Artist Dan Rizzie has lived in his North Haven home since 1996. For most of that time he lived with his girlfriend, Susan Lazarus, but this year they made it official and married. Their home, like their kitchen, is filled with art, relics, books and souvenirs from their travels, mostly from their yearly visits to Italy. And when one goes to Italy, one brings back something to eat or drink. Rizzie and Lazarus have gathered spices, herbs and digestifs that not only add to their meals but to the decor, making their kitchen a museum for the senses. A working museum, because Rizzie makes dinner nearly every night. Lazarus is a happy sous-chef.
The couple’s spices draw from Rizzie’s peripatetic upbringing. His father was in the Foreign Service, so his school days were spent in Jamaica, India and Egypt. The experience has led to a broad palate, deepened by the time he spent next to his Italian grandmother in her kitchen. “You become an adventurous eater at a young age,” says Rizzie. “You’re sitting at a meal and the guest of honor plucks the eye out and eats it in front of you.”
He has a friend in Abu Dhabi, who can be depended on for a regular shipment of saffron. Herb mixtures are labeled in Italian to tell you whether they’re made for fish or meat. But the couple’s American roots are always evident—Rizzie studied in Texas and Lazarus grew up on Long Island—aged balsamic vinegar and jarred caper berries sit next to Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt.
Where there are artists and cooks, there are books. The couple’s books are also mementos of travel and interests. “We get them as gifts,” says Lazarus, “and we give them to each other.” A recent trip to London brought back the Moro cookbook.
Among the bottles on the counter, Long Island always has a place, whether it’s wine or beer. In his fish stew is local squid and cod. In the summer there’s a garden. “I did a painting of Susan’s garden,” says Rizzie. “We grow mint, cilantro, basil, thyme, tomatoes, zucchini. That’s what’s so great about Long Island, we can get almost anything fresh.” So much so that Rizzie once thought to write a book called Inedible Long Island. “You know, choke cherries, sand, oyster shells.”
Music and Texas
“I think you should play music when you cook,” says Rizzie as he abandons his fish stew of fennel, onions, garlic, squid, cod, fire-roasted tomatoes and saffron, which he says he makes all year long with small alterations in the ingredients. He comes back with one of his guitars, lets the stew bubble while he launches into the “Edible East End Blues.” It only has one line. But then he has another idea. “Can Mary fry some fish, momma, I’m as hungry as can be,” he sings. It’s a song by Leon Payne, about the tower shootings at U.T. Austin. After Rizzie finished art school at SMU, he spent the next 20 years in Dallas. The ties to the city are still strong. He was recently asked to design the new logo for the Dallas Farmers Market.
Counter Top as Canvas
Rizzie’s fish stew looks as good on its way into the pot as it tastes in the bowl. His eye for composition turns chopped vegetables into a still life. “He doesn’t make as much of a mess as I do,” says Lazarus. The side of the refrigerator is a canvas for a collage. Discussions about the choice of place mats and napkins take an edgy tone. No matter, we’ll just go au naturel tonight.
Wine & Design
A Methuselah, which holds six liters or eight bottles, of Joseph Phelps 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon sits on top of the refrigerator. Rizzie designed the label. Curiously, the bottle is still full. Other wine labels he’s designed are in frames in his basement studio where a wall-size red painting is nearly finished. It matches the fish stew. •