Dame du Jour: Joan Pistone

by Maria Isabella

How strong is the bond of family? Stronger than anything else in this world—and Joan Pistone should know.

You see, Joan grew up in an extremely close-knit Italian family. In fact, her earliest memory was when she was only three years old, helping her mom and two sisters roll meatballs. “I remember rolling big ones for our Sunday dinner,” says Joan, smiling, “and tiny ones for baked rigatoni with hard-boiled eggs for Sunday picnics and wedding soup.”

She goes on to say, “We had many Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house under the grapevines in their backyard with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. This went on every Sunday until they passed away.”

When Joan turned 13, she immediately became immersed in her family’s restaurant business, which included such notable eateries as Inner Lobby Coffee Shop and Lincoln Inn—both in downtown Cleveland.

Joan helped out during all her school breaks and every summer until she graduated from high school. Afterwards, she moved up to front-of-the-house manager.

“I was very familiar with how a restaurant operated, and I loved being around our employees and interacting with customers,” she says.

Eight years later, Joan decided to accept a position at the 5-star South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island, Florida. She managed their $4 million restaurant for four years before being lured away by Beaver Run Ski Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado. There, she managed their beverage department overseeing the main lodge plus five bars.

Suddenly, one year later, Joan had a decision to make. A big decision. Would she keep living the dream…or move back home to help her parents with their restaurant business? For Joan, the decision was an easy one.

Eventually, Joan and her brother bought out their father’s partners. Today, they co-own the highly successful J. Pistone Market and Gathering Place in Shaker Heights together.

“I come from a family where food was always such an important part of our lives, and still is!” says Joan.

When Joan entertains, it’s usually very casual. “I’m not a fabulous cook, but I know my way around a kitchen quite well,” she says. “We have family dinners every Sunday. It usually starts with apps, good wine, and cocktails. I like to make the whole dinner—always with some type of pasta! And since I’m not great at making dessert, I usually ask someone to bring that. Or else I’ll buy a good ice cream and make a homemade sauce. Everyone loves when I do that.”

Joan’s perfect meal? A whole roasted chicken with fresh herbs and lemon, plus a side of porcini mushroom risotto.

Her favorite restaurant? “I don’t really have one,” says Joan. “There are so many great restaurants in Cleveland, but I rarely go out to eat. However, when I do, I tend to enjoy Moxie. Jonathan (Bennett) does a great job.”

The best food she’s had while traveling? “The resort I worked at in Florida had a young executive chef, only 25 years old and a CIA grad. His name was Mike Clark. He was really the person who opened my eyes to the world of gourmet food. I can still taste his fresh grouper with a very light marinara sauce and risotto. I also never ate stone crabs that tasted so good before!”

As for how she first heard of LDEI, Joan says she was invited by Crickett Karson and Laura Taxel to attend the very first meeting. In fact, Joan was a founding member. “I believe we needed 13 members to form a chapter, and we did!”

What does she enjoy most about being an LDEI member? “Meeting so many different women in so many different aspects of the hospitality business. From writers and photographers, to chefs and wine experts, the group is ever-changing and everyone has something to offer. Our meetings are productive, and we cover some very interesting topics. I also enjoy that we are able to raise money that profits a needed organization.”

Learn more about Joan as she shares some fun and interesting insights about herself.

What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten? Where to begin?! Rocky Mountain oysters (the testicles of bull calves), pig’s feet, and my mother always made tripe.

Which one chef would you want to invite over for dinner and what would you serve? I would invite Mike Clark (the young chef from Florida), and I would want us to cook together. We’d probably make pasta and seafood.

What is your favorite cookbook? The Classic Italian Cook Book by Marcella Hazen and The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I still refer to both books when cooking.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Spaghetti with meatballs, ricotta salata, and fresh basil.

What’s your favorite snack? Cashews with mini chocolate morsels.

Do you have a signature dish? I do tend to make a great chicken dish with figs and bacon.

What’s one ingredient you can’t live without? Garlic.

Name 3 things that are always in your refrigerator. Jams, mustards, and cheese.

Name 3 kitchen gadgets you can’t live without. Mini chopper, Vitamix, and thermometer.

What would people be surprised to find in your kitchen pantry? Box cake mixes. I do like to make a lemon pound cake from a Duncan Hines cake mix with Jell-O lemon pudding.


USDA Appoints Our Own Dame Beth Knorr!

On July 28, 2014, USDA announced the appointment of 25 members to the Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, including our own Beth Knorr! The Committee will meet up to two times per year to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on issues affecting the Fruit and Vegetable Industry. Here is Beth's account of the first meeting in DC this September.

By Dame Beth Knorr

It was a whirlwind trip to DC for the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee's first meeting on September 28-29. The committee members, announced in July of this year, jumped in with both feet on Monday morning. The committee includes representatives from small scale agriculture as well as representatives of packers, shippers, processors, large-scale cooperatives, farm labor, trade associations and more. Although there was the expected discussion on logistics and ethics for serving on a committee such as this, we also got to hear from a number of the Fruit and Vegetable Program Division managers to give us a sense of the varied work the USDA does in support of the fruit and vegetable world.

On the second day of the meeting we got to the heart of our task, which was to determine a few topic areas on which we could formulate statements or recommendations to Secretary Vilsack on how the USDA can support our work. We narrowed the topics down to five (which was no easy task!) Education; Research; Labor; Food Safety; and Port Inspections. As you can see these are fairly broad topics.  It is up to the sub-committees to carve out a piece of those topics they feel passionately about in order to come up with recommendations. Those will begin to be hammered out via conference calls, calling on experts for information, and (no doubt) intense debate.

While it can be a little intimidating to be in the same room as people representing organizations that are household names across the world, it's also exciting and encouraging. I'm honored to have a seat at the table, to be able to gain an appreciation of the struggles of everyone trying to get healthy food on our nation's plates, regardless of scale. And I'm doing my part to raise awareness of the struggles and issues of import to the farms we serve in our corner of the world.