Secret Recipes Revealed

Johnny Carrabba spills the beans in cookbook expected to be ready for the holidays

Johnny Carrabba spills the beans in new cookbook, ready for holidays

Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016
Johnny Carrabba, center, works with chef Rafael Morales and Carraba's president Hieu Nguyen on dishes for the cookbook. Photo by Shelby Hodge
Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016
Photographer assistant Angela Sides works with Hieu Nguyen on slicing into the chicken pot pie. Photo by Shelby Hodge
Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016 Ronnie Atnipp
Carrabba's executive assistant Loren Allardyce and book editor Roni Atnipp at work in the photography studio. Photo by Shelby Hodge
Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016
Chef Rafael Morales, Johnny Carrabba, Hieu Nguyen. Photo by Shelby Hodge
Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016
Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016
Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016 Ronnie Atnipp
Johnny Carrabba cookbook, 5/2016

Hold on to your apron strings home cooks, Johnny Carrabba is revealing the recipe for the signature parmesan dressing that Carrabba's regulars have been clamoring for from the first day that he and Damian Mandola opened the popular restaurant almost 30 years ago.

He's also sharing his grandmother's chicken soup recipe and his grandfather's oh-so-secret recipe for fennel sausage.

Those are just a few of the family culinary formulas that the wildly successful restaurateur will be sharing when his 30th anniversary cookbook hits the shelves in November. While the title is yet undecided, it's full steam ahead in order to meet deadlines that will have the book in customers hands in time for the holidays. 

On a recent afternoon in the photography studio of Debora Smail, Carrabba and his team, including veteran book editor Roni Atnipp, were in the midst of the project. Chicken pot pie and tortilla soup, familiar to Grace's diners; chicken fried steak; and chicken soup were on the photography menu as Carrabba's president Hieu Nguyen and top chef Rafael Morales prepared the dishes in time to take advantage of the natural light in the studio.

The cookbook, Carrabba says, was the outgrowth of his tradition of giving customers and staff a special gift with each new decade of business. "Coming up on our 30th anniversary, this is really something to celebrate," he said. "I really would like to have a nice gift to hand to my good customers and to the employees that really made this thing happen, to have a memory of  those 30 years."

Carrabba and his executive assistant Loren Allardyce started with graphic designer Linda Limb and she suggested "the franchise player," as Carrabba said, "Roni Atnipp and that's when everything started to get organized." Atnipp has been the editorial force behind numerous publishing projects including the Houston Junior League award-winning Stop and Smell the Rosemary cookbook, the Latin Women's Initiative cookbook Latin Flavors: A Taste of Our Heritage, as well as books for the Coronado Club, Luby's, Kinkaid, and more.

The book will contain 107 recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts and including everything in between, all from the Carrabba family of restaurants. "It's not just Italian recipes," Atnipp said. "It's fried chicken, mashed potatoes, hamburgers, tacos, chicken fried steak. It's all of the favorite recipes. Really and truly he is not holding anything back. He's giving all of his recipes out which is incredible."

"Ultimately, what I'm really proud of with this cookbook," Carrabba says, "is that it's going to be a gift from my heart to the people who made it happen for 30 years and that includes co-workers, employees and a lot of great customers that believed in us."

In addition to recipes, the book will be chock full of lessons in business, in the art of the deal, life lessons, secrets to running a successful family business, etc. In Carrabba's estimation, his key to success has been focusing on a "neighborhood family run restaurant with roots to the food and real heartfelt hospitality." For the record, Carrabba's opened its doors for business on Dec. 26, 1986.

"It's going to be beautiful, classic, stand the test of time and useable cookbook," Atnipp said. "So although it's going to be a gift and hopefully people will put it in their kitchens and on their coffee tables, we really hope they will sit down and cook and try some of the recipes and enjoy what Johnny and his team have created."

The project has a charitable component as well. Both the Rise School and the Make A Wish Foundation will benefit from the book's proceeds.