2004-08-08 05:14:15 UTC
Rose Viggiani, 93: The face behind Mamma Bravo
Created recipe for popular pasta sauce
Husband commissioned label drawing
There really was a Mamma Bravo.
Rose Viggiani earned the sobriquet by spending hours - and hours - at
her kitchen stove, sifting, adding, stirring, tasting, adding, and
writing down each variation until she had created the perfect tomato
sauce for her husband.
Domenico Viggiani was one of the owners of the Toronto Macaroni
Factory on Hook Ave. in Etobicoke, who decided some 50 years ago that
Toronto was ready for authentic Italian sauce with their Lancia pasta,
and that it would be his wife's.
The tomato sauce she came up with was so good, he named the brand
Bravo and commissioned an artist to draw a typical Italian mother for
It looked a lot like his wife.
Rose Viggiani died June 29. She was 93. Until a few years ago, she
continued to make that famed spaghetti sauce at home for her family.
She never used the sauce from the tin, even though it was her recipe.
"My mother was a perfectionist," said her daughter, Alba Graner.
Her black-and-white kitchen in their Bathurst St.-Eglinton Ave. W.
area home was like a test kitchen. Everything had its place; every
ingredient measured and recorded. The coffee had to perk 46 times -
for the perfect cup. The pork rinds were precisely one inch by two and
smothered in the tomato sauce, which included salt, pepper and garlic
but never oregano.
It took weeks to perfect that original sauce.
Rose Viggiani mashed and de-seeded the tomatoes in a hand sieve then
added ingredients to the heavy aluminum pot she always cooked in.
Domenico Viggiani did the taste-testing.
"He'd try it again and again. He'd say it needed salt, then he would
finally say, `Yes. It's good,'" said May Caruso, Rose Viggiani's
younger sister. The two shared a Willowdale home for 44 years after
Domenico Viggiani died at age 53. "She never bragged. She never said,
`That's my recipe.'"
But it was.
She also contributed the recipe for her husband's line of tinned
meatballs, an innovative product at the time. The secret was the way
she combined the meats, beef and pork, and then fried them before
immersing them in the tomato sauce to cook for two hours.
At the time there was no machine that could make meatballs round, said
her son Anthony.
"My father said to heck with them and put the meatballs in the machine
without hand-rolling them," he said. "But the machine spit them out
shaped like sausages."
Again it was Rose to the rescue. After weeks of testing, she went down
to the factory one Sunday to show the ladies working there how to
hand-roll the meatballs.
"And then my father sold them at a higher price because they were
hand-rolled," Anthony Viggiani said. "It was a first for canned
The business was sold to General Mills in the late 1960s. The H.J.
Heinz Company of Canada now markets the Bravo spaghetti sauce with the
familiar drawing of the dark-haired, kindly looking woman on the
Trained as a hairdresser, Rose Viggiani worked in the salon at the
Royal York hotel before she married. She marcelled, or "finger waved,"
the locks of silent screen star Mary Pickford and singer/actress
Her family believes she became a wonderful cook because her husband
was a fussy eater and she was a perfectionist.
Her niece and goddaughter, Rose Marie Lucci, used to walk to her
aunt's for supper after she'd eaten at her own place.
"My aunt's cooking was just so great," she said.
And when her daughter brought friends home from school, they'd all
say, "Hello, Mamma Bravo" to her.
"That always pleased her," said Alba Graner. "I think she was proud of