Dame du Jour: Marla Monzo Holmes

by Maria Isabella

When you grow up in a family business, surrounded by quality products, a strong work ethic, and a loving support system, it’s only natural you would want to continue that tradition. Marla has not only done that, she’s raised the bar and gone miles beyond—quite literally.

“My father owned a beverage store called Monzo’s Wine Country in Cleveland’s Westpark neighborhood,” begins Marla. “He had the largest foreign beer collection on the west side. However, he was best known for his amazing sandwiches, which people would come from all over to purchase. I would often help him make those famous sandwiches.”

Growing up in an all-Italian family, Marla’s fondest childhood memory was of visiting her grandmother’s home in New Castle, Pennsylvania. “My grandma, who only spoke Italian, always prepared the best food,” she says with obvious pride. “She also made the most delicious soup every day!”

After graduating from Kent State University, getting married, and starting a family, Marla eventually took on a position as a kitchen consultant with Pampered Chef. Through hard work, determination, and a real flair for teaching, she was able to earn 19—yes, 19!—trips all over the world with this organization. While traveling overseas, she would take time out to also attend cooking classes, which made her an even more valuable employee, resulting in her rise as a top producer and team leader. In fact, by the time she left to care for her ailing father, she had conducted over 2,000 cooking demos all across the U.S.

She eventually went on to star on The Robin Swoboda Show as their “mom chef,” taping numerous episodes and enjoying every minute in front of the camera. Marla also began teaching cooking classes as a culinary instructor at Polaris Career Center in Middleburg Heights, which she still does to this day alongside catering gigs and cooking demos at farmers’ markets.

As for how Marla came to hear of Les Dames d’Escoffier, we’ve got social media to thank for that. “I saw it on Facebook!” she readily admits. And the best part of membership? “Our events,” Marla says with a quick smile.

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

Of all the places you’ve traveled, where did you have the best food or wine?
In Alife, Italy. I helped my Zia Mary make homemade pasta dough for ravioli. My cousin, Angelo, drove up the mountain and picked fresh mushrooms. Then he made fresh ricotta from the milk he got from the cow next door. That meal was truly unforgettable!

What’s your favorite restaurant and what do you usually order there? Bucci’s in Rocky River. I love their cavatelli.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten? Blood pudding, but I have to admit it was just a very small taste!

What is your favorite cookbook? Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

What is your favorite food blog? Italian Food Forever.

Describe your perfect meal. Eggplant Parmesan, salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and fresh bread right out of the oven with garlic butter.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Pastina.

How do you like to entertain? Outdoors on my Italian patio in the summer with homemade pizzas from my pizza oven. I inherited my dad’s garden statues and potted lilies that helped transform my backyard into the same patio he used to have behind his store.

Do you have a signature dish? Chicken marsala.

What’s your favorite dessert to prepare? French macarons because everyone is so impressed you can actually make them!


Putting on the Ritz

By Jackie Bebenroth
Photos by Jackie Bebenroth

Thinking about the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland may conjure images of immense chandeliers, floral banquettes and stiff martinis at the lobby bar, but at our March 12 membership meeting, we learned that a recent 18-month renovation has brought the iconic destination to a state of modern-day luxury.

For the 12 members in attendance (along with four guests and two spouses), the evening started at the all-new TURN Bar + Kitchen. The crafty cocktail list was full of conversation starters. While the meeting commenced, members sipped on classic favorites with a local twist like The CLE, a refreshing gin and sparkling grapefruit spritzer and the Botanical Garden Gimlet with gin, eucalyptus syrup and orange blossom water. Although lake effect weather was in full force, inside the restaurant we felt warm, welcomed and right at home.

Following the meeting, we were greeted by Rachel Vitalone, the Ritz-Carlton Catering Sales Manager, who served as our tour guide for the evening. She swept us up to the 7th floor, where we discovered a completely re-imagined gathering space called LINKS. It’s an open kitchen designed for social and corporate culinary demos, ideal for team-building exercises, group cooking adventures and creative meeting breaks. The room, with a design that seems plucked from the home of an upscale chef, flows into a more formal meeting area that seats 120 and boasts amazing views of our fair city.

 As expected of the Ritz, intriguing details were considered throughout the seventh floor experience. Gorgeous local art graced the walls in a rotating art gallery that was curated in collaboration with HEDGE gallery. Wandering down the hall, it seemed odd to tour the new fitness center with cocktails in hand, but we were drawn to the gleaming room with high-tech equipment, an interactive smoothie bar and virtual, on-demand workout classes. CORE is open to the public, via membership, as well as to guests of the hotel.

Our tour continued into the bustling catering kitchens, where chefs shuffled room service requests and prepped for upcoming tastings and events. The Ritz-Carlton motto, “Ladies and Gentleman serving Ladies and Gentleman” hung proudly on the wall.

We returned to our seats and enjoyed a delightful dinner from a menu that lived up to its promise: “This is Cleveland, flavor and textures, rich culture and entertainment. We happily partner with local butchers, breweries and farmers to show the essence of our cuisines, heritage and personality. Let us turn our city into something you can taste.