RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rutherford's Erica Russo grew up learning homemade cooking from her southern Italian grandparents, and after culinary school and learning and working abroad, she's brought her expanded knowledge home, to Matera's on Park.
From a young age, she learned how to make homemade pasta, dried sausages and sauce from scratch. She graduated from Rutherford High School in 2006 and, at her senior awards ceremony, received the Gourmet Award. Her teachers and peers also knew that her skill was not just a hobby.
Today, she's the general manager and executive chef of Matera's on Park, owned Mark Forte and Michael Finan. It's named after the Italian town that Forte's family both came from and where members still reside. It's been named the 2019 European Capital of Culture.
This Italian market and catering company was founded in August 2012, at the heart of Rutherford’s Restaurant Row, and Russo came on not long after it opened.
"It was kind of perfect, just a match made in heaven," Russo said.
She explained that she hadn't really wanted to go into the traditional restaurant business: she wanted to interact with people. Here, she gets to cook and also gets to watch people enjoy the food and educate them about the food and culture.
"Erica truly believes in our vision of combining old-world family recipes with today's advancements in the culinary world," Finan said.
We believe that, as purveyors of fine Italian products and prepared foods, it is our honor and privilege to serve our clients. Erica embodies that spirit every day.
Russo studied at the French Culinary Institute, taking its first-ever Italian program, "The Italian Experience." She studied the Florentine dialect, the metric system and classic culinary skills created by the dean of Italian Studies, Chef Cesare Casella.
After graduation, she expanded her palate and knowledge in Colorno, Parma, Italy.
She says she went to culinary school instead of a four-year school to find answers for what were, to her, fundamental questions. "I needed to know, why are we eating these foods at our family table?" she said.
"Why red wine with meats and dark sauces and why white wine with fish and citrus dishes? Why we find great joy in large portions and inviting as many people to Sunday dinner as possible."
And these thoughts of 10 years past inform her mission today, educating the public about Italian food and philosophy.
"Whether in the beautiful Italian market to pick up produce, milk, take-out or eat in, our goal is to provide fresh southern Italian cuisine," Finan said.
"From fresh mozzarella, spun every two hours, to the now-famous Chicken Vodka Parmigiana, you will travel back to Matera, Italy, with the authentic recipes from the old country that are sure to leave you with a smile."
Russo added that their decor is very "home" and welcoming, she said. "And you will only walk into Matera's on Park as a stranger once, then you become family.”