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Frankie “Spice” Morelli on his MOBB Cookbook & Diet

Our Editor-in-Chief talks with Frankie "Spice" Morelli about his MOBB Cookbook & Diet and its themes of health, redemption and mercy.

Frankie "Spice" Morelli.

Frankie “Spice” Morelli.

Frankie “Spice” Morelli was raised in an Italian American enclave near Pueblo, Colorado, an area once believed to have more Italians per capita than any other region in America. Descended from coal miners and accomplished cooks, his Nona had him making gnocchi by age four. At age 24, Frankie opened Morelli’s Ristorante Italiano in Florence, CO, which would receive the Governor’s Award for the best restaurant in Colorado. The operation soon expanded into making pasta and sauces that were sold in major supermarket chains throughout the US and Canada. Nona Morelli Pasta went public on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange under the symbol: Nona. A few years later, Frankie divested his interests in the restaurant and sold Nona Morelli Pasta. He took his business savvy into the financial sector, and that’s where he got in trouble. Frankie Morelli served nearly five years at an East Coast Federal Detention Center, from where the MOBB Cookbook & Diet was born.

How did you end up writing a cookbook in prison?

I worked in the kitchen because I was a pretty good cook and knew a lot about food. They wanted me to cook for everybody, not just for the inmates, especially the mob guys who loved my cooking, but also for the corrections officers. In fact, several of the corrections officers used to take my food home, so I was feeding their families as well. I was preparing food for everybody, and that's how I got cooking again. From there, I decided to write a cookbook called the MOBB Cookbook, which I eventually upgraded to the MOBB Cookbook & Diet. MOBB is an acronym for: Mercy and Optimism Beyond Borders. It’s about changing your life for the good. Everybody deserves a second chance, including those such as myself who have fallen in life. Nobody’s perfect, and the book has a lot of positive stories about people who have changed their life for the good. And that's what it's all about: giving people a second chance.

What inspired the emphasis on health in the book?

When I went in, I was about 330-340 pounds. I was really depressed. I’d never been in trouble in my life. I’m 59 years old at the time and 2,000 miles away from my family. I'm in a maximum security federal prison, which was a really rough place because in the detention center in Philadelphia, whether you’re a white collar criminal or a mass murder, you were all there together. There were gangs. It was just crazy with stuff beyond your imagination, so I had to see a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and they put me on something for depression, but I also started working out and eating better. I eventually lost well over 100 pounds and got off the meds. I also learned to cope by practicing positive thinking, and I came to believe you can overcome any obstacle that you face in life through that.

So, you see a correlation between healthy eating / positive thinking and mental health?

I do. I’d add regular exercise to that regiment as well.

Specifically with regard to diet, do you think the Mediterranean diet is particularly healthy? 

Yes, but I'm Italian, so I'm going to say that but I believe the Mediterranean diet is the best for all aspects of health. It's more of a balanced diet. There’s an emphasis on quality ingredients and moderation. It’s interesting, when we upgraded the book, we brought in Dr. Sondra Frank, who's now featured in the book, she's on the cover with me. She looked at the book, and she not only enjoyed it because of all the entertaining mafia stories and stories about people overcoming obstacles in life, she was also really impressed by the diet and lifestyle recommendations. She vetted all the recipes, and we added some soups and salads. We added alternatives, like using turkey and chicken to make meatballs instead of pork, beef and veal. There’s calorie counts and a nutritional index. There’s consideration for those who are lactose intolerant or have other dietary restrictions. Dr. Frank is a nutrition luminary with over 40 years experience. She’s known as the “Diet Dutchess.” She knows the science. I just know the results. So, we believe we have something that's different in this book. We have over 70 recipes, 200 photos, nutritional information and advice, diet plans, Mafia stories, and - most importantly - motivation for  people to overcome obtacles in life.

What are your favorite recipes from the book?

One of my very favorite recipes is gnocchi because my grandma taught me how to make it ever since I was little, and I've had many Italians tell me it’s the best they've ever had. I like the San Marzano tomato sauce recipe because a lot of people, even some chefs surprisingly, who don’t how important it is to use San Marzano tomatoes. There’s lots of useful information in the book regarding ingredients and simplicity. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to make the recipes in my book. Italian cooking is easy to do. It's not complicated, and that's what I like about it.

When you when you first got out of prison, what was the first meal you had?

I went home and had spaghetti and meatballs made by my wife.

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