| Ciminera hadn’t planned to be a chef. “I grew up in a household where every Sunday, eight women in my family came together in the kitchen to cook. Food was a way of life for me. But still I was going to be a doctor,” he says. “I was 21 when I worked in my uncle’s restaurant to earn money for school and then found I had an aptitude for cooking.”
Ciminera decided to make a career of four-star cooking. He worked with some of the nation’s top chefs including Daniel Boulud, who told him if he wanted to be a chef he had to go to Europe.
He trained in Italy and when he came back to New York he was asked to be the executive chef at Le Petite Bijou.
He got the first three-star review in the New York Times at age 24, which sparked interest from Julia Child’s publicity company. Ciminera appeared on Child’s show and then he knew that’s what he wanted to do as well.
“As a chef, you work every weekend and holidays, and that’s hard on families,” he says. “Carmela was patient about it, but once we got married I knew there had to be a change. You have to be there as a husband and father.”
Eight years ago he started his PBS show Taste This T.V.!, which he tapes on location and in his studio in Wantagh. And he was able to have the kind of hours he wanted for his family. “I’m a low-key guy and I just wanted a business where I could still be involved with food, so this worked out,” he says. “Family always comes first. I drop whatever I’m doing if I need to be there for the kids.”
Each day he puts the twins on the school bus and is home by 4 to spend the afternoon with them. Sundays, he says, are always family and church days.
As a father, he’s also concerned about children’s diets. With nutritionists and dieticians he developed the DVD “Food for Kids,” which provides a weekly meal plan to help kids lose weight. He also trained himself to cook gluten- and dairy-free so that he can provide recipes for families—and himself, since, he says, after years of suffering from acid reflux he learned he was allergic to dairy and gluten. Since he changed his diet, he says, he no longer has the symptoms.
“I advise parents worried about their children’s behavior and health to just go one week without dairy and gluten and see their child’s reaction. I can guarantee the kids will get sick a lot less and if the child is hyperactive, you’ll see a difference in their behavior,” Ciminera says. “Getting our kids and ourselves to eat better can be a challenge when we all have so little time. But it can be as simple as making just one change, like substituting junk food. Instead of giving them dessert loaded with artificial ingredients try a dairy-free, gluten-free dessert.”
Ciminera’s latest venture is his online food video community website, Foody TV, through which visitors can get immediate cooking advice from chefs. “If you have three ingredients and you want to know what to do with them, you can go to the site and ask a chef and get some ideas immediately,” he says.
Ciminera says he’s always working on something new, and while he’s not sure what is next on his agenda, he does know that it will combine his love of food and family because “food is part of the meaningful moments in our lives. It’s what brings families together.”
For more information about the “Food for Kids” DVD, log onto www.foodforkids.info
Check out the new Foody TV social network at www.foodytv.com
Liza N. Burby is publisher of Long Island Parent magazine.