In his new cable cooking show, Steve Schirripa’s Hungry (Lifeskool network, debuting December 6), Uncle June’s faithful manservant Bobby Baccalieri tours his favorite New York Italian kitchens and takes some sauce-splattered pointers from pals like Rao’s Frank Pellegrino and Peasant’s Frank De Carlo. Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld asked the man Tony Soprano immortalized as a “calzone with legs” to expound on his favorite pastime — eating on and off the set.
There are a lot of cooking shows out there these days. What distinguishes yours from the competition?
This is a real guy going into a real kitchen; I think after you watch this, you’re really going to learn how to make the meatballs from Rao’s. It’s a combination of talking, comedy, and how-to.
Who does the cooking at home?
My wife; I eat, she cooks. Which is why I’m doing this new show. They’re teaching me how to cook.
In one episode, you spotlight the Mulberry Street restaurant Il Cortile. Do you think that Little Italy gets a bad rap?
I think it does. First of all, it’s a lot of fun down there. There’s a lot of tourists, but Il Cortile is as good an Italian restaurant as any in the city.
What’s your favorite Italian restaurant in New York?
I’m gonna go with Peasant. It’s hard. Il Cortile and Peasant. I also like Bamonte’s. People have had their christenings there and their funerals there; that’s how long that place has been around, you know what I mean?
What food reminds you of growing up in Bensonhurst?
Well, Spumoni Gardens. The pizza’s out of this world.
What do you think of the small-plates trend?
This is what I think: If you’re going to bring me small plates, you better bring me a lot of small plates. Because when I like to go out, I want to eat. Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants, especially high-end restaurants, give you portions for a supermodel.
What do you think of so-called molecular gastronomy?
I don’t want my food cooked with the same tools that they fix my car.
What’s always in your refrigerator?
Should an Italian restaurant be able to get four stars in the Times?
I think that fourth star is really snooty. And I also don’t think people really care that much about your stars. Plus, I’ll show you restaurants you can’t get in, and they’re not even on the map.
How was the food on the set of The Sopranos?
The food was really good. Whether it be lasagne or the sandwiches in the back of the Bada Bing, the food had to be great because, I mean look at us, we all know how to eat. There’s one thing: As an actor, you’re supposed to take little bites, and a lot of times, people spit out the food. I never saw that happen. It certainly never happened to me. There was one scene where I had to eat a steak; I ate about six steaks.
Did you have to keep your weight up during the show?
Well, I actually wore a fat suit for the first two seasons I was on. I’m about the same size as Jim Gandolfini, and there were so many fat jokes in the script that I’d say, “You know, I’m not much fatter than him, I don’t understand these jokes,” and then they said, “Oh, by the way, you’ve got to put this fat suit on.” So I wore it, which put on about another 75, 80 pounds, so if you look in those early episodes I’m really big. And then I guess they thought I’m fat enough on my own, so they got rid of that.
There’s an episode where Tony Soprano tells you that you should seriously consider salads. Have you ever?
Eh, what am I gonna do, get skinny? I think it would shock my system. It is what it is. I really honestly believe, what are you gonna do?
—Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld