Those Iorios, they could mix up a good time in the kitchen

By Sue Carlton
Published February 9, 2007

It had just begun to be a tradition in a family that seemed already to have plenty of them, like smarts and success.

During the holidays, Tampa mayor Pam Iorio would invite her college professor father to her TV show, The Mayor's Hour. Together, they would cook.

Not that cooking was anything new to John Iorio, who started working in a restaurant at age 13. The man could cook - his red sauce, his pasta fagioli - in the way of people who carry on conversations as their knife swiftly and perfectly dissects a garlic clove, who know how much flour to add just by holding a little in their hand.

So there they were in the TV kitchen, the no-nonsense mayor and her dad, a silver-haired retired USF English professor who had taught and inspired countless students. In their first show in 2004, her apron is serviceable solid blue, his striped and decorated.

"Where did you get this dough from?" she asks of the store-bought focaccia he is prodding into a pan.

"Last night I was inspired, I was going to make my own dough," he says. "And then the inspiration left me."

She laughs. "As you began to fall asleep on the couch," she says.

When she suggests adding tomato, he calls this pizza. "Fake focaccia," he says.

"You just listen to your father," he says.

"I try to," the mayor answers, laughing.

People may not know she laughs like this, from the toes up and all out. A family friend called the two of them together knee-slappers - not just an expression, but with the actual slapping of knees.

"This is Apocalypse Now for them," he says just before the mussels slide into the bubbling pot. They chop and stir and chat. He tells how his dog had to get a "social promotion" from obedience school. They discuss the voluptuous seafood dinner he makes every Christmas Eve; eels, supposed to be good luck, may be added to the menu. He tells a story of his father bringing home a live bagful that broke, and how they had to chase eels all over the house. He uses an oven mitt to pretend he's a New York Yankee.

And they chide each other, in the way of family lucky enough to like each other. He uses too much salt, she says, and has a reputation for forgetting the bread in the oven. Her kitchen cutting implements are not much more than "pen knives," he opines. They go on like this, amid the chopping and stirring, their words overlapping comfortably.

On the next show, he dubs the crabs they are cooking Bob and Billy; she is firmly opposed to naming what they're about to eat. They yin and yang it, she wanting a timer for the bread, he invoking "intuition." He gently rejects her pile of sliced garlic. "You're not the chopper that I brought you up to be," he says.

At the end of a show, she asks him to give a few holiday cooking tips.

"Just don't take it that seriously," the professor tells the mayor. "If you make mistakes, make mistakes. Next year's another year. Just don't worry about it."

In 2006, when it came time to do the show again - by now the year's most popular Mayor's Hour - he was too ill to come cook with her. So they broadcast highlights, the salt and slightly-burned mussels and them laughing - a glimpse of the mayor and her remarkable father, John Iorio, who died this week of cancer at age 82.