Mo Rocca is a lot of things – he is an actor, a writer, a satirist, a foodie, and of late, a host of a new Cooking Channel special.
“It’s called My Grandmother’s Ravioli, and we are featuring a Filipino grandmother who shares her kitchen secrets with me and teaches me how to cook a paella, Filipino-style of course,” Mo Rocca told the Asian Journal in a recent phone interview.
Currently a Correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning News with Charles Osgood, he’s also a panelist on NPR’s hit weekly quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and the host of Foodography on Cooking Channel. Mo spent four seasons as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and four seasons as a correspondent on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
As a child growing up, one of Mo’s findest memories was his grandmother’s cooking. He was simply amazed at how his grandmother did it – she was working full-time yet she was able to prepare a lot of home-cooked meals that their family shared, specially during the weekends when the clan would come together to dine.
“She would make gargantuan and elaborate feasts for us. I adored her ravioli so much, I still vividly remember how it tastes like. I wish I could go back in time and be in her kitchen a few hours before she served all those great food,” he said.
In the special set to air on February 19 (check local listings), the comedian will learn to cook while at the same time, discover treasured family recipes and stories from grandparents in their kitchens across the country. Mo is hoping that the special gets the nod of fans (and the network) for it to become a regular series.
From a Filipino grandmother’s Paella, a Romanian grandfather’s Grilled Sausages to Italian born Pop’s Focaccia and Rabbit Cacciatore, the show is an hour-long celebration of the American melting pot of food, family and fun.
The Filipino grandmother Mo mentioned is Milagros Alb, a native of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur who married a man from Romania. The couple has three children, all grown up and have left and settled in other countries. Lola Mila has four grandkids.
“She is a total spitfire. She’s 73 years old but she looks like she’s 50. It seems like Filipino women have a secret and they don’t age. It must be the patis that keeps them young-looking,” Mo said, describing how it was like to cook with the grandmother.
Mo and Mila cooked paella together, with Lola Mila herself teaching Mo some knife skills.
“Mila was terrific and really fun to work with. She reminded me so much of Cheryl Burke, one of my favorite Filipino-Americans,” he said.
Mo shared that Mila comes from a big family (“She had 11 siblings and I asked her to recite all their names.”) Her mother was an elementary school teacher and her father was the town mayor.
Mo wanted to surprise his mentor for the day by learning a Filipino folk song. He was torn between Bahay Kubo and Sitsiritsit. He decided on the former.
“I put the song on my iPod and in my mind, I had a few versions. There was this lousy lounge version, but it was way too slow. But my absolute dream was to have Lea Salonga, gently descending from a helicopter a la Miss Saigon, singing Bahay Kubo. Mila would have gone bananas, she would have lost her mind,” Mo said laughing.
Learning the song had also endeared him to another Filipino in his life, his pharmacist. Now, he doesn’t even have to wait in line when he picks up his meds.
“She puts me on the front of the line because I sing to her Bahay Kubo. The song has become my good luck charm,” he added, breaking into song. Bahay Kubo, of course.
If my half hour conversation with Mo Rocca on the phone was any indication, this Cooking Channel special would be filled with fun and humor, and yes a little singing, all while learning a family recipe from the clan’s patriarch or matriarch.
(“My Grandmother’s Ravioli” is a special to be aired on February 19 on The Cooking Channel. Please check your local cable listings.)