Do grandparents know the secret to happiness?

Most TV shows either ignore grandparents or play them for laughs.

But on My Grandmother’s Ravioli, they’re the stars.

The Cooking Channel series is hosted by journalist Mo Rocca, who crisscrosses the country making dinner and conversation with grandparents in their kitchens.

Mo Rocca hopes the grandparents on his TV show can teach him how to live.

He wants to learn how to cook, he says, but more than that, he wants to learn how to live.

“I prefer to see the grandparents as kind of on a level above me with something to teach,” says Mo, 46, a correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning who used to appear on The Daily Show. “Maybe because I’m searching for answers, honestly, I want to believe that there are people who are on a different echelon, at a different level of wisdom.”

That’s how he felt about his own grandmother, who died in 2001 at age 95. In 2012, he created My Grandmother’s Ravioli in her honor.

I stopped by Mo’s apartment in Greenwich Village recently to interview him about his family, his work, and his ongoing quest for happiness.

Can you tell me a little about the grandmother who inspired the show? What was your relationship with her like?

My grandmother on my father’s side, Mary Lanza Rocca, she was definitely of the four grandparents I had the one I spent the most time with.

Mo as a teenager in the 1980s with his dad’s mother, Mary Lanza Rocca, who died in 2001 at age 95. He loved everything she cooked, he says, but he especially misses her ravioli, which was filled with spinach, ground beef, and garlic and topped with a light tomato sauce.

She and my grandfather really doted on and they adored their son, my father, and so they came down to D.C., where I grew up, to live, to be closer to my father and to our family.

Where had they lived before?

In Leominster, Massachusetts—a factory town in central Massachusetts called Leominster—where Johnny Appleseed was from and where the sewing machine was invented and the disco ball.

I know a lot about this because my father had really romanticized his hometown.

Did your grandparents work in the factory?

No, my grandfather was a barber, and then my grandmother was a homemaker and sometimes worked in the salon where my grandfather worked.

And they came down and—it’s hard not to lapse into cliché right away—but she really was a force of nature. And not like in a voluble way.

She wasn’t loud, she was actually kind of … she was warm but she was also kind of nose-to-the-grindstone. Definitely a woman who had raised her children during the Depression.

“Frankly, when my grandfather passed away in 1982, my grandmother was 77, and the next ten years, I think, were the best years of her life.”

And she worked full-time until she was 87. So I didn’t realize that there was anything extraordinary about that until one of my closest friends, my friend from college, Shannon Hill, she met her when my grandmother I believe was still working full-time, in her late 80s.

I mentioned that my grandmother worked 40 hours a week at a department store and she burst out laughing, this friend of mine.

She worked at Woodies, at Woodward & Lothrup.

And even into my 20s I didn’t realize that that was extraordinary. I just thought, “Everybody’s grandparents do that.”

She loved working, and I think she found … the girls at the store that she hung out with were her social circle, and I think she found it really liberating to go to work, because I think she had spent most of her life raising her kids and taking care of my grandfather.

Frankly, when my grandfather passed away in 1982, my grandmother was 77, and the next ten years, I think, were the best years of her life. I really mean that.

From 77 until she retired at 87, those ten years … she was free and she loved working; she loved hanging out with the girls at the store.

My grandfather—God bless him—was peculiar and I think pretty neurotic. And my grandmother, who actually was a really good cook, could only cook very particular things for him in a very particular way. He had been sick [with Parkinson’s] for a long time.

I have no doubt that my grandmother loved him, but this was somebody that she was told to marry. She was the oldest of eight kids in a pretty poor family—working-class family, I should say—and so she had to be married off pretty quickly.

Were they both Italian?

Yeah, but my grandfather was ethnically Italian but he had been raised in France. His own father had been an indentured servant sent over to France, so he was raised in France and was a Francophile.

I think that’s why my name is Maurice—because my father, that was something he got from his own father. My father was not a particular Francophile but Maurice, that name I think, came from my grandfather’s love of all things French.

But my grandmother was a real Italian woman and Italian American.

And she embraced that identity more than your grandfather did?

Yeah, but I think she was married to a guy who wasn’t all that outgoing, and so her personality wasn’t really able to blossom the way that it might have otherwise.

Of course she never complained, because she’s of that generation.

