Pepe & Pants Take over the Big Apple!

The Food Emporium stores in NYC partner with these “Two Guys From Hoboken”

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One part Hollywood. Two parts Hoboken. A couple of lifelong pals from the neighborhood serve up all the ingredients of a Hollywood Blockbuster Story.

Joe Pantoliano, actor, and Rich Pepe, chef and restaurateur, grew up together in Hoboken, sitting around the kitchen table with their large Italian families, talking about food, “the American Dream” and making it big.

At age seventeen, Pantoliano left Hoboken for Manhattan with the idea of becoming a barber, but somehow he got sidetracked, waiting on tables and ending up as an actor, first on the stage and then in feature films and hit TV shows, ultimately fulfilling his dreams of becoming a success.

But he never forgot those moments around the kitchen table with family and friends and forty years later teamed up again with Pèpe, who had pursued his own dreams and a celebrity chef and successful restaurateur. Together they’ve cooked up a line of premium pasta sauces, offering a host of family-inspired recipes that “came over on the boat” with their Italian grandparents.

Recently, TASTE MAGAZINE sat down with the effervescent Pantoliano and Pèpe and talked about Joey’s career, the pasta sauces, and the charity they’ve set up to benefit those who suffer from the mental illness – a cause close to Joe and Peps heart.


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TASTE: You’ve worked with many great stage and screen actors during your career. Assemble your ideal cast for dinner.

PANTS: By my hand, I’ve been I over a hundred and eighty-five titles in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to be maybe…in seven memorable movies: Risky Business just enjoyed its twenty-fifth anniversary. Then La Bamba is coming up, Midnight Run is coming up. The Goonies is coming up. I think that I would love to get together with the cast of the Goonies, – that’s probably my favorite job of all time. Because Steven Spielberg was doing second unit…Dick Donner was shooting, Frank Marshall was shooting…So, that’s a dinner party I’d like to host. And of course, having Pèpe cooking for us!

TASTE: You’ve been in many, many big screen movies, TV movies and series over the years. What was your favorite role?

PANTS: I don’t want to jinx myself, but my favorite role is the one I haven’t gotten yet!

TASTE: Is there one line in your career that really sticks with you – a favorite movie line that you have?

PANTS: Yes, in Risky Business I tell Tom Cruise, “In a sluggish economy never, ever f**k with another man’s livelihood.” And I think that those are words to live by.

TASTE: Do you regret turning down any roles – the one that got away?

PANTS: You know, yeah sure, but those opportunities – you’ll get other opportunities. I totally believe that this career that I’ve been lucky enough to get, I had nothing to do with it. You know I believe that there are so many different elements that were in place and success is really preparation meeting opportunity. And I certainly prepared, I started out with all of these learning disabilities and graduated high school with a third grade reading level and so I had to overcome certain obstacles in order to be eligible for roles that would be desirable to play.

I remember making a prayer to God and asking God to give me the kind of career that I could have for thirty-five years. I didn’t want to be this five year wonder. You know, I knew that I was a character actor. I knew that I wasn’t a movie star and I prayed for the kind of career that I would earn me a living every year – that I could just make a living of acting and that’s all I wanted. And He’s given me that….I got my Screen Actor’s Guild Card in 1972 and I’ve been making a living as an actor since 1976. From 1976 to today I’ve made enough money to support my entire family. Well no, I’m really lying because now I’m in the tomato sauce business! [Laughs]

TASTE: What are the ingredients for a great movie role? We’re talking about your new sauce today, so let’s talk about the things that go into a great role.

PANTS: A good script…a good script and a good script! It’s got to be on the page. If you’re successful and it’s not on the page, you got really lucky.

TASTE: We’re making a movie about your new pasta sauce what should we call it?

PEPE: Two Guys from Hoboken!

PANTS: You know there’s a magic to this that’s different than making a jar of tomato sauce…This is a sauce that’s been on kitchen tables for the past hundred years. These are sauces that were born out of necessity. Our people are, you know, proud people that didn’t have a lot of money and with tomatoes and olive oil you can virtually make a nice staple for your dish. You had mean – you throw meat in there…I remember walking through the hallways of an apartment building that you could smell the ragu cooking starting on a Saturday morning and through Sunday afternoon and the pork and the sausages and the meat balls.

TASTE: Describe your perfect meal.

