Long before his popular role in HBO’s The Sopranos series, LI resident Joe Gannascoli was making his bones offscreen and in the kitchen as an accomplished chef.
Gannascoli, 62, a self-taught chef who hails from what he calls a big, “food-oriented” family in Brooklyn, is now using his kitchen chops as much as his acting prowess by combining his passions into private chef Sopranos parties.
“Cooking and acting are my two passions,” says Gannascoli, who estimates he’s now done about 80 Sopranos-themed private chef parties on Long Island and in New Jersey and beyond for the past few years.
The parties, with a minimum of 16 guests, feature an impressive array of dishes specially prepared by Gannascoli, from appetizers like antipasto to pasta and a main dish of either chicken, fish, or beef. Favorites include his clam and vodka sauces.
“I pretty much make anything you want,” he says, adding that the parties really make sense if people are Sopranos fans. He answers questions about the show, signs autographs, and poses for pictures.
But, although the persona of Vito Spatafore, whom Gannascoli played for 41 episodes of the show from 1999-2006, is a main attraction, it is not the only one.
“The food is good on its own,” he says. “I do some parties where I have people shooting lines at me left and right.”
Gannascoli recalls teaching himself to cook before landing gigs at restaurants in Manhattan including Manhattan Market before moving to New Orleans for a stint at Commander’s Palace.
After New Orleans, Gannascoli returned to New York and worked at Nightfalls and Restaurant 101 in Bay Ridge. Around this same time, he auditioned for off-Broadway plays and studied drama.
Gannascoli returned to the restaurant business with a successful venue of his own, Soup as Art in Brooklyn. But by 1990, he had run up nearly $60,000 in football gambling looses, so he cashed out of the restaurant and moved to Los Angeles to pay down debt.
He took odd jobs in Hollywood before getting his big break: Director Benicio Del Toro cast Gannascoli in a short movie lead role around 1992 that led to his work in The Sopranos.
“I was extremely lucky,” Gannascoli said, adding that he had to “hustle and make things happen.”
He recalled how he would get up early each morning in LA and get the breakdowns, which are essentially notes on what casting directors want in terms of scenes, actors, and looks.
“I pretended to be a fictitious manager. I made calls and proceeded to get myself booked for auditions since my real agent was young and inexperienced.”
He explains that it was his suggestion to director David Chase to make Vito’s character gay.
He said this changed his life because it elevated Vito’s role from that of just a background guy to a recurring role.
Other movie credits include Men in Black 3, Beer League, and An Act of War, as well as a 2004 episode of the Law & Order TV series.
While private chef parties keep him busy, Gannascoli continues to act. “I shot a pilot with actress Kate Bosworth last Thanksgiving. Still waiting for it to get picked-up,” he says.
Last year, during the height of the pandemic, Gannascoli decided to help struggling restaurants out.
He raised $35,000 via a GoFundMe campaign to buy food from restaurants and make hundreds of food deliveries to frontline workers on Long Island and in New York City. He helped nursing homes, police departments, firefighters, and even postal workers. “I did those food deliveries for about seven weeks.”
Last year, Gannascoli appeared on celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back with fellow Sopranos cast member Vincent Pastore.
Despite that appearance, he is not enamored with celebrity chef cooking shows.
“You come across some chefs who are temperamental and act badly…” He said many TV chefs “overact” for dramatic effect. “I’m not really a big fan of that stuff.”
His private chef events have kept him busy, averaging two to three parties each week, mainly birthday parties and special occasions.
Marita from Westbury had praise for Gannascoli’s culinary expertise, calling her husband’s surprise birthday bash an “unforgettable event with first-rate food.”
Gannascoli can be reached about his Sopranos private chef events via Tri-State Restaurant Club on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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