By Lorrie Baumann
Louis Lombardi is a character actor who is best known as Agent Skip Lipari from The Sopranos. Lombardi has also had guest roles on Entourage, Heroes and CSI. His film work includes roles in Beer League, Natural Born Killers and Spiderman II. Lombardi has publicly stated his opinion that acting success is 10 percent about acting and 90 percent about hustling. In this spirit, he has turned the energy and ambition that led to his success as an actor toward the launch of a new line of pastas, pasta sauces, olives and olive oils named—what else?—Lombardi’s.
Lombardi recently took the time to speak with Gourmet News about the Lombardi’s product line in an interview he managed to fit in between lunch and picking his daughter up from school. We would present that interview to you in classic question-and-answer format, except that once you get Louis Lombardi started talking about food, you don’t really need to ask any questions. He will just tell you what you want to know. And he speaks so fluently and eloquently that you do not want to interrupt the flow.
“I cook like I’m an actor,” Lombardi says. “I like to improvise.” He adds, “I’m one of these guys who will spend ten hours in the kitchen cooking and cleaning.”
When it comes to the topic of meatballs, Lombardi varies from his grandmother’s recipe, making them from organic ground chicken and baking them instead of frying. “I sauté up some garlic and grill some onions and mushrooms, and then I add cilantro, fresh Parm, some mozzarella inside the meatballs. Roll them in panko and bake them with a little rosemary and garlic-infused olive oil on the baking pan so they absorb the flavor from the oil and get the crunch from the panko,” he said. “Don’t be stealing my recipe. I like to put garlic oil on the bottom, on the baking pan, and then [on] the meatballs, and then drizzle a little rosemary oil on top. Bake them up, and then keep them for the week. Put them in the sauce when you only have a few minutes to make a meal. My mother’s a true Italian…When she ate my meatballs, that’s what she talks about. They’re like her favorite thing now.”
Lombardi’s cooking style is all about using quality ingredients to cook modern, healthier versions of his Italian family favorites on the weekends and then organizing those into meal components from which he can improvise home-cooked meals after work on weekdays. He likes to make 20 or 30 pizza crusts at a time and store them in the freezer. He can then pull them out as he needs them and bake them topped with whatever he has on hand in the refrigerator.
“My favorite thing to cook is pizzas. I make 20 or 30 different kinds of pizza,” he says. “Pizza is dinner on an edible dish. Whatever you’d eat from a plate, you can put on a pizza.” That means southern fried chicken pizza, bacon and egg pizza for breakfast, even “grilled cheese with bacon and tomato pizza with cheese sauce, little bit of butter, little bit of garlic, cheese, chop up some bacon.” Lombardi’s southern fried chicken pizza is made with baked chicken cutlets, green onions, a little Tabasco sauce and southern gravy. Lombardi says, “Pizza is like a blank page. It’s like, ‘What can I write on this thing? What can I add to make this great?’”
Don’t feel like pizza? How about a pork chop? Lombardi prepares “pork chops pounded out thin and then stuffed with three or four different cheeses. Bake for 20 minutes, and then what you have is that gooey cheese between pork. Put in some hot pepper or mango chutney. You try that.”
Too early for dinner? How about lunch? “If I want a lunch, I get a healthy, nice lunch. Make three, four, five things on Sunday. Make some chicken cutlets and use them through the week,” Lombardi says. “Next week maybe eggplant, next maybe chicken meatballs, maybe a chicken salad. I’ll make grilled chicken breast, put them in the Tupperware. Then one day, you come home for lunch, chop up one with a little mayo, a little dill—you have a healthy lunch in five minutes. Maybe a pizza—garlic, oil, grilled chicken, maybe a little cilantro pesto, some mozzarella, maybe not even a sauce. It’s like a baked open sandwich, a cool meal that you would eat in a restaurant.”
Lombardi’s new line of retail food products comes out of that same insistence that food should taste good, that it should be healthy and that it should be a bonding experience for families. The line includes five kinds of pastas, olive oils and olives imported from Calabria, as well as pasta sauces made in New York from ingredients imported from Italy. They have all been extensively taste-tested by people whose opinion he respects as well as by members of the general public. “The marinara and vodka sauces are the two best sauces on the market,” Lombardi says. “I guarantee it.”
Lombardi says that this is food that he would feed his seven-year-old daughter, who is in the kitchen with him all the time “It’s for regular people. That’s what I am,” he says. “I want to be more for the regular person.”
Lombardi expects to have his online retail site for the products up and running within a few weeks, and he is currently seeking a distributor to put his products in stores. “I want to be in every market,” he says.
Once the products have reached the marketplace, Lombardi hopes that families will gather with them around the dinner table, the way that his Bronx Italian family gathered around the table every night with whoever else happened to be around at the time. “Don’t eat poison fast foods. Sit down with your kids. Spend $10 at the market, and put down a real meal, and talk to your kids,” he says. “It’s almost like a movement I’m trying to create. Sit down with your kids and make them a healthy meal. I believe that. I believe that children are the most important thing. I think food is the biggest bonding thing. Whether you’re fighting or whatever, everyone likes to eat.”