Mo Rocca, now 46, graduated from Harvard in 1992 and appeared on The Daily Show on Comedy Central from 1998 to 2003. In addition to hosting My Grandmother's Ravioli, he's a correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning and the host of another CBS show, Innovation Nation.

Mo, 46, graduated from Harvard in 1991 and appeared on The Daily Show on Comedy Central from 1998 to 2003. In addition to hosting My Grandmother’s Ravioli, he reports for CBS Sunday Morning and hosts another show on CBS, Innovation Nation. He often appears on the NPR quiz show Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!

So those years were really great for her, I think. I knew all the names of the women at the store. I love that they were called “the girls.” Mrs. Garlitz was one who was really great, I remember.

She started at the store on F Street, downtown, and then she moved to [the Friendship Heights branch].

She was living in the Chancery, that building … 3130 Wisconsin Avenue, at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue, right across from the Cathedral. She was in apartment 215 there.

“I joke that I started the show as a kind of guilt abatement because I never learned how to cook from her—but the truth is, I’m not sure that she would have really let me in the kitchen. She might have, but she really just liked doing it.”

Again, this is going to be really clichéd, but there was nothing fancy about her at all, but she was very quietly dignified. She’s one of those people who … she was sort of constantly moving forward doing stuff. She wasn’t paralyzed ever, like so many of us are, by neurosis and worry. She just kind of did what she had to do.

She would work 40 hours a week; on Sundays she would make these big meals for us.

And I joke that I started the show as a kind of guilt abatement because I never learned how to cook from her—but the truth is, I’m not sure that she would have really let me in the kitchen. She might have, but she really just liked doing it.

And it was a lot of work, especially for holiday meals. She had to start on the Saturday—or depending on what day the holiday fell, she’d start on the day before—and wake up really early on the day of. And the kitchen would get really hot.

It was just a galley kitchen?

Yeah. Then we would come in and there was a metal folding table that we’d pull out—and that would be our contribution, was unfolding that and pushing it up against the regular dining room table.

And then for half of the seating we would shove a daybed up to the side, so that’s where half of us would sit, which was really convenient because if you ate a lot, you could roll backwards and fall asleep and then watch WTTG Channel 5 afterwards.

I feel like the movie The Birds was always on.

Did you live in the suburbs or the city?

In the suburbs, in Bethesda.

Did you ever get to see your grandmother during the week, or were you guys both too busy?

Yeah, my mother would take us to the store—sometimes just to say hi, but we bought all our clothes there, too, so there was a 20 percent discount.

Did she help you choose them?

Sometimes she would, or else my mother and me—and one or both of my brothers, depending on who my mother was bringing—would find stuff and then Momma would have to come downstairs to actually sign. She was in the china and crystal department.

“She was constantly moving forward doing stuff. She wasn’t paralyzed ever, like so many of us are, by neurosis and worry.”

As hardworking as she was, she wasn’t a hard-ass. I remember once her saying—[and] we kind of all gasped—that if she saw someone who looked like they didn’t have money slip something into their bag, if it was a small enough item, she would say nothing.

So she basically was condoning, allowing people to shoplift. And I feel like we’re out of the woods at this point—the statute of limitations is up, so none of us is liable for her abetting shoplifting.

This was toward the end of her time there.

To me the whole idea of a wedding registry seemed so complicated … to think of my grandmother now using a computer from the early 80s, a big IBM … and it seemed like they were doing impossibly technical work in some lab somewhere.

I remember it well and thinking, “My God, this seems so complicated.”

She was good.

But she loved working so much that once she fell from a stepladder and sprained her wrist and she didn’t report it … she paid out of pocket so that it wouldn’t be reported.

You’ve got to hand it to Woodies. There was a woman in the greeting card department who must have been 100. It’s kind of great.

What happened to make her stop working at 87? Did she get sick?

No, she didn’t get sick. I think it was just time for her to stop, and she quickly got really, really bored.

That would have been 1992. She stopped working in 1992.

How long did she live after that?

She lived until 2001.

That’s a long time to be bored.

Yeah, and much of it she was sick, because she … this sounds comical almost now, but my father got her a set of weights so she could watch exercise routines on television—Velcro weights for her ankles and wrists—and she hurt her back, I think maybe using the ankle weights.

And I’m not sure what the problem was; I hope for her sake it wasn’t a cracked vertebra or something, but for her to say that she was in pain meant she was really in pain. And she just kept taking Tylenol with codeine.

