Published on January 10th, 2014 | by ITB0
You might say Ciao is an accidental cook. He began his career as a disc jockey in St. Petersburg, and then became a rock show promoter. He moved to Atlanta and began representing mainstream musicians and jazz artists, including Ramsey Lewis, Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Smith and Eric Gale.
He morphed that venture into a communications firm and took on new clients, including Hank Aaron and Isaac Hayes. After that, he moved to Beverly Hills and provided marketing to the home-video industry.
In addition, he had the opportunity to produce a book and video, Cooking with Country Stars. The book includes biographies and recipes from Dolly Parton, Charlie Daniels, the Oak Ridge Boys, Barbara Mandrell, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams. It has sold more than a million copies.
But the need to don a chef’s apron began to overwhelm his producer ambitions.
Johnny “Ciao” Persico was born in New York City. He is the son of a ballroom dancer father and a mother who has never stopped cooking. He grew up in an exuberant extended Italian family that lived in a six-family apartment building with the sound of music and the smell of delicious food. His aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents lived together. Doors were always open and meals shared.
His first professional culinary gig, as the newly incarnated “Culinary Rocker,” was to prepare food for 1,000 at the Bay Area Music Awards, or Bammies. The festival included Carlos Santana, Huey Lewis, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship and Chris Isaac.
In those days he had more chutzpah than professional experience. He approached a Beverly Hills agent for a personal chef’s position at a private home. His goal was to land a job with a superstar or a Hollywood mogul. After several failed interviews, the agent asked him if he would like to cook for Michael Jackson.
Although he was not personally “auditioned” by Jackson, he knew “the Gloved One” was in the next room, within ear- and eyeshot during the interview. Two hours later, he got a call and the job was his.
His title was Jackson’s personal chef. He also took on the duties of a new-wave majordomo — organizing the pantries and household staff and doing whatever job needed to be done, including “fattening up” his new boss.
Jackson loved to entertain, and Ciao found himself preparing meals for myriad guests — Marlon Brando, Emmanuel Lewis, Gregory Peck and Whitney Houston.
The singer also loved animals and had been looking for chimpanzees to adopt for his petting zoo at Neverland Ranch. When a pair of babies became available, he brought them to the ranch where they received around-the-clock care. When the zookeeper was called away for an emergency, Ciao found himself baby sitting and preparing a special diet of pureed fruits and vegetables for the critters. Chimp care and feeding was added to his resume.
Often the dinner menu listed “Monkeys for Dessert.” This meant that there were two extra place settings at the table for chimps. At the end of the meal, the normally well-behaved chimps were brought in to sit with family and guests for the last course.
Usually this was just another amusing interlude at the ranch until one evening a guest, in an official-looking uniform, must have set off some negative vibrations. As soon as the chimps were seated, they started screaming, throwing food at the man in the uniform and swinging from the chandelier. Calm returned only after the guest was hastily escorted out of the room.
With a few years of celebrity cooking under his belt, Ciao began to cook for special events as well as represent products and give demonstrations at food shows. His great talent as a chef is his ability to take simple, fresh ingredients and prepare them with a special twist. He also has a masterful hand with spices and herbs.
– See more at: http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/lifestyles/food-cooking/johnny-ciao-culinary-rocker-helps-american-cancer-/nMDHM/#sthash.LxyxbW2b.dpuf