Showing posts with label Peter Sandrone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Peter Sandrone. Show all posts

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Elisa and Peter Sandrone

These days, Elisa Sandrone is retired from her work as restaurateur, cooking teacher, child care provider, caterer and chef. But with her friends and large family, including two children and five grandchildren, dropping in and out so often I doubt she will ever retire from taking care of others, offering hospitality, and responding to their desire for traditional Italian fare.

To her daughter Luana, Elisa is an inspiration.

‘I wish I could be more like her,’ she tells me, simply.

Elisa grew up in the town of Itri, in central Italy. Situated along the Appian Way, Itri connects Rome to the south of the country.

Itri, with its landmark castle, nestles in a valley in the foothills of the Aurunci Mountains

Gaetano Manzi (1850-1931), Elisa’s maternal grandfather, came from an ancient family that traces its lineage far back into history. Considered wealthy, he had extensive property holdings.

When his first wife died, leaving Gaetano a widow with seven children, he remarried. Elisa’s grandmother Francesca had been a servant in the house, and bore Gaetano a further eight children.

A historical collection of family photos has Gaetano and Francesca Manzi with five of their children on the album cover
Photograph from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

When Gaetano lost much of his fortune in a financial crisis, he found employment as a guard in the royal household at Casserta.

Milena Manzi (b.1913) was Gaetano’s sixth child from his second marriage. She married Giovanni Lorello in 1934, and they too made their home in Itri. Giovanni was a builder, working in Rome. Leaving at 3 am on Mondays, he would not be home again until Saturday night.

Milena and Giovanni also had 8 children -  4 girls and 4 boys. One  daughter died at the age of four. Elisa, the fourth child, was born during World War II.

The town of Itri was badly damaged during wartime bombing. The family moved to grandfather Gaetano’s farm for safety, two hours walk from Itri. After the war, they all moved back to Itri where Giovanni built an extension on the house to accommodate his family.

When the war ended, and things returned to a kind of normality, Milena reassessed her situation. Her husband was away 6 days out of 7, and the children were growing up virtually without a father. Milena longed for a family life; for them to be all together.

By 1955, Milena’s daughter Bianca, then just 15, had married by proxy and emigrated to Australia to join her new husband there. They were living in Broadmeadow, a suburb of Newcastle, NSW.

‘Mum missed Bianca,’ explained Elisa, ‘so she decided to take the whole family to Australia’. It was a bold decision. Elisa had government sponsorship, so she travelled two weeks ahead, alone.

Elisa Sandrone at Genoa, waiting to board the ‘Sydney’
Photograph from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

With the 5 million lira she had brought from home, Milena was able to purchase a house in Adamstown, within 6 months of arrival.

Elisa was now 18. As was customary at the time, she had completed just five years of schooling. After finishing school, she’d continued to help her mother at home, learning all she could from this capable woman. She also did some unpaid work in a local dressmaking shop.

In Australia, Elisa gravitated to food and cooking early. She vividly remembers her first job in an Italian restaurant in Beaumont Street.

‘I didn’t get paid for three weeks,’ she told me. ‘Then someone told me to go to the Union. The rep came with me to the restaurant owner, and made him pay me!”

 Elisa tackled the challenge of learning English. She applied herself to listening to people as they spoke, and reading the newspapers.

‘I was always interested in history, cutting out articles to keep,’ she says.

When Elisa had gained sufficient restaurant experience, Milena decided to set her daughter up in her own restaurant at the corner of Hunter and Wolfe Street, Newcastle. Named simply ‘Elisa’s Restaurant’, it was next door to Giuseppe Risicato's photographic studio.

When Elisa met customer Peter Sandrone, Elisa was impressed. He’d migrated from the Piedmont region in 1949. ‘I’m tall,’ laughs Elisa, ‘and so was he!’

Luana explains:

‘My Dad was big.  Not only in height, but he had a big personality when with his friends and always seemed larger-than-life.  He always reminded me of Dean Martin in the Rat Pack era – the suave suit, cufflinks, shiny shoes and a gold-tipped, Courtleigh brand cigarettes (the cigarette bit I never liked, but they were the times!).  Many of Mum’s photos would show you why I say that … He could talk big and liked big, American cars!’

Peter had lived in Ingham cutting sugar cane and working in a bar at night so he could save for his first ‘big American car,’ until he moved to Newcastle with his mother.

Wedding of Peter and Elisa Sandrone 1965
Photograph from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

The Sandrone’s first home was in Mayfield West. In 1968 they bought a house in Hamilton, where Elisa now lives in her retirement. 

Among other things, Peter had run a card gambling club above some shops in Hamilton (across from the former Italian Centre), a barber shop and a canteen for hungry mainly-migrant workers at Electrical Power Transmission (EPT) at Carrington.

‘It was very much Peter,’ says Elisa, ‘a place he could go to chat to people and have a coffee or two – always forgetting about the time while he chatted about soccer, politics and everything in between.  He made many great friends during his time – too many to name. He always seemed to have jobs which involved talking with lots of people!’

Peter Sandrone (right) at work in the EPT canteen
Photograph from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

Happily for his then young kids, Peter Sandrone was also the owner of an amusement business, supplying pinball machines, pool tables and all of the newest arcade game tables of the time (such as Space Invaders) to milk bars and shops around the greater Newcastle area.