PANTS: You know, I’m a simple guy when it comes to food. I don’t make a big deal about food. I go around to restaurants and taste people’s menus like so many of my friends do…It’s always been, for me, about the company. When I was a kid, a plate of macaroni, some really good Italian bread, provolone, sopressata, salami, pepperoni, roasted peppers, olives, you know, all served family-style.

TASTE: Hope and Crosby Lennon and McCartney, Pèpe and Pants. What’s the secret of this dynamic culinary duo?

PANTS: Pep and I have been together since we bussed tables and booked numbers in the high school cafeteria.

[Laughs].

PEPE: Well, I think we’re more of a Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid kind of relationship.

You know – two guys who go down the road and we were getting ourselves in and out of trouble is more like it.

TASTE: Tell us a little about your foundation, No Kidding, Me too!

There’s a philanthropic side to the sauce, right?

PEPE: Our sauce and future food products will be like a new version of Newman’s Own. All profits will go to help bring awareness to mental illnesses and diseases. My family is involved with and support a few select charities, but for this project I am in full support of Joey’s dream.

PANTS: I started No Kidding, Me too! when I was discriminated against once I was diagnosed with clinical depression. There was a time in my life where I had everything that I hoped and whished for and thought that was going to make me a better person. If I was rich and famous, I would feel this way. If I married a beautiful model, I would feel this was. If I had children, I would feel this way. And the more I accumulated, the better I felt inside.

So when I was diagnosed, I saw the family resemblance. My mother was with this disease, my sister and my son, and myself…we’ve all struggled with clinical depression and we’ve all been professionally treated for it. But when I was taking care of myself was the first time in my life where the insurance company wouldn’t insure me on a movie. For the years and years where I was so depressed that I couldn’t sometimes function except with acting I could always take this depression and sublimate it through a role, but because I was taking a medicine, the insurance company said, “Well, we won’t insure him because he takes an antidepressant. So if he had a nervous breakdown while we’re making this movie Joey is going to have to pay for that nervous breakdown – not us.”

So I said I take Lipitor ‘cause I have a history of heart disease. Why are you insuring my heart but not my brain? And they couldn’t answer that.

So I went out in public and created this amazing organization with the support of people like James Cameron and Ang Lee and Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Downey Jr. Go to nokiddingmetoo.org and see our Advisory Board list. People like that, that are saying we want to use the light of our celebrity shine on the darkness of discrimination and bigotry when it comes to this particular disease.

If you have a heart attack right now, they’ll treat you for it. If you have a bad heart, your insurance coverage will put in a stint or give you a bypass, they look at that as preventive medicine. But if you are depressed and you want to be able to treat that depression by a series of top therapy, and exercise by going to a gym, they won’t pay for that…

TASTE: How can our readers learn more and what can they to help?

PANTS: They can simply go right to the website: nokiddingmetoo.org. They can go on Facebook, they can Tweet [on Twitter]. We’re embracing new media like never before. It had given me a whole new career as a filmmaker. I never thought I would enjoy this, but the ease in which it’s like I have a camera and an iPhone and we can communicate live to thirty million as we speak.

TASTE: Tell us about your latest project – a special documentary that you’ve been working on?

PANTS: We have our No Kidding Me Too which’s going out in the video market in April and on PBS in May. Right now you can get it at The Food Emporium on 59th and 1st (Bridgemarket) and also on Amazon.

Our goal is to make talking about the disease of mental illness as cool and trendy as you would about erectile dysfunction. There is no shame in that…there’s no shame if you have asthma. If you break your leg, there’s no shame. But if you cut your leg off, now there’s a stigma attached to that. It’s all about how we look at ourselves…

TASTE: “A Meal & A Movie” is the category. Pick a Joe Pantoliano flick and pair it with a pasta.

PANTS: Well, we did a movie with Marcia Gay Harden a couple of years ago called Canvas and I really loved that movie. I recently got into whole wheat pastas…so some nice whole wheat pasta like penne macaroni. I love the word macaroni, I think it has dropped out of our culture…Actually, there is an episode of the Sopranos when they go to Florence and order “macaroni” and the guy – Paulie Walnut – remember that episode? The guy is going: “Don’t they speak Italian around here?” So you know it’s a nice a macaroni with the Pèpe & Pnats Arrabbiata Sauce. My favorite is the Arrabbiata. Although we call it the gravy!

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