Chef Dan - Southern Inspired Magazine



Chef Dan - Southern Inspired Magazine
GIVING BACK � Caffeʹ Nonna
by Claire O. Ploegman
Photography by Danna Haile
“She was always shakin’ and breakin’,” remembers
Dan Maggipinto. “She always wanted to show me
how she danced.” More often than not, her stage
was a hospital bed, but Dan’s daughter Zoë was an
irrepressibly happy baby.
Her eyes, absolute buckets of blue, marked her as one of the
Zoë was just seven months old when she was diagnosed with
Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor (AT/RT), a childhood brain
cancer noted in the medical community for its rarity and aggressive
attack of the entire central nervous system. Two brain surgeries and
chemo battled the recurring disease
that wrapped itself around the base
of Zoë’s spinal cord.
After a first brain surgery, Maria
Maggipinto, wife and mother, went
with Zoë to St. Jude’s Children’s
Research Hospital, where they lived
for the next year and a half. Dan and
his oldest son, who was not yet four
years old, remained in Nashville to
tend to Caffé Nonna, their young
livelihood located on Sylvan Park’s
GIVING BACK � Caffeʹ Nonna
main thoroughfare. The Maggipinto men drove down to
Memphis at the stroke of Sunday, wheeling back in time to chef
Monday evening dinner at Nonna.
Zoë was diagnosed in 2000 and passed away on Thanksgiving
morning of 2002. Dan says she “played hard” with her older brother,
even amid major surgeries and stints in ICU isolation. Zoë related to
her family meaningfully, lovingly.
“After she had passed away, there were several months where I was
thinking, ‘What can I do?’ begins Dan, repeating the question, remembering the racking urgency.
St. Jude’s website states that AT/RT is a new tumor classification,
differentiated from more common types only within the last ten years,
essentially at the time of Zoë’s diagnosis. St. Jude’s researchers are
working on radiation therapies that can unwind the cancer without
The thing
is to stay
focused and
feel like
you’re doing
something for
other families
down the
affecting the healthy brain tissue in which
it nests.
Children and families need better odds
than a 10-15% survival rate. While researchers seek to understand the disease,
Dan ladles awareness.
Dan rebuilds his thought process:
“Everybody loves my restaurant, my
sauces—so why don’t I just try to jar those
sauces and donate the proceeds to children’s brain cancer research.” Dan learned
the recipe while tied to the apron strings
of his grandmother Nonna, who corralled
the kids while mom and dad were at work.
The family had always begged her to
bottle that New York Italian flavor.
Pop the lid for a taste, and you’re going to
start saucing everything. Once you’ve
satisfied the urge to just dump and coat
pasta, let Dan show you ratatouille or
pan-fried chicken by clicking his YouTube
Dan plays sommelier to breakfast toast
with his Chianti jelly, most memorably
versatile when marinara fans found
stacks of Chianti brownies at East
Nashville’s August homage, or the
Tomato Arts Festival (the brownies
were still warm, of course).
In eight years, Dan has raised over
$21,000 by making donations taste
good. Customers pinched for time
pick up a jar at his restaurant if they
can’t linger for a table at Caffé Nonna.
Big-time hospitality services can get
the local mind’s locally made taste
by purchasing the sauces wholesale. ships
More recently, gifts received
through the Zoë Marie Brain Tumor
Research Fund are tax free because
of its affiliation with the 501(c)(3)
Community Foundation of Middle
GIVING BACK � Caffeʹ Nonna
Tennessee. Dan also collects
signatures for March of
Dimes and contributes to
Second Harvest Food Bank.
Dan is a recipe for charity.
“The thing is to stay focused
and feel like you’re doing
something for other families
down the line and to help in
your process to work it out,”
holds Dan.
Zoë’s resilience fed her
family’s. Days before the
end of her struggle, Dan
came home after a late
night at Nonna. Zoë and his
wife were asleep together,
so he laid himself on top
of the covers to keep the
peace. “Zoë woke up, and
she basically signaled to
my wife,” says Dan, a little
hoarse as he continues the
memory. “She was trying
to get the covers out from
underneath me so that she
could cover me.”
“It was good,” Dan sums.
Look closely at the labels that
hug the jars of marinara and
you’ll recognize Dan with
Maria and their sons,
Carter and Oliver, sharing
their table with close friends.
Fittingly, the pictured table is
located at Caffé Nonna.
Caffé Nonna
4427 Murphy Road
Nashville, TN 37209
Donate directly to the
Zoë Marie Brain Tumor Research Fund