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24 Apr 2015 7:10 PM | VALERIA GRANATA

Heroes do not exist only in movies. I had the honor to interview one such hero on April 17, 2015: Sir Bruno Serato, the owner and chef of the famous Anaheim White House restaurant. He was one of the 10 CNN Heroes of the Year 2011, knighted by the then Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. He also received the prestigious Montale Award in April 2015. I sat with Sir Bruno Serato in his gorgeous restaurant and asked him a few questions, as I really wanted to get to know better the upcoming IALA Guest Speaker at the next IALA event on May 20, 2015.

“The Italian American Lawyers Association theme of this year is to discover the Real Italian American” What is your story?”
“I came to California when I was 25 years old to learn English and to visit my sister who married a Californian guy. It was 1980. I thought it was a great idea to learn English since I already knew Italian and French, and to go back to Italy with speaking English proficiently. Well, that never happened. I realized instead my dream to open a restaurant: I started working as a busboy and I also peeled potatoes and carrots. After 4 years I was promoted to Director of the restaurant I worked for, and after 7 years I bought my own restaurant.”

“What do you think about the stereotype of the Italians in America? How did you deal with it during your career?”
“Americans love Italians. When I first came here, Californians accepted me with open arms. I will always be grateful for their hospitality.” He continued, smiling: “I had $200 in my pocket. With that money I bought this restaurant in 1987: an American man trusted me and relied on my honesty. He gave me a chance to show him that I could have been a great restaurateur, I paid the rent for 3 years and I did not disappoint him. The restaurant then became mine.”

“You are a CNN Hero because of your humanitarian work. You feed 1200 children with free meals every day. Can you tell me how did you start?”
“It was April 18, 2005. My mom was visiting me when we learned of ‘motel kids.’ They are the children of those families that cannot afford to rent a house and thus live in motels. The problem is that motel rooms do not have a kitchen, so children have to wait to go to school to eat because their moms cannot cook for them. My mom told me to cook pasta for them. So, that night I served pasta for free to one child. Now I cook for 1200 children every day, included children of unprivileged families. Last week we celebrated the 1 millionth meal served.” I was amazed by his words, so when I asked him where he found the time, he answered: “If you want to do charity, you will always find the time. You cannot procrastinate.”

“It is the first time that I speak with a Knight. You received the order of Knighthood in 2013: what does it mean to you?”
“Being knighted means to me that there is an Italian somewhere in the world who makes the world a better place to live.  This represents the Italian culture.” I was curious to learn more about the ceremony, as Sir Serato added: “Counsel General Giuseppe Perrone noticed me in 2011, when I received the award of CNN Hero of the Year. He wanted to meet me and he was impressed with what I was doing. He caused the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to knight me. I was knighted at the Casa Italiana, in Los Angeles.”

“Among your several awards, the Montale Award. It must have been a great honor to receive it.”
“The Montale Award means a lot to me. Montale was a poet, a journalist and a traveler: this is the reason why the Award has been called ‘Out of Home.’ I was honored to receive the Montale Award in April 2015 because of the humanitarian work that I am doing for the children. This Award reflects our Italian culture: we travel and we always want to make everyone happy.”

“Tell me about the Caterina’s Club and its Welcome Home project?”
“The Caterina’s Club is the charitable organization founded in the name of my mamma, and the Welcome Home Project is dedicated to her. When I went to Italy to visit, my mom was the happiest person on Earth. She always told me: “Welcome home!” I think that every child should have a home to come back to. For the unprivileged families, the hardest thing is to qualify. So, if here is a family with 2 or more children and the parents have worked for at least 6 months, the Caterina’s Club cover for them the first and last month’s rent. They can live in a house, not in a motel room.” He proudly added: “As of today, we gave a home to 80 families, meaning more than 500 people.”

“What is the role of the Italian Culture in your life and career?”
He smiled: “Everything started because of my mom. Every Italian mom is the same as mine. She always said to me: ‘Mangia, mangia, mangia! (Eat, eat, eat!)’ I laughed and I told him that my grandmother, nonna Maria, always repeats me the same thing. Sir Bruno then: “See? My mom represents all Italian moms. That was what she told me, eat. And all my humanitarian work comes from the Italian culture because everything you do is feeding the children.”

Valeria Granata

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