Taste of reality on Bravo


Natalie Stone possesses as much skill making metaphors as she does biscotti. 

“If I could be a spice, it would be garlic because the longer it simmers, the more pervasive yet subtle its influence,” she said.

The former resident of the 1100 block of Titan Street operates Bella’s Biscotti from her Medford Lakes, N.J., home. Eager to advance her culinary career and to promote the power of following one’s dreams, she will appear on the July 20 episode of “Rocco’s Dinner Party,” a month-old addition to the Bravo channel. 

Though cooking has inspired her since her youth, when her maternal grandmother initiated her in the ways of Sicilian cuisine, Stone only recently had her epicurean epiphany. 

“I would make these horrible sauces and dried ravioli,” she said of preliminary attempts at gastronomical greatness. 

Graduation from The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College and employment at several notable Center City establishments followed, enabling the 41-year-old mother of five to establish an enviable infatuation with cooking every day. Numerous accolades from friends and family members became hers, and many implored her to teach, especially because of their admiration for her cuccìa, a traditional Sicilian dessert that she prepares with wheat balls, Italian cream, chocolate chips, cinnamon and vanilla. Her biscotti, however, proved most capable of sating each craving. 

“My grandmother, mother and sisters made them, too,” she said of the almond biscuits that often use anise for added flavor. 

She found their output delicious but yearned to make smaller, softer versions. A discussion with her husband Anthony led her to give her handiwork a larger audience. 

“He told me he wanted for me to pursue what would make me happy,” Stone said. “I’ve been giving it a whirl and would not be able to do it without him.” 

The “it” refers to running her business and its accompanying website. Named after her youngest child, her venture offers seven flavors, including lemon and orange pecan, which she makes as tributes to Sicilian baking’s emphasis on citrus fruits. 

Recognition has begun to intensify, as a few restaurants in Medford Lakes, her residence for the last 28 years, have served her diminutive delights to patrons. With an acting background as well, which she has forged with commercial, film, television and voice-over work, she decided to see if performing on a reality competition show could further her philosophy that stress and fear are motivators that enhance persuasive and expressive skills. 

“A friend convinced me to audition,” Stone, who admitted to fear about participating because of the generally nerve-racking nature of competition, said. 

Ready to ingest the experience, she completed filming early this year, marking the first time she has received intense scrutiny of her cooking since her student days. She did not need the spot on the show to note links between her careers, but the time certainly made the connections more endearing. 

“Acting and cooking are the most intense ways to emote to people,” she said. “Both are gifts to people who are open to share, receive and enjoy them.” 

Once a channel that presented scores of independent films, performing arts pieces and dramatic works, Bravo has over the last few years relied heavily on reality shows akin to “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” The 60-minute program premiered June 15 and offers three chefs chances to craft an evening meal for New York City-based chef Rocco DiSpirito and celebrity guests. After tasting their signature dishes, DiSpirito eliminates one participant in the first round, advancing the others to the finals, where they must prepare and present their provisions. The contenders must adhere to their episode’s theme, with the winner earning $20,000. 

Stone will appear on the sixth installment at 10 p.m. Wednesday. The French cuisine theme will necessitate her working with a Julia Child dish. Unable to provide any elements of the show, including what constitutes her chief creation, she revealed she is thankful for the heavy French training her schooling provided. 

“Hearing comments from people over the years did make putting myself out there for examination a goal,” Stone said of enthusiasm for adding her name to the cooking competition annals. 

A definite résumé booster, her appearance also allows for Stone to feel that cooking is an intense reflection of her personality. Fond of finding the joy in each creation, she foresees expanding her enterprise by adding vegan and gluten-free products. 

“My food reveals I am not afraid to experiment,” she said. “Food is like love. You let the aromas, textures and flavors speak directly to your sense of what is delicious.” 

With an attraction to persistence and ingenuity, Stone could easily see herself devising a cooking show to further her “food is like love” simile. Though her days in a classroom ended long ago, she remains eager to accumulate lessons from every situation, with special knowledge coming from her Bravo appearance.

“My time on the show has let me know I do not need to do ritzy creations to be successful,” she said. “If I put love into each effort, I cannot be at all upset with myself.” 

She certainly will have no reasons to frown if she executes her largest goal, giving the biscotti business a boost. 

“I want to have too many orders to handle,” Stone, who plans for further distribution in her area and desires to place products in local homes and eateries, said with a laugh. “I am very, very, very grateful to Bravo and NBCUniversal. They provided me with the best and most fun experience of my life, aside from my wedding and the birth of my children.” 

Biscotti commonly find their way into cups of coffee and tea, as people use the liquids to reduce their crunch effect. Bearing a name that implies rigidity, Stone is fine with the altering of her works. One should not, however, expect for any challenge to misshape her. 

“Cooks, bakers, anyone who works in food, we all have to be willing to stand by our creations,” she said. “Unlike a sauce, I am irreducible.”

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.