When Ruby Lewis was a little girl in the tiny remote town of Bonanza, Oregon, she never imagined her hometown’s name, which means “prosperity,” would one day become a reality for her.
At 16, Ruby was selected by the Girl Scouts to go to Boston to learn about U.S. history. Staying with the grandparents of a family friend there for three weeks, she got hooked on all things Italian.
“I stayed near several Italian families whom I visited often,” recalls Ruby. “I was greeted by the wonderful aromas of their food and welcomed to their tables. I loved my time there; eating, laughing and creating lasting friendships.
“It was in Boston, under the culinary guidance of a special nonna, that I developed my passion for cooking. She taught me how to make everything from Eggplant Parmigiana to fresh pastas and sauces. From then on, I learned everything I could about Italian gastronomy and culture.”
Years later, after attending Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, Ruby settled in the nearby town of Albany, where she decided to open her own restaurant. Enter investment firm owner Tony Lewis — an Italian-American living in Washington state – who happened to be representing the seller of Pizza King, the restaurant she ultimately bought. When Ruby married Tony, she married into a passionate, extended family of Italian Zuccati’s in Vezzano and Ciago near Trento.
“Going to Italy was life changing,” says Ruby, “because my husband is Italian-American, I — and our three children — were immediately welcomed into his incredible family. We have traveled to Italy 11 times.”
After operating her restaurant for 26 years, life changed drastically for Ruby on March 28, 2012 when an anonymous Oregonian won the $9 million Megabucks lottery jackpot. Because the winning ticket was purchased at Pizza King, Ruby received a whopping $90,000 bonus.
“With part of that windfall,” notes Ruby, “I began searching for the best Italian culinary school. Academia Barilla in Parma was my choice because of its sterling reputation and trained chefs. I’d had no formal training, so I wanted to acquire first-class certification and test my skills.
“Once accepted, I was given a huge reading list and arrived in Parma for ten days of total immersion. We worked long hours with other chefs from around the world and were taught by master Italian chefs. We had a one-day tour to learn about foods from the Emilia-Romagna region, learning first-hand how Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Balsamic Vinegar are made. Last year, I was the only American chef that completed the CPIC. I’m proud to say that I was second in my class after being tested with a practical and written exam.”
Today, Ruby is known as the chef who keeps on giving.
“I made a promise,” she explains, “to use authentic Italian products at Academia Barilla, as their mission is to protect and defend Italian gastronomy. So at my restaurant I create a weekly four-course Italian meal that reflects regional specialties using quality Italian ingredients. Once a year, I also cook a special Truffle Dinner.”
Ruby teaches only Italian cooking and uses traditional methods and recipes. She has created a classroom in her restaurant where she teaches classes on a variety of menu items as well as giving private Italian cooking classes to clubs, for birthday parties, businesses, and bridal showers.
“The Italian Food and Wine Connoisseurs is a group I established for people to learn about the unique differences of Italy’s 20 different regions. We meet once a month to highlight a region and enjoy foods that I prepare which are typical from that area.”
Each member in the group is assigned a specific topic concerning the selected region, then researches it and shares the information at the dinner meetings. As a result, the group is able to share their passion for Italian cuisine and culture while creating friendships. The group started last year, shortly after Ruby returned from Academia Barilla, and now has 22 members with a list of people still waiting to join.
Ruby has also written two cookbooks, A Taste of Italy: My Favorite Soups and A Taste of Italy: My Favorite Desserts. Each book includes family recipes and photos she has taken throughout her travels in Italy.
“I love sharing my passion for Italy with others,” concludes Ruby. “Our community has been very supportive, my classes and dinners are full, and my students are highly dedicated. I work hard to be a productive part of my community and do my best to support local growers who produce Italian varieties of vegetables. I think what makes the difference is that I love what I do and I have wonderful customers!”
For more information, contact Ruby at www.Pizza KingAlbany.com