Nikki sat down next to
this story at an NPR event. We were interviewing Michael
Pollan, author of The
Omnivore’s Dilemma, on stage. We were talking
with him about corn, and as part of the show we played our
Kitchen story, "The Birth of the Frito.” When
Nikki sat down for dinner the woman next to her said she had
been part of the birth of Rice-A-Roni. Here name was Lois DeDomenico
and she began to tell a story about San Francisco in the 1940s
and the convergence of a Canadian immigrant, an Italian American
pasta family, and a survivor of the Armenian genocide, in the
creation of “The San Francisco Treat”.
The Kitchen SIsters
interview Michael Pollan/2007
Birth of the Frito
We later interviewed Lois, philanthropist
and widow of Tom DeDomenico, son of the founder of Golden
Grain Macaroni Company, at her home in Oakland to chronicle
her story. Lois had long ago lost touch with Pailadzo Captanian,
the woman who had taught her to make Armenian rice pilaf
in the 1940s, the recipe that would inspire her husband's
family to create a side dish that gave Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
a real run for it's money in the 50s, when rice was rarely
found on the American dinner table.
We began searching for the family of Pailadzo Captanian, and
were able to find her grandson, Ted, a contactor in Novato.
When we met him he came bearing a translated version of the
memoir of her harrowing exodus from Armenia, a pile of photographs,
and a pilaf recipe of his grandmother.
We are grateful to
the Captanian and DeDomenico families for allowing us to include
these treasured family photographs here and online
courtesy of the Captanian and DeDomenico Families
Letters from Listeners —
We received a number of letters from
listeners concerned about what had happened to Mrs. Captanian's
two children that she had to leave behind with a Greek family
when she fled the impending genocide. Mrs. Captanian did
get her boys back after her trek, thankfully. The
two older boys in the pictures seen on the NPR site and in
the slide show above are the two she left behind. We only
had 6 and a half minutes to tell this story so many things
had to be left out.
We were only able to find a German translation of the book.
We interviewed the translator, Meline Pehlivanian, for the
piece. She happened to come across the original French version
of the book,
called Memoires D'une Deportee, while she was putting together
an exhibit about the Armenian genocide, and decided to translate
it because she thought it was such a remarkable story and
because there were so few first-hand accounts of the massacre.
The German version is
titled Der Volkermord an den Armeniern, which is still available.
The Captanian family does have an English translation of
the book that someone did for them, but it has not been published.
Another Great Idea....
Listen to Lois DeDomenico tell the story
of her Granola Recipe and attempt to turn it into another
"Rice-a-Roni" success story