Walk into the cooking section of any bookstore and you’ll see Marguerite DiMino Buonopane smiling back at you.
Buonopane, a legendary chef whom the Boston Herald called “the best cook in Boston’s North End” appears with arms folded on the cover of her own book “The North End Italian Cookbook,” now in fifth all-new edition with more than 150,000 copies in print.
Buonopane’s rise to superstardom on the Boston culinary scene began in 1975 when she wrote her first cookbook to help benefit the North End Union, a former community center on Parmenter Street where she was an administrative assistant and hosted luncheons for seniors.
She had taught cooking classes at night at the North End Union and began to compile her many Italian food recipes. When the program director asked her to write a cookbook to help raise funds for the North End Union, the mother of four children obliged.
Her first book, which sold for $4.95, became an instant hit with people from across the country calling her for autographed copies.
“The first book sold like hotcakes,” recalled Buonopane. “I learned that there are people all over the country who collect community center cookbooks. People used to call me for advice even as they were cooking casseroles, for example.”
Buonopane’s growing popularity made her weekly luncheons at the Union must-attend events with people flocking to the center to enjoy her salads, hot breads, soups, entrees, and desserts. She said North End food merchants were very generous to her so she could keep the cost of the luncheon at $6 per person.
In 1987 an official from The Globe Pequot Press who had attended one of Buonopane’s luncheons, approached her about writing a second cookbook.
“He said my food was very, very good and asked me to bring him a collection of all my recipes,” said Buonopane. “They went ahead and published my book and then all the other editions of it.”
Buonopane said she humbly takes credit for the North End becoming one of the most famous areas in the country for great food and great restaurants.
“When my first book came out, local news and television reporters and food critics started coming to the luncheons in the North End,” said Buonopane. “They saw what great restaurants we had and they began to publicize their culinary excellence so I have to lay claim to bringing the attention of the food community to the North End.”
Buonopane also takes credit publishing the culinary term, “Sunday gravy” in her book.
“Sunday gravy was the gravy our parents made for Sunday dinners for the meatballs, braciole, pork, veal, and sausage,” she said. “No one else had written a recipe for Sunday gravy. I published the first one in my book.”
Why have Marguerite Buonopane’s recipes been in demand for more than four decades?
“It’s the old, old, Italian style from Italy – my mother [Olga Baldassare Capossela] was from Rome,” said Buonopane. “Her parents were born in Italy, met in Italy, and married in Italy and they came to the United States. My father [Carmine Avellino] was born it Italy. My grandmother [Josephine Baldassare] passed on the recipes to my mother and my mother passed them on to me.”
She also thanks her husband, Angelo Buonopane, and her four children for their support. “You all gave me constant encouragement by loving and praising my cooking and inspiring me to teach and write all these recipes,” Marguerite wrote in the acknowledgments for her most recent book.
Buonopane is still in constant demand as a celebrity chef at food events and cooking exhibitions. She has taught cooking classes at the Billerica House of Corrections and was the guest speaker at the commencement ceremony for the inmates’ culinary arts program. When chefs from around the globe gathered for a forum at the Ritz Carlton, she was a guest speaker.
Buonopane was asked to name her favorite restaurant in the North End.
“The restaurants in the North End do a great job,” said Buonopane. “I eat at Bricco’s and La Strega all the time. And I like Limoncello – he’s old world. I love his recipes.”
A sixth cookbook may be on the horizon for Marguerite DiMino Buonopane, who says she’ll never forget that her rise to prominence began at the old North End Union.