Gumba Gringo Chefs

This uncle and nephew team should be familiar to you via their foray into the restaurant business and their PBS cooking show "Cucina" as well as their cookbooks. Impressive list from couple of guys who claim to not be chefs. True, the modest and talented duo have had no formal chef training and claim to just be "real eaters-just two big Sicilian boys from Texas who love to cook."

From the Boot to the Bayou

The family immigrated from Sicily and settled in Louisiana and Texas. Eager to have what they couldn't find in the local markets, they planted their own gardens of Italian herbs and vegetables. But they also learned from the locals and adapted their culinary skills to reflect what was available locally, all the while maintaining the family's infamous hospitality. The family business was even called Carrabba's Friendly Grocer in Houston .

None of this was lost on future career chefs Johnny and Damien. Damien got the food calling early, opening his first restaurant in the college town of Huntsville, Texas, in 1975. He was just 22. He got an invaluable chef training in the form of tips from his mom who taught him to make the basics: eggplant dishes, tomato sauce, and meatballs.

Family Accountability

When Johnny went to college to study accounting instead of pursuing formal chef training, he kept showing up in the family restaurants, doing everything from bartending to employee relations. In a predictable and fateful move, Damien asked Johnny to be his business partner and Carrabba's Italian Grill was born. In 1995, Outback Steakhouse acquired the rights to develop the Carrabba's brand. Johnny and Damien are no longer day-to-day career chefs but receive royalties from the 165 restaurants and are involved in staff and chef training, product procurement and recipe development.

This more hands off approach gives these part-time career chefs time for their TV career. Damien now lives on a vineyard in Austin and is planting Italian grape varieties. They may open an Italian market. The options are abundant for these two Italian cowboys proving that even dreams are bigger in Texas.


  • www.carrabbas.com
  • http://www.pbs.org/cucinasicilia/bio_mandola.html