Nick Stellino’s love of Italy flavors his TV cooking show

“When I lived in Italy, it was like I was on the Planet Crypton,” Nick Stellino confides. “When I arrived in America (planet earth), I felt as if I could become Superman.”

Sicilian-born, Chef Nick Stellino, decided to follow his heart.  His hard work and long efforts have made him the star of PBS’s most popular cooking show, “Cucina Amore.”

A partnership with West 175 and KCTS/Channel 9 has created a nationally syndicated cooking show and three cookbooks: Cucina Amore, Nick Stellino’s Glorious Italian Cooking, and his newest, Nick Stellino’s Mediterranean Flavors, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

His graciousness showed under pressure at Woodinville’s Columbia Winery’s recent “Taste of Red” event.

Settling down on a couch in an upstairs room of the winery, he began to say how surprised he was by the power of television and how he marveled that people now stand up and listen to what he has to say.

“When I was a dishwasher, no one said, “oh, your eyes are so blue,” he laughed.  Dressed in a black turtle neck sweater, black pants, and black hair swept back in his now famous ponytail; Stellino seemed more philosopher than chef, his words spoken with his hands and heart.

“Being a chef is a dream come true for me.  It has enabled me to incorporate all the things that are important to me into my daily life.”

Stellino commutes from Los Angeles, California, where his daily life is spent living in Los Angeles with his wife, Nanci. He spreads genuine warmth when he talks of her, and the passion of his childhood in Italy, and the family stories which have become his trademark.

Each fall, he arrives in Seattle to begin taping “Cucina Amore.” Twenty-six shows are taped a year at KTCS, sometimes up to three a day.  He is such a natural that there is no need for a rehearsal.  He writes his cookbooks at his favorite coffee shop in Los Angeles or his office at home.

Arriving in the United States as a teenage exchange student, Stellino stayed and established a career as a stockbroker.  But, in 1991, after returning home to his uncle’s funeral in Sicily, he remembered his words, “that you should never die without having followed your dreams.”

He came home, quit, and landed a job as a dishwasher-but, the informal lessons he had learned from his family of passionate cooks helped him to rise from dishwasher to prep cook, to salad chef, to saucier-all the way to executive chef.

A local talent scout selected Stellino as the TV spokesperson for Ragu tomato sauces.  This national exposure led to his television cooking series.

As he enters the room to his attentive audience, he places a red-and-white checked kitchen towel around his waist.  He immediately charms them as he reiterates a question I had asked earlier, “What does it feel to be a success?”

He explains to the audience that success is a perception. “It is not status quo-only perfect moments-are success.  People on TV seem so good, so special, but believe me, I have burned many recipes.  I can cuss very good in Italian”, he said.

His third book, “Nick Stellino’s Mediterranean Flavors,” is an all-new collection of traditional Mediterranean cuisine recreated to make them simple enough for novice or busy cooks.

I tried this recipe and found it very easy.  The gravy looked beautiful, and the flavor was company quality.  After this success, I tried many more recipes in this book.  I found them all to be peppered with Stellino’s enthusiasm and emotional connection making each dish memorable.


2 tablespoons flour

1-1/2 teaspoons sage

1-1/2 teaspoons rosemary

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 boneless chicken breasts, with skin on

3 tablespoons olive oil

20 garlic cloves!, cut in half length-wise

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 white onion, chopped

1/4 cup white wine

1-1/4 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon soft butter mixed with 1 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the flour, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper on a plate.  Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess flour.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan set on medium-high heat until sizzling, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken breasts to the pan, skin-side down, and cook for 4 minutes on each side.  Transfer to a baking dish, skin-side up, and cook for 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven.

While the chicken is baking, add the remaining olive oil to the saute pan used for browning the chicken and heat over medium-high heat until sizzling, about 1 minute.  Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and onion and cook until the onion softens and the garlic begins to brown, about 3 minutes.

Stir the wine into the pan, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Boil the wine until reduced by half, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the chicken stock and boil until reduced by half, about 7-8 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter-flour mixture, stirring until it has melted completely.  Return the pan to the heat and boil for a minute until the sauce thickens.  Keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, place the chicken breasts on serving plates, top with the sauce, and a sprinkle of the chopped parsley.  Enjoy with a glass of Cabernet Franc.