By Paula Katinas
Right off the bat, Allison Robicelli warns readers of “Robicelli’s A Love Story, With Cupcakes,” the new cookbook she co-authored with her husband Matt, that they will have to get used to reading lots of curse words on its pages. Within the first few pages of the book, Robicelli makes no secret of the fact that she is wont to use obscenities.
But despite the salty language, Bay Ridge residents Allison and Matt Robicelli have a sweet and touching story to tell.
The couple, both renowned chefs, have become famous throughout the northeast for their delicious cupcakes that are sold in restaurants, through their highly successful wholesale business, and in a new bakery, Robicelli’s, at 9009 Fifth Ave. in Bay Ridge. They have now put their life story into book form.
“Robicelli’s A Love Story, With Cupcakes,” published by Viking Books Studio, contains 50 “decidedly grownup” cupcake recipes. The cupcake flavors include fried chicken and waffles (really!), root beer float, banana Nutella, as well as cupcakes named after Dom DeLuise and all four stars of Allison’s favorite television show, “The Golden Girls.”
Along with the mouth-watering recipes, there’s a running narrative about the couple’s life together and how they have overcome adversity to become the king and queen of desserts.
The format is one that Allison Robicelli likes. “I’ve been reading cookbooks since I was a child, and have collected them through my life. My favorites always tell a story in addition to giving recipes, so you have some context on where they came from and what makes them special,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Allison said she thought long and hard about which of the hundreds of recipes she and her husband have invented to include in the book.
“All of our cupcakes contain multiple components aside from just cake and frosting. We make our own compotes, puddings, candies. Just about everything you’ll find in our bakery is completely made from scratch. I wanted to make sure that lots of different recipes were covered so that people would be able to have a berth of recipes to pull from if they decided they just wanted to make the components rather than the whole cupcake. So I tried to make sure there was only one cupcake that had salted caramel, one with pudding, one with this cookie, one with that candy, etc,” she told the Eagle.
Matt used to work at Lutece, the famous French restaurant. Allison has appeared on “Chopped” and other Food Network shows.
Her reason for writing the book? She said she wants people to get in the kitchen and try their hand at baking.
“I think a lot of people have the misconception that what we do is magic, in more ways than one. You think you can open a cookbook, follow a recipe to a T, and then, voila, like magic, what you made looks exactly like the book. It almost never turns out that way, because it’s not as much about recipes as it is technique, which you only get by practicing, and yes, by failing. People shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re not perfect. They should just try, and for chrissakes have fun with it!” Allison said.
Baking tips aside, the book will likely inspire people, even non-bakers who don’t know a spoon from a spatula.
The Robicellis, both of whom were born and raised in Bay Ridge, have had to overcome many adversities in their lives and don’t shy away from telling the truth about themselves. From being injured in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack to surviving cancer, both Robicellis have battled hardship and have come out on top.
“Matt was a FDNY paramedic who got hurt on 9/11 and was forced into retirement at 20, so he opted to go to the French Culinary Institute where he graduated as one of the top students in the class,” Allison said. “I was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 21, and decided that I would use the time I was sick to teach myself how to cook. Once I was declared in remission, I got an apprenticeship, and soon I was working as a caterer in downtown Brooklyn,” Allison said.
More adversity: the Robicellis’ first business venture, a gourmet food shop on Third Avenue, which they opened in 2008 just before the economy went south, went out of business, leaving them nearly broke.
What did they do? They started over.
“The other misconception is that small business is the ‘American Dream,’ that it’s nothing but riches and easy living and being your own boss. It’s absolutely nothing of the sort. A lot of people see us on Food Network, or read about us in Zagat or all the food magazines, and they don’t see all the struggle and hard work it takes to get there. I didn’t want to sugarcoat that or shy away from the hardships. I wanted to create a somewhat realistic portrait of chasing the dream, even when it got difficult and heartbreaking,” Allison said. “And I wanted it to be funny, because that keeps people interested in reading!”
The couple, who have two young sons, Atticus, 6 and Toby, 5, said they love living and working in Bay Ridge. “This is the nice part about opening a business so close to your house. After working a 16-to-18 hour day, the commute is literally five minutes. I never had to sleep on the bakery floor once!” Allison said.
Robicelli’s is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. It is closed Mondays. For information, call 917-509-6048.
“Robicelli’s A Love Story, With Cupcakes” is sold at bookstores and on Amazon and other websites.