And older people can’t handle that because of the acetaminophen or something, and your kidneys can’t process it as well when you’re older.

And so there was a chain reaction and she did real damage to her liver. All sorts of things happened, but she was in such great health that she was able to live for years past that, and one of my aunts took care of her.

Did she move in with your aunt?

She did, and that was another thing that was extremely painful for her: to leave her apartment. That’s one thing that I’ve learned doing this show, is older people, I mean … seniors don’t like to change their living circumstances unless absolutely necessary, and she really loved living independently …

Mo makes lasagna with David Pearson, the chef for the Los Angeles Dodgers, on an episode of My Grandmother’s Ravioli. David raised his granddaughter himself because her parents couldn’t.

She lived to 95. She lived independently until that accident, until she got sick because of all that Tylenol. And that was in 1996 that that happened, so for about four to five years.

Those are your dad’s parents. Did you know your mom’s parents?

My mother’s father died in 1948 and my grandmother … I always liked the fact that my mother is Colombian and she’s from a family that’s pretty distinguished in Colombia—a lot of writers, journalists, and politicians—and my grandmother on that side wasn’t a snob at all.

It’s one of these situations where it was a family that was somewhat known but then lost all their money, and so I think she ended up working at one point, I think in a soup kitchen.

But I always liked—it always meant a lot to me that my mother’s relatives from Colombia were in awe of my American grandmother. I loved that, because even though they were considered of a certain class in Colombia …

And they all had college degrees.

Yeah, they were all really educated. My mother’s brother was the Colombian ambassador to Sweden, to China, and then to East Germany. One of her other brothers wrote a very highly regarded biography of Che Guevara.

But it would not be an overstatement to say they paid homage, they would come to Woodies to kind of see Mrs. Rocca—and she was “Mrs. Rocca.” But it was great because they got that she was a really special person.

Did you get to see your maternal grandmother much?

Yeah, a lot, and she would come and stay with us.

Was she living in Colombia all this time?

Yeah, but Latins are really great at overstaying their welcomes. It’s crazy. They stay forever. And so she would come and it was great but she would come … I think one time she stayed in our house for three months.

And my two grandmothers got along really, really well. I think they got each other; they had a real connection even though they were from vastly different cultures and backgrounds.

What do you think the basis of their connection was?

I think maybe a kind of a no-nonsense work ethic.

I think that might have been it because Mama U, which is what we called her … again, I think that she had been in a situation where she had a bunch of kids she had to raise doing whatever she could, so maybe that was the connection. I’m not sure.

But my Colombian grandmother was very funny, and I remember once we went to Woodies and we went to that greeting card department. The 100-year-old woman wasn’t working that day; it was a much younger woman.

And my grandmother—whose English was not great—she wanted customer service. And so she said in a highly dramatic voice, she wailed, “I’m a poor blind Colombian woman, I’m a poor blind Colombian woman,” and the young sales clerk rushed over and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, ma’am. How can I help you?”

It was really audacious [and] she was really funny.

But they got along; they were fast friends. They got along really well.

When did your mom’s mother live until?

She lived until 1987 … she was 85 when she died. She was born in 1902.

Your parents were from such different backgrounds. How did they meet?

My father loved Washington, D.C. He fell in love with it when he came in the 1950s. And then my mother was staying with a cousin who was really sociable, Cecilia, who was the type of person who just met everybody right away in whatever situation she was in.

And so my mother was much shyer, but Cecilia had met my father, and there was a social circle there. And so I don’t know how many Latin women were in it or what, but then my mother just ended up meeting my father in D.C. when she was staying with this cousin.

What did your dad do for a living?

He ran a company that still exists called Transemantics, which was a company based around language and education. So it did a few things: it was an English language school for foreign students; it was a translation service for the government and private sector.

At one point, he really wanted to start a prep school, and so that was largely based on the classics and kind of fundamentals. And that worked for a while but that was very hard … and then [the company did] test prep and things like that.

My mother was the registrar at the English language school for a long time because so many of the students were from Latin America.

The whole thing still exists. A young Swedish guy bought the company and I think he’s done really well with it.

Do you feel that some of your qualities come from your dad’s mother?

Even though I could be a real brat as a teenager, I think that certainly looking back on it now, she really commanded respect.

And so I think that the way that I see these grandparents and how I relate to them … because I loved my grandmother, but I also really respected her … I prefer to see the grandparents as kind of on a level above me with something to teach.