Peter and Elisa Sandrone with son Vincenzo and daughter Luana, c early 1970s
Photograph from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

Later, Peter set up a business contracting out labourers at some of the large industrial sites. He became a JP and an Interpreter, helping many Italians in need, and even had a wedding car driving business. Peter was Honorary Consular Agent for Newcastle.

‘Dad was even a background actor with his friend Domenico Buresti in the TV mini series ‘The Cowra Breakout,’ Luana remembers. 

Throughout all of this, Peter worked tirelessly for the Highfields Azzurri Club, most of it on a voluntary basis. He was the Honorary Secretary for many years.

 ‘He loved that club and he loved soccer,’ says Elisa. ‘One of his final wishes was that the Highfields Azzurri team was returned to 1st Division.’

Peter wasn’t the only worker in the Sandrone family.

I’ve worked practically all my life,’ says Elisa. ‘Six days out of seven.’ 

At Highfields Azzurri Club, Elisa was chef at the Club’s popular bistro, La Piazza during the 1990s. Where else could customers buy all the pasta they wanted for $5 in 1997? [1] Later, she also ran the bistro at Alder Park Bowling Club at New Lambton.

Peter and Elisa Sandrone  taking a break in La Piazza at the Highfields Azzurri Club
The Newcastle Herald, Thursday December 4, 1997

A highlight of Peter and Elisa’s long association with Highfields Azzurri was the Hamilton Azzurri Soccer Club winning the first championship of the Northern NSW Grand Final.

Peter Sandrone, President, Hamilton Azzurri Soccer Club and WW Jones, President of the Northern NSW Soccer Federation with the championship trophy
30 October, 1970
Photograph from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

Peter’s collecting interests included many mementos from his favorite soccer teams – Juventus and the Azzurri (both the Highfields and Italian teams). Elisa tells me he had soccer balls signed by winning Highfields Azzurri teams which not even his beloved grandchildren were ever allowed to touch.

Elisa brought her mother’s culinary skills and secrets to Newcastle.

Not only did she cook for hundreds, if not thousands of customers in her lifetime, but through teaching for WEA, she also shared her skills with Novacastrians keen to learn the secrets of authentic Italian cooking.

Elisa Sandrone (second from right) conducted classes at the WEA, Newcastle during the 1990s
Booklet from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

Elisa has preserved hundreds of recipes from her teaching career, beautifully typed. Wistfully, Elisa realizes that with the right encouragement and support, she could have published her own cookbook.

In 1994 Elisa had a chance to honour what she’d learned from her mother. Four of her recipes were included in the cookbook ‘Buon Appetito – Regional Italian Recipes’  published in 1994 by the Italian- Australian Women’s Association and the NSW State Library. All the featured recipes had been handed down from mother to daughter.

Invitation to the launch of ‘Buon Appetito’
From the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

‘What is the most common mistake we make when we try to cook the Italian way?’ I ask Elisa, as we look through the cookbook for a recipe to include in this story.

She doesn’t hesitate.

‘Not enough salt, and not enough oil!’

‘And by the way,’ Luana comments later, ‘Mum is frustratingly right about that!’

Throughout their busy lives, working and raising their family, Peter and Elisa Sandrone gave generously of their time, energy and enthusiasm to their community. Luana remembers them raising tens of thousands of dollars for an Italian Earthquake appeal and the Oncology Unit at the Mater Hospital.

‘The fact that I never recall even one day when we didn’t have a visitor at home is testament to their popularity ...  People were always dropping by to chat, eat or share stories with both Mum and Dad. It was an interesting childhood …,’ recalls Luana.

When Peter died in 2009, Elisa found that he’d always carried  her passport photograph in his wallet.

Elisa’s passport photograph, taken at the age of 18,
and treasured by her husband Peter
Photograph from the personal collection of Elisa Sandrone

It’s not just Peter that is 'big', according to Luana.

‘Mum has a big personality too. She NEVER stops and is afraid of nothing! To me, she seems different from many people of her age because she is always willing to try things. I showed her how to use the internet when she was in her late 60s and she has been using it ever since.’

When I meet Elisa for interviews, I get to know something of this vivacious, energetic woman who strongly believes everyone should have a chance in life.

Her immense capability shines through.

‘I can do anything,’ she tells me. ‘If you need to cook for 100 people, I can do it.’

Elisa, when I need to cater for 100 people, I will definitely call you!

ELISA’S RECIPE for saltimbocca alla Romana

500g thinly sliced topside
4 slices shoulder ham
4 slices cheese
Half a cup of oil
1 clove garlic
1 cup milk

Flatten meat with a meat mallet to make as thin as possible. Into a pan wide enough for 4 portions, add oil, crushed garlic, rosemary and a pinch of salt. Heat. Flour meat and quickly place in pan. Cook each side for one minute.

Place ham then cheese on each piece of meat and pour milk over them. Sprinkle parsley. Put pan under grill or in oven for a few minutes until cheese is golden.

Serve with salad, green vegetables or rice.


Thank you to Elisa and Luana Sandrone for sharing this story and photographs.

[1] The Newcastle Herald, Thursday December 4, 1997