In search of Mamma Mia

Errol Laborde

My first encounter with Mamma Mia was as a kid when a pizza parlor named after her opened off Harrison Avenue. The logo for the shop depicted a matronly woman holding a pizza.

I figured that this woman Mia, who I never saw, was probably in the back making pizzas.

Eventually the place closed but Mamma’s fame would spread.

In this, our annual Top Female Achievers issue, Mia’s good name is evoked as one that has certainly achieved worldwide notoriety. I was reminded of her recently when I saw the great Chef Andrea Apuzzo, giving a cooking demonstration. Apuzzo is known for frequently worshipping Mia when describing dishes he’s preparing. As he stood before a bowl while mixing in fresh Creole tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, basil, buffalo mozzarella and garlic he could not contain himself. “Mamma Mia!” he exclaimed while kissing the back of his hand for emphasis.

Literally the term, in Italian, means “my mother” but it seems to have taken on a life of its own. Quite often it’s used as an interjection expressing surprise, such as what I felt several years ago when I first heard that a musical featuring the works of ABBA, the Swedish pop group, would have that name Mamma Mia!

Here’s a question: How do the children of actress Mia Farrow refer to her?

Here are two more questions: Is the term always used in a positive way? And is it just a knock- off phrase that Americans use when trying to parody Italians?

I would have guessed “yes” to both of the latter but I learned differently during a trip to Italy. Since we were going to be departing early the next day I went to the hotel desk clerk the evening before to pay my bill. He tried to pull up the information from the computer but nothing materialized. He began pushing buttons and moving his mouse but the machine was obstinate. In an angry tone reserved for the harshest expletives he muttered, “Mamma Mia!” This was not an olive oil and mozzarella moment.

In retrospect, I like the phrase best when spoken by Apuzzo because when he says it he’s expressing the sensory joy of Italian cooking. Mamma Mia would have liked it that way.

Categories: LL_From the Editor