Mo tastes an enchilada he made with Olga Gonzalez of San Mateo, Calif.

Mo tastes an enchilada he made with grandmother Olga Gonzalez of San Mateo, Calif. In the same episode, Olga’s husband, Carlos, teaches Mo to make margaritas.

I’m not interested in sort of like … I’m not sure that I quite connect with the idea of grandparents as … just kind of friends like on the same level. I’m very comfortable seeing grandparents as maybe a step above, as people to learn from.

I can’t imagine ever using inappropriate language around a grandparent unless that grandparent was such a wild character and sort of did it himself or herself and kind of asked for it.

I still want to be … maybe it was [because of] the respect that my own grandmother commanded that I still want to be seen as a nice boy by grandparents.

It seems to me that on most TV shows, grandparents are either played for laughs or they’re ignored. Those are the two choices.

Totally.

For that reason, did you have any trouble pitching a different kind of show about grandparents, a show that doesn’t make fun of them?

I think it surprised some people that this wasn’t a show where we went in and I was rolling my eyes or making fun of the grandparents.

That was never the intention and that’s not how the show’s played out. I feel a lot of satisfaction that it’s worked on those terms, that it’s worked by respecting the grandparents.

I don’t know if [the network] had any concerns … they may have had concerns that … there’s this conventional wisdom that young people don’t want to watch older people, and I’ve always known that that’s nonsense.

One of the reasons I knew was when I was on The Daily Show I did a piece about a guy named Herman Abrams in New Jersey who had a museum in his basement dedicated to himself, to his own life. Every turkey bone from every Thanksgiving he’d eaten was displayed on a wall next to all the pizza stands from pizzas that had been delivered.

“There’s this conventional wisdom that young people don’t want to watch older people, and I’ve always known that that’s nonsense.”

And you just fell in love with this guy. And sure, it was eccentric, but here I was on the hippest show on the planet and the studio audience went bananas.

And the piece didn’t mock him.

That gave me the confidence to know that it’s simplistic and dead wrong to say that young people won’t watch older people.

And a lot of the audience for Ravioli is pretty young.

Young women, especially, are watching our show. So I’ll say that that gave me the confidence to say, “I know that this can work, and not with young sexy grandparents but with grandparents as old as 96.”

One of our most successful episodes is Clara, who’s 94. I mean, frankly, a lot of our grandparents are actually great-grandparents and getting back to that nebulous thing that I was trying to describe … I want to believe that there are these people, and maybe because I’m searching for answers, honestly, I want to believe that there are people who are on a different echelon, at a different level of wisdom.

And yeah, so I want to be able to look up to and respect the people that I’m interviewing on this show.

Mo helps Clara Corrado, 94, of Philadelphia make food to ship to her triplet grandsons, who are all in the Air Force.

Mo helps Clara Corrado, 94, of Philadelphia make Italian food to ship to her triplet grandsons, who serve in the Air Force.

I don’t want it to be all, “We’re on the same level, we’re just sort of hip grandparents hanging out and shooting the shit or whatever”—which I wouldn’t say that.

I’m very comfortable in that position.

I don’t know what their concerns were.

I was thinking the network might have been concerned that the show was going to be too earnest.

They may have been and they did tell me, they said, “Look, you know this isn’t the most original idea in the world,” and it isn’t. I mean, cooking with grandparents.

Well, it’s simple.

It’s simple.

But no one’s done it. Not that I know of.

Exactly. That’s a good point.

I don’t know. I will tell you this: I know that they gave me a pilot I think frankly in part just to keep me happy, because I was doing another series for them.

And I know that they were surprised that it worked as well as it did. Why they were surprised I don’t know exactly.

The show often features grandparents with incredibly moving life stories. Can you mention some grandparents who have touched you especially deeply?

There are so many.

I think Miyoko, in Season Two.

Is she the one who raised her kids in the projects?

Yeah. Her story was very moving.

Can you summarize it?

Well, she was raised outside of Nagasaki; she saw the mushroom cloud from the bombing of Nagasaki.

She learned to forage for her own food—she had to forage for her own food. She knew how to do it before.

She told me a story we didn’t have room to include where there was a geography teacher and after the bombing, each day he’d just look sicker and sicker, until one day he just wasn’t there. And no one said anything.

