Mary Giuliani, queen of cocktail-hour appetizers and caterer to the famous and fabulous, has joined the ranks of Laurie Colwin, M. F. K. Fisher and Ruth Reichl with her latest book, Tiny Hot Dogs: A Memoir in Small Bites, in which she recounts going from a “friendless, hairy, deeply uncool” teenager to discovering her passion for food and creating a life around serving it in style.
Especially inspired by Colwin, she says that she became obsessed with the genre that encompasses storytelling and food. “I grew up in a house where we cooked. It was all about food and gathering. There were always stories being told or the story behind the recipe. Everything I made with my mother either came from, ‘This is a recipe passed down from a great-aunt in Sicily,’ or…This book has been a ten-year labor of love.
“I was an English major in college, and always wanted to write and perform, but sort of took this other route; I accidentally ended up working at a catering office 16 years ago. I took the detour because I love it. Catering combined theatrics and food and hospitality. I worked for the company for three years and decided this was what I wanted to do. I started my own company, Mary Giuliani Catering and Events, in 2005.”
Inspired by Nora Ephron’s play Love, Loss and What I Wore, Giuliani wrote a one-woman show called If You Can’t Join ’Em, Serve ’Em. “Through that process I realized I wasn’t that strong of an actress, but I really loved the writing process. I’ve done thousands of parties in my career; my company does between 300 and 400 parties a year. After spending so much time with so many people over the years, the solitude of writing was really comforting to me.
“Some of the stories in Tiny Hot Dogs were taken from the play; some is all-new material. I’ve been able to see incredible worlds and have had glimpses into places we all dream about. And my takeaway is that I’m grateful for the glimpses, but we all think ‘The grass is greener.’ I learned early in my career that, unless I was happy with what I had, everyone’s grass appears greener. I’m kind of comfortable that I’m just the girl with the hot dogs in the room. I’m grateful for the less-is-more, I guess.”
In Tiny Hot Dogs, Giuliani details all the major and minor events in her life – a move to a “slanted” apartment in Manhattan at 21, a stint at the Make-a-Wish Foundation, her saved voicemails from Robert De Niro and what they led to, and didn’t – with wit and just enough self-deprecation to put the reader at ease. Her name-dropping is spiced with the admission that she grew up on pizza and launched a catering company based on tidbits of everyday Italian-American fare. Delving into her family memories brought her a different kind of joy. “In writing, what struck me was how vividly I remembered the time with my grandparents. My Grandpa Charlie loved four things equally: Carvel, cigarettes, cocktails and me. I was surprised by how much I remembered about him and my grandmother: the way my grandmother’s hands looked and how he was always smoking. Between 8 and 10 years old, you soak up so much from them.”
Recipes for favorite foods do punctuate some of the chapters in Tiny Hot Dogs, such as Deconstructed Pizza Skewers and Italian Challah Grilled Cheese and Nance’s Meatballs and Italian Pigs in a Blanket. But this poignant, funny account is really about relatedness and discovery. “I wanted to share the stories. If you touch one or two people, that’s all that matters.”
Bluecashew Kitchen Homestead will host Giuliani’s book-signing on Saturday, April 13, serving vodka martinis and Catskill Brewery beer and, yes, tiny hot dogs from 6 to 9 p.m. Come meet the author (who also created, with her husband, the restaurant Shindig and Woodstock Way), nibble and sip, be touched by her down-to-earth humanity and go home sated.
Bluecashew is located at 37B North Front Street in Kingston. This event is complimentary and open to the public. For more information, call (845) 514-2300 or visit https://bluecashew.com/event/booksigning-cocktail-party-for-tiny-hot-dogs-by-mary-giuliani.