Move Over Batali, Bittman, Bourdain! Here Comes Vic Rallo’s “Eat! Drink! Italy! “

When Eat!Drink!Italy! premieres on public TV July 6th, Rumson’s own Vic Rallo will be seen on the border of Germany and Italy, touring one of Mussolini’s secret World War II underground bunkers, now home to aging wheels of artisanal Pecorino, Fontina and Gorgonzola.

During the series’ 13 episodes, the New Jersey restaurateur and raconteur yodels in the Italian Alps, follows hunting dogs sniffing out precious white truffles, and crawls through Napoleon’s dusty wine tunnels full of ancient varietals, while always looking fit and photo-ready in his signature newsboy cap.

Rallo, 49, graduated from Seton Hall University Law School in 1989. Although still affiliated with a firm, he has followed his parent’s line of work, opening Basil T’s Brewery & Italian Grill in Red Bank in 1989, and Rumson’s Undici Taverna Rustica in 2006.

Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, Rallo hung out and helped out in the pizzerias and restaurants his family owned in Newark and West Orange.

“We cooked every single day, we always ate and drank well,” he says. “I’ve had 49 years of education. I cooked, I delivered fish, I cleaned bathrooms, I waited tables, I parked cars. You name it, I did it.”

On numerous trips to Italy with his friend and sidekick, Italian wine master Anthony Verdoni, Rallo acquired recipes and shot lots of video. Verdoni, a former professor of Greek and Latin at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, is now known in the Italian wine industry as Il Professore. He appears alongside Rallo in about half the episodes.

Ten years ago, the pair decided to film themselves cooking those traditional recipes with what Rallo calls "a new flair.” Those clips wound up on YouTube, and an internet star, of sorts, was born.

Three years ago, producer Mark Ganguzza agreed to shoot a pilot episode of “Eat!Drink!Italy!” in the northern Piedmont region. The show was shopped around, and one of the largest public television stations, WNET, agreed to 13 episodes as long as Rallo could find his own sponsors to cover costs.

Rallo and Verdoni took three two-week trips to Italy, going “from the Alps to the southern shores of Sicily,” to create a comprehensive guide to the regions and foods of his ancestral land.

Locally, the show will air on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 13 and at 5 p.m. on NJTV. There will also be an encore presentation at 8 p.m. on Mondays. Between 60 and 80 stations will pick up the series nationwide, but Rallo is hoping for many more by the end of the first year.

All the program’s recipes can be found at eatdrinkitaly.org, and most of the wines and products seen on the show will be available for purchase at rallowines.com. “It’s a cool interactive experience,” Rallo says.

His enthusiasm and expertise can’t of course transport the viewer to Italy, but Eat!Drink!Italy! can get armchair travelers pretty darn close.

SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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