And she married this African-American soldier, an American soldier, and that was already a bold thing to do—it was bold enough to marry an American, but to marry an African American … And she was in love with the guy but by marrying him, whether it was simply because of his nationality or, I suspect, his nationality and his race, she was instantly disowned.

Mo and Miyoko McPherson with miso soup. Miyoko grew up in Nagasaki, Japan and married an African-American soldier stationed there. They had five kids, whom she ended up raising alone in a housing project in Philadelphia.

Mo and Miyoko McPherson with miso soup they made in her kitchen. The main course was mackerel shioyaki.

She doesn’t have a plot in her family cemetery. I mean, she doesn’t exist; she’s essentially been annulled as a person.

And then she came to the United States and I think this happened with a lot of war brides—her husband’s personality seemed to change when they got back, and she says he expected her to wait on him hand and foot, and that wasn’t going to happen.

And so eventually she ended up with five kids that she was raising in the projects of Philadelphia, and she was a world away. From rural Japan to being a single mom with five biracial children in a South Philly project.

And she couldn’t have been more different—her story couldn’t have been more different from my grandmother’s, but they both had that same kind of twinkle and that extraordinary lack of self-pity.

“I love when people defy stereotypes because stereotypes may exist for a reason, but there’s always more to the story.” 

I don’t want to bust on our own generation and the generation below us—it’s too easy—but it’s also kind of irresistible. Because I’ll just speak for myself: I complain about so many things and then you talk to a person like that and, I mean, I should have real problems.

That was moving. I found, boy, so many of them moving.

I found Sonny and Janice, the Seventh-day Adventists … I love when people defy stereotypes because stereotypes may exist for a reason, but there’s always more to the story. And it’s the wrinkles that I’m interested in, literally and figuratively.

And no grandparents had ever really spoken much about sex and Sonny and Janice, fairly unprompted—[they’re] very devout Seventh-day Adventists, they’re in church three or four hours every Saturday, which is their Sabbath—Sonny was suddenly brought to tears thinking about couples who get married and stop having sex.

Mo harvests sap from a maple tree with grandfather Sonny Young of Rutland, Vt. Later, they made pancakes and bread in Sonny’s kitchen.

And he described in the most beautiful way … he spoke so beautifully about how sex should be something to look forward to at the end of the day between a husband and wife, and it was just so beautiful.

And there’s this stereotype that religious people are somehow frigid or have problems with sex. And boy, they seemed to have a pretty healthy sex life, and I loved that.

And I also frankly thought it was really kind of great hearing about his first time seeing a woman naked, which was also the first and only time he ever had a drink. And he had a couple of drinks, which was enough for him to be pretty out of it, and he was in a strip club … this was a memory from 50 years ago.

I know it’s weird to be moved by that, but there was something sweet about him describing seeing a naked woman for the first time and then soon thereafter talking about his own sex life with his wife.

And I’ll tell you, they both look great. That may be the reason; I mean, they both look great.

Also, there was a Polish grandmother in Season One, and I may be the only one that was this moved by this, but it was a very funny episode with four widows.

And Mary, the main grandmother, while we were making tomato soup she suddenly had a memory of when she was a little girl and her father would take her and her brother down to Macy’s—this was probably in the 1940s—down to Macy’s at Christmastime, so that they could just ride the escalators, the wooden escalators, up and down, up and down.

And she worked herself up into such laughter; she was in stitches at the memory of it. And that almost made me cry, because it was so beautiful and so simple what she was describing … [she felt] sheer unalloyed joy at this great memory of her father taking her brother and her down [to Macy’s]. It was pretty great.

It sounds like these grandparents have really moved you and probably changed you.

I’ve always been resistant … as somebody who is currently single and does not have children and somebody who has spent a lot of time at work, I have kind of bristled when people have said, “On your death bed, you won’t be wishing you’d worked more.”

But maybe I bristled at that because I know on some level it’s true. But these grandparents demonstrate how it’s true in a way that’s not preachy.

“The grandparents I’ve been dealing with … they generally don’t care what other people think of them, and that’s just a great place to be. I aspire to that.”

I don’t like when people say to me … “You know, work isn’t the most important thing.” And I know this, but I’d rather hear it from someone who’s lived it. I know that sounds weird and convoluted.

