In the lower floor of Gino Micciche's Jamestown home, a white, rectangular desk sits about a foot from the wall closest to Arcade Avenue. A few more feet away stands a carpeted staircase climbing up into the kitchen.
A couple of cookbooks sit on Micciche's desk, along with roughly two dozen recipes scrawled across yellow notebook paper. The placement of the books and recipes would look strange to those who don't know Micciche. For those who do, their location makes perfect sense.
Between the table and wall sits a padded chair, where the 89-year-old Italian-American sits to pencil in half his work. To complete the first half, he must climb the steps into the kitchen, where he crafts his creativity.
Gino Micciche, 89, of Jamestown, poses for a photo at his desk with his two released cookbooks: “Zuppe” and “Pasta.” His next book, the third volume of the “Natural Italian Cooking” series, will be released early this year.
P-J photo by Scott Shelters
From his efforts in the kitchen and at his desk, Micciche will finish his third cookbook in late February, incorporating the recipes he scrawled across the yellow paper.
His path to cookbook writing began many decades ago in his birthplace: Milan, Italy.
BECOMING THE COOK
As an Italian boy in the first half of the 20th century, Micciche worked at a Milan bar, washing dishes, mopping floors and serving coffee.
When he arrived in the United States in 1949, cooking wasn't his first priority.
Micciche moved to Jamestown, living with his uncle for several months. Shortly thereafter, he met his first wife, Nancy Lucca.
In the early 1950s, Micciche worked at Union National Furniture Co., decorating and finishing furniture. He worked on Lucille Ball's bedroom suite at that time.
He later worked days at United Lumber Company and nights in his own small shop. He started his own factory, employing 12 people.
In 1962, Micciche opened Jamestown Woodworking in Celoron, employing more than 85 workers at one point. The plant made office furniture for several companies and other establishments, including Cadillac, churches and opera houses.
In 1970, his first wife was stricken with multiple sclerosis and could no longer cook. Micciche took over the task, making meals for his wife and children. He read cookbooks by famous chefs and crafted Italian dinners at home.
He later worked in lumber sales, traveling for business in the U.S. and Europe and refining his craft.
"I had picked up a great deal of knowledge about cooking. I ate in fine restaurants all over the United States and Europe, especially in Italy," he said. "Sometimes I would be staying at a hotel with a good chef, and I would go into the kitchen to watch them prepare meals or ask questions."
Along the way, he prepared meals for high-profile people, including cellist Leonard Rose and actor James Cagney, who called Micciche's soup "the best I've ever had."
In 1996, his first wife died. Micciche's children had moved out of the house, so he lived alone. He cooked dinners for friends and wrote hundreds of Italian recipes during the following years.
Then, in 2002, he met his current wife Patricia and invited her over for dinner for their first date.
"He was having people to dinner all the time," she said. "He's always sharing his cooking."
They married in Venice, Italy, and she inspired her new husband to write a cookbook. It took seven years to complete, but in 2009, Micciche released a collection of Italian soup recipes, called "Zuppe," the first volume of the "Natural Italian Cooking" book series. He began working on the second volume, called "Pasta," soon after.
The third book, to be called "Pranzi," will contain Italian dinner recipes for soups, side dishes, meats, seafoods and more.
The series, published locally by Eagles Publishing, features Micciche's original, handwritten recipes, step-by-step instructions and photos of each dish taken by Mrs. Micciche. The couple has thousands of the images.
"He's just always coming up with these beautiful meals," Mrs. Micciche said.
A CREATIVE COOK
Micciche is quick to say he does not consider himself a chef. Instead, he calls himself "a creative cook" because of his tendency and ability to make unique creations out of various ingredients.
Once, Mrs. Micciche came home with sweet potatoes. When her husband saw that, he decided to concoct a sweet-potato soup recipe, which he added to "Zuppe."
"I'm not a chef. A chef runs the kitchen. There's eight, nine, 10 cooks under him. He buys the food, he runs the kitchen and he's also a good cook," Micciche said. "A lot of good cooks, they're better than chefs. Chefs sometimes are prima donnas."
Respect for his cooking talents has come in many forms, including letters and phone calls. Micciche's fans like his recipes and cookbooks for their handwritten simplicity and easy-to-follow nature.
"It's very understandable. I've received complements on the simplicity and good taste of my recipes," he said. "I'll get calls and emails from people saying, 'I made your soup. It's so simple and so nice; it turned out very good.'"
Chautauqua Institution invited Micciche to teach classes on his recipes there in the summer of 2010, and his books have spread themselves across the United States. Nearly 1,000 copies have been sold to this point, mostly by word of mouth. Micciche has independently sold books to restaurants and citizens throughout the country.
After the release of the third volume, Micciche hopes to expand his sales opportunities, offering salesmen three-volume sets.
Locally, the books can be purchased at Off The Beaten Path in Lakewood and at Southern Auto Exchange in Jamestown. Those interested in buying books may also call the Micciche residence at 488-2462 to make a purchase inquiry.
The books are $20 each.
"I hope that my cookbooks will inspire you to make a good Italian meal," said Micciche.
Every morning, Micciche heads out of the house to purchase ingredients.
He'll turn 90 on Jan. 23, but still cooks, writes and has friends over for dinner.