Our occasional look at some of the extraordinary people who make up CHOW's user community on Chowhound.
Bob Oppedisano grew up loving and learning about Italian food. He was reared in Brooklyn in a first-generation Italian-American home where Calabrian was the lingua franca and the weekly family feast was his nonna's Sunday gravy. His grandfather had a factory that made tin cans for olive oil packers; his father was an agent for importers of oil, tomatoes, wine, pasta, and cheese. So Bob was practically born to the role of helping the rest of us understand Italian and Italian-American food culture, which he's done for a decade as one of Chowhound's most generous and authoritative contributors on the subject.
If you've noticed uncommonly informative posts over the years about olive oil, Sicilian pastries, or the pleasures of a good pecorino, chances are they were Bob's. He's also been a helpful tour guide on Italy, especially parts south like Calabria and Campania, and a knowledgeable observer of the country's changing foodways.
And if Bob didn't quite write the book on Italian-American food, he at least collaborated on one, which he helped edit and shepherd to publication: The Italian American Table: Food, Family, and Community in New York City by historian Simone Cinotto, which came out late last year.
When Bob discovered Chowhound, he was increasingly disenchanted with the mainstream food media. Here he found "a room filled with generous, expert Chowhounders whose posts I’ll always read." But beyond the information they passed along, he came to appreciate the engaging, sometimes unpredictable conversations that developed. "You could now talk, share, disagree, argue, learn, and even tell the world you’d changed your mind, and do it (mostly) with humor, good will, and spirit."
After a career in book publishing at university presses, Bob left Manhattan to retire in North Carolina, where he and his wife, Wanda Wooten, just put in a raised-bed vegetable garden that should keep them stocked with greens, tomatoes, fennel, and herbs.
"I can get just about anything I need here in North Carolina," he says, "except really good Italian bread. The Web brings me anything else I need. It really does amaze me to find classic Italian cookies from Queens in a local supermarket, lots of artisan-level salumi, fresh cheeses, and most of the greens I love—somebody’s got to be buying all that broccoli di rape for it to be so fresh in the local market."
Portrait courtesy of Bob Oppedisano; historic photo from The Italian American Table / Facebook