And I also think there are a few things about them that give me … there are many things that I get out of this. It does indeed seem true that toward the end of your life things crystallize, and you really figure out the two or three things that really matter in life to you. I also love … at least the grandparents I’ve been dealing with, that we’ve had on this show, they generally don’t care what other people think of them, and that’s just a great place to be.

I aspire to that.

Supposedly that starts to happen after 50.

Is that right? Interesting.

It’s great, it’s really wonderful. Because with me, it ebbs and flows.

There have been times where I surprised myself at just saying, “Sorry, this is who I am; this is what I think.” And then you go back and you kind of oscillate a little bit …

And you don’t need to be brassy to not care what people think. Some of these grandparents are brassy, sure, and it’s funny. But others are quietly so kind of self-assured and comfortable in their skin.

Do you get the impression that when they were younger they weren’t necessarily?

Oh, sure. I think especially—I mean, this is a big generalization to make—but I think the grandmothers, maybe for cultural reasons and generational reasons, and just like my own grandmother … that some of them really came into their own later. I don’t know that I can say that with utter confidence because we’ve done fewer grandfathers.

And look, at any age you find that people are complicated, right?

June Ploch and Sally Starin are nurses in Montclair, N.J. They helped a single mother raise her kids and consider them their grandchildren.

June Ploch and Sally Starin of Montclair, N.J., both nurses, have been together for nearly 50 years. They helped a struggling single mother raise her kids and consider the kids their grandchildren. Here, they’re teaching Mo to roast and stuff a chicken.

I guess the other thing that I like is that these grandparents are very self-assured in their complexity.

So for instance, June and Sally have been partnered for 47 years and they came together at a time when it was very difficult to be a lesbian couple, much more difficult to be a lesbian couple. But they also go to Mass every week, and I love that they’re not apologizing for what to many would seem like a contradiction.

People are complicated and they should be allowed to be complicated, and they should actually be celebrated for being complicated.

So there was in fact nothing stereotypical about them.

And I affectionately call Sally the lesbian Archie Bunker. Even her opinions on childrearing, which June didn’t share at all … So Sally said, “I don’t know, I kinda think every kid should have a mother and a father on hand.”

I mean, it’s a very politically incorrect thing to say.

“People are complicated and they should be allowed to be complicated, and they should actually be celebrated for being complicated.”

But you know, try judging Sally. This is a woman who brought in, with her wife, her partner, they’re not legally married … brought in a family of economically disadvantaged Dominicans.

They’ve really walked the walk of good, decent people, but their lives and personalities and opinions don’t line up neatly in the way that a lot of people want. And I just, I love that, I love those wrinkles.

I love that Freddie and Ilene, the Japanese American couple … I certainly love that Freddie, on camera it sort of occurred to him that maybe the reason he spent 30 years as a decorated Air Force pilot was because he spent a couple of his early years in an internment camp.

As he said, “Maybe I wanted to prove something.”

Since you’re looking for grandparents who don’t care what people think of them and don’t care about fame, are they hard to find?

They are hard to find. They’re hard to find, they’re hard to cast.

With two exceptions, we’ve found people who aren’t really all that interested on being on TV. You obviously want someone who’s willing to be on TV.

You get a lot of tapes from people who do want to be on TV, right?

Yeah. In the beginning—it was kind of funny, I think we had one grandmother who was interviewing and then it became apparent that she didn’t really know how to cook anything.

And then the casting director said in the interview, “Do you cook?”

She said, “You know what? I don’t. But I do sing jazz.” She started singing jazz.

And look, it was really funny, but no. I think she was thinking that maybe it was the X Factor or something.

Generally the better ones … we’ve had great luck with people who were nominated by their neighbors or their kids or their grandkids.

It’s the grandmother who says, “What’s a maraca?”

Peggy, the Irish grandmother … I think she said, “What’s a maraca?” and then the casting director said, “No, it’s Mo Rocca, he’s the host of the show. Why do you want to be on TV with him?”

Then in a very thick brogue, she said, “I don’t! You people came to me.”

And of course we said, “She’s cast.”

Just in the same way I want the grandparent to take us to another place, I don’t want the grandparent trying to come to our turf.

I want the grandparent to make us go to them and … I tend to favor, I mean, there’s something especially great about really super-long marriages because I think that some of these grandparents exist as a fantasy, a really terrific fantasy.

When you see the Napolitanos, who’ve been married for 63 years … when they started to dance, and she’s not very well, she’s not in physically great shape … and boy, this is the first time in American history where more people are living alone than with other people.

