Julia LaRosa was just scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed one day when she saw it: an opportunity to give her grandmother a Christmas she’d never forget, during one of the most challenging times of her life.
LaRosa, of Holtsville, calls her grandmother, Julia Golisano, "the rock of the family." Over the past two years, Golisano, of Patchogue, has faced a lot of personal loss. Under normal circumstances, she hosts all the family holiday dinners.
So this year, LaRosa decided to nominate her grandmother to receive a full Christmas dinner — including salads, side dishes, a grand main course and a dessert — courtesy of Mike Artist, chef and CEO of Artist Dining.
Artist, of Mastic Beach, officially started his catering business in April, although he’s been cooking professionally for 12 years. His objective is to provide a "five-star dining experience in your home." His services are personal; Artist whips up gourmet creations in front of customers and talks to them about the dishes. He’s usually hired for bachelorette parties, date nights and small gatherings, Artist said.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused some of his customers to postpone their dinners. So for Christmas, he decided to use his craft to give back.
He put out a flyer on Facebook, asking Long Islanders to nominate someone deserving of a special Christmas dinner. He’d then pick a winner, cook the meal and deliver it to them, all free of charge.
"COVID really messed us all up," Artist said. "So if I can put some acts of kindness into the world, which we desperately need, that’s what my goal was."
One reason LaRosa submitted her nomination is because hospitality is in her grandmother’s nature. "Growing up, I could show up with four other friends and she’d immediately put a pot of macaroni on the stove," LaRosa said. "So for her to have a personal chef so she gets to relax for the holidays, how cool would that be?"
Among the 16 nominations Artist received, Golisano's story stood out to him.
"Her story was very heartfelt," Artist said. "I know how it is to lose somebody. I lost both of my parents, so I know how that is. So if I could be that light of inspiration she needed for holidays, I was glad to do it."
Artist then got to work on the Christmas dinner: brown sugar cranberry sauce; baked ham; truffle mashed potatoes; and two salads, including one made with corn, feta, tomatoes, onions and honey. For dessert, he baked a chocolate Bundt cake topped with peppermint shavings.
LaRosa said her grandmother was thrilled when she revealed the Christmas surprise.
"She said, ‘I don’t believe it!’ with her Brooklyn accent," LaRosa said with a laugh.
Artist and his friend Shannon Quinn, of Southold, delivered the meal to Golisano’s home on Christmas morning. Quinn said it took a few trips to get all the trays of food into the house.
"We were like, ‘Oh there’s more!’ And we kept going back to the car to get more," she said.
Quinn used to work in the restaurant industry and came up with the idea for the social media campaign with Artist. She was eager to lend a hand, especially since her Christmas felt so different this year without being able to see her family.
"It was a nice thing to do on Christmas because no one was doing their usual Christmas routine," Quinn said.
Artist said Golisano was ecstatic that morning. "Just seeing her face, it was unbelievable," he said.
LaRosa said she looks forward to booking Artist Dining when everything gets safer.
"When Mike and Shannon arrived, they were so polite and welcoming and warm," she said. "My grandma welcomed them to stay and eat with us; that’s how sweet they are."
And of course, LaRosa added, all of the food was delicious.
"He did a chocolate peppermint cake and I’ve never had anything like that before," she said with a laugh. "Everything was amazing."
Artist hopes to continue this new Christmas tradition every year.
"I was raised to know that if people aren’t doing good and you have it, help people out, don’t be selfish with what you have," he said. "If I can do what I love to do and give back, that’s the ultimate gift I can give anybody."
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