With this year’s Fête Rouge, the Epicurean Society remembers a local legend

As Fête Rouge rolls around every year to celebrate the most creative flavors, successful entrepreneurs and talented chefs in the Capital City, local icon and founder of Gino’s Restaurant Grace “Mama” Marino has always been at the center of the action.

When the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society, host of Fête Rouge, first laid its foundation 10 years ago, the board set out to choose a local epicurean to celebrate each year for his or her work ethic, philanthropy and impact on the community.

That year, it was unanimous: The first award would go to Mama Marino, and from then on, it would bear her name.

Since her passing at age 94 in June, this year marks the first awards dinner (set for Aug. 24) without Mama in attendance.

BRES Executive Director Melissa Parmelee says that, while the organization still feels the loss of such a powerful matriarch, they’re looking forward to carrying her legacy forward.

“Mama was sweet, tough, spirited and grateful for her family and community. Those in the culinary industry will continue to be touched by her legacy. [She] invested in us, encouraged us and taught us to also teach others. Her love and spirit will live on in all of us forever.” — Melissa Parmelee, BRES executive director

“She was truly a one-of-a-kind person, a true icon of an industry, someone many restaurateurs aspired to be like. I have so many fond memories, it is hard to give you just [one], but there is one thing she said to me that really summed up her spirit.

In 2010, my father was ill and was in the hospital. I was in the restaurant, and Mama was there, and she heard us talking about my dad. Mama turned to me and said, ‘How old is Mr. Frank?’ I said, ‘82.’ She quickly replied, ‘He’s too young to have those problems!’ She was [around] 90 at the time.” — Paul Bologna, Marino family friend, owner of Paul Bologna Fine Wines, son of BRES award winner Frank Bologna

“For nearly 10 years I had the pleasure of standing beside Grace ‘Mama’ Marino as she bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award, named in her honor, to so many worthy epicurean recipients. But she was the first, and rightfully so. She reigned for over 50 years in a male-dominated culinary industry and showed us all what it meant to work hard because you love what you do.

Getting there was no small feat—she traveled to Baton Rouge as an Italian immigrant with three small children; she lost her husband to lung cancer early in life; she taught herself and her children English and built the Gino’s Restaurant we all