I think the show works when it’s aspirational, because at this point people who have been married for 62 years are almost exotic. And it’s beautiful.

Relatability is maybe a little overrated [by the television industry]. I think you want somebody that makes you go, “Oh, my gosh.”

I said to my producing partner, Gideon Evans, who is so super talented, and we really are in sync on this … we were saying the show is sort of subversively traditional.

Because something like a 62-year marriage is so traditional it’s exotic at this point.

You stay in touch with the grandparents a little bit, right? Didn’t you write each of them a handwritten note this past Christmas?

I still have a few more to write actually, but I’ve gotten amazing letters back … it’s great. My mother loves to come over here and read them.

I wanted to ask about your mom as a grandma. Her only grandchild lives in Italy, right? Your brother’s son?

Yeah.

I guess she doesn’t get to see him that often.

She went over for Christmas. She sees them about once a year; she’ll see her grandson for probably a couple of weeks. She loves it.

I mean, eventually I’d like to … I better get on it.

My friend P.J. O’Rourke, who’s such a great guy, he said, “You should have kids, but get partnered first. Don’t do it on your own.”

Anyway. So I’ve got to figure that out.

I have to go get some kids. I’m an Amazon Prime member; would that help?

It might. Do you have a close relationship with your nephew, or do you see him too seldom?

I mean, I love my nephew. I probably see him like once every two years. Look, I don’t know what the plans are, but hopefully he’ll come to college in the United States.

I know your father died a few years ago, and that since then your mom has been spending part of each year in Manhattan. How has that been?

It’s been good. She’s deciding if she wants to move to New York.

Yeah. She loves her house in Bethesda, and the D.C. area. I don’t know. Winters are not easy I think for older people when you’re in the suburbs. It’s a little bit tricky … And cities are good for that.

How old is she now?

She would never let me say.

I know you don’t have much time to cook, but I’m wondering what your favorite restaurants are here in New York and around the country, since you travel so much.

The restaurant that I love in New York—I’ve gone there for years—is Cookshop. It’s one of those restaurants that manages to still feel special to me, and it’s not super fancy. It’s on 10th Avenue and 20th Street.

I’ve always liked it. It feels kind of sexy—sexy and special. There’s something about it that I really like.

And elsewhere, boy …

There’s no place that you return to again and again, like in LA?

Strangely enough, I’m very easy to please foodwise.

Well, I shouldn’t say that. I’ve become picky about my steaks, and I should probably eat fewer of them.

But I can’t really think of anything. It’s weird. It’s strange that I have a cooking show and I never cook nor care all that much about food.

You like to eat.

I do like to eat, and I eat quite a lot.

By the way, I should probably really learn … How important is it to know how to cook if you’re going to have kids?

Not important at all in New York. You just have to know how to mix formula the first year.

Speaking of grandparent stories that are amazing, we were so lucky with the first episode of the first regular season … with Ruth.

Because in a way, she almost became like a godmother of the series. I’ve kept in touch with her, and her family is really great.

She really showed how you don’t have to be like a TV person … you don’t have to want your own TV show to just be fabulous on TV and just full of life and funny and comfortable.

Ruth Teig survived the Holocaust and became a teacher, mother, and grandmother.

Ruth Teig survived the Holocaust in Poland and came to the United States at age 11. She’s now a grandmother and math teacher in Scarsdale, N.Y. Here, she’s teaching Mo to prepare gefilte fish.

The other thing I’ve learned … maybe this is too much of a TV-centric thing … there’s a conventional wisdom that young people don’t want to watch older people on TV; there’s also a conventional wisdom, also wrong, that older people are going to be stiff and uncomfortable on camera.

And I think it’s because they’re not caring about what other people think of them—but they’re actually much more natural. The stakes are low; they’re not thinking, “Oh my gosh, if I screw this up I’m not going to get an MTV spinoff.”

Ruth really showed that. She just was so … she was who she is on camera so effortlessly, and of course her story was so dramatic, what she survived in the Holocaust, and so that gave us a lot of confidence that also just like in real life you can switch from funny to heartbreaking and back very quickly.

Life is not divided into half-hour comedy and hour-long drama. It’s nice to have a show with people who just like in real life, just like in everyday life, can switch from a serious topic to a funny one without a commercial break.

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