undergo the final operation that I am here for. Some great news, by the way – I was informed that this might happen a lot sooner than we thought. Keep your fingers crossed for me please.

We then attended a mandatory presentation that explained in more detail what to expect during a liver transplant – what happens before the procedure, what happens after, how to prepare, and the lifelong commitment that I am about to enter into with my new organ and my team of doctors. These meetings were followed by some more painful tests… I repeatedly had many needles stuck in and out of my body. I’m a human pin cushion. Because of my condition, and my body not being able to function properly, I need these procedures to keep my body going for now. For example, I had fluid drained from my extremities and I was hooked up to a machine to drain more fluids which once again involves more doctors and medical mechanical devices.

For the most part, I was not allowed to eat or drink for extended periods of time, but when I had those small windows when eating was allowable, I was able to grab a bite in the numerous culinary establishments that are part of the Clinic, which kept me going. At the end of the day, happy or sad, but always full of new needle holes, there was always our new friend Shelly to welcome us home, which repeatedly put a smile on my face.

Tony and Shelly, fireplace

To new friends.

At last, I finally even got to do that activity that I’m best known for – cooking. Away from the clinic, and back in the kitchen, I thought “What am I in the mood to cook?” and I decided on a nice pasta dish, one of my tried and true favorites – asparagus and salmon, and we also used the fireplace to toast up some Lebanese bread. Simple meal, but it felt great to be able to show Shelly a little of our appreciation. Sharing a meal with someone is always my way to say “thank you”. And being in front of a stove again, with skillet and spatula in hand, it was for me like recharging the phone; with my battery in the red, 2% energy left, and finally, I get plugged back into the kitchen, and can get rejuiced a little. Thank you Shelly. Thank you Cleveland. Thank you fans.

The asparagus and salmon pasta is actually one of the earlier Ask Chef Tony episodes, so if you want you can see it here. That’s all for now. It’s time for me to get a little rest. Check in with me later. More to come I’m sure.


Chef Tony Scarpati

Tony in kitchen

Finally, back in the kitchen!

Tony and fireplace

Toasting bread, old school

food and fireplace

Asparagus and salmon pasta and Lebanese bread


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