The Livanos family from Armonk hopes they’re cooking on all cylinders for Thursday night’s episode of ABC’s “Family Food Fight.”
The new cooking/challenge competition series (9 p.m.) pits eight families against each other as they whip up family recipes from their respective backgrounds for the ultimate $100,000 grand prize — all while being judged by Cat Cora (“Iron Chef”), Ayesha Curry and Graham Elliott (“Top Chef”).
“We didn’t have any expectations of being on the show, nor did we really have a desire to be on TV,” says Johnny Livanos, 29. “But we had so much fun at the audition and they liked us, so we thought we’d give it a shot.”
Each team on “Family Food Fight” comes from around the country and is comprised of three family members. In addition to Johnny, the Livanos team features his brother Enrico, 27 and mom Lorena, 57. Their background is a mix of Greek and Sicilian and, to honor that, one of the dishes they make on Thursday night’s episode is spanakopita with Italian cheese. The family has lived in Armonk since Lorena married Nick Livanos 32 years ago.
“There were over 100 New York families that tried out and we were the only ones picked from New York, so we’re representing New York State, the city and Westchester County,” says Lorena.
The family owns two restaurants in Westchester (Moderne Barn and City Limits) and four in Manhattan (including Oceana, which has been open nearly 30 years, and Molyvos), so the brothers have been living and breathing the business their entire lives.
“My first job was at City Limits Diner making milkshakes,” says Johnny. “My first AOL screen name after that was ‘Dessertboy.’ ”
“It started with Sundays after church [and] we’d all try to get into my dad’s car because he’d do his rounds at the diner [and] we’d love to tag along,” says Enrico. “That was our playground from 4-10 years old. We were running around peeling potatoes, cracking eggs and stirring beef and chicken stock.”
Today, the brothers primarily manage their family’s newest Manhattan restaurant, Ouisia. Since participating on “Family Food Fight” involved flying out to LA for a month, this proved to be stressful for the brothers.
“We were away for several weeks,” says Johnny. “It was definitely challenging because, up to that point, either me or Enrico were at the restaurant. Since [Ouisia] is a new restaurant, it’s hard to step away — it’s like leaving a newborn baby. We had family step up, like my dad and uncle, to cover the slack. My dad worked every day while we were gone.”
For Lorena, the hardest part was being away from her husband. “We’d never been apart this long, but I had my two adult sons with me, which was nice,” she says. “[The show] was one of the most amazing family experiences. I really recommend that families cook together — it’s such a bonding, beautiful way of expressing love.
“Be in the kitchen, get rid of the cellphones, connect with your family.”
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