Antonio DePau makes pasta and peas
Fast-food restaurants and frozen dinners don't impress 13-year-old Assunta and 10-year-old Robert DePau.
Their favorite foods are the authentic Italian meals their father, Tony, routinely prepares for the family from fresh, natural ingredients.
When they nominated him recently to be a Cook of the Week we thought the honor would be a nice Father's Day gift for Tony.
"We love him, he's one of the best cooks ever," says Robert. "If you go to fast food places you don't get the same quality."
Tony was born and raised in Italy where he learned the value of homegrown vegetables eaten fresh or put up for winter, and relaxed family meals.
Tony met his wife, Chris, an American, on an Italian cruise ship where he was a wine steward and she was a passenger. They lived for 11 years in Italy, where their children were born.
"Meal time is hugely important over there," Chris said. "We have tried to maintain that tradition, it's sacred to us. It's the one time of day we're all together."
When the DePaus moved to Palatine eight years ago Tony's priority was a house with a big backyard for a garden. He planted tomatoes and peppers from Italian seeds, herbs, zucchini, eggplant, arugula, strawberries. Concord grapes hang from the six-foot pergola.
"It's exactly like Italy," says Tony. "When it's warm you can sit out there and eat grapes and drink tea or wine" in the shade of the grapevines overhead.
In late summer Tony freezes his excess produce, enough for a winter's worth of meals. Among his specialties are pastas and vegetables, like Penne with Zucchini in a cream cheese sauce, Pasta and Peas with parmesan and simple Green Beans with Tomato Sauce.
"I like everything he makes," says Assunta. "He cooks what (native) Italians would make; we can taste the difference."
A cook at Friendship Village, a senior citizen community in Schaumburg, Tony has been in the hospitality business for decades working as busboy to waiter, sommelier to kitchen and front-end manager.
For four years he worked at the U.S. Navy base in Naples, supervising the mess hall for 300 people. For nine years he ran a restaurant in Naples and for several years he owned Piatto d'Oro, an Italian family restaurant in Arlington Heights.
At home he does all the cooking and Chris does the baking.
"I actually would rather do the cleanup," says Chris. "My life is perfect."
For his part, Tony tries his best to feed his family balanced meals, not too high in fat, with plenty of vegetables.
"I really believe food is like gasoline for life," he says. "If you eat well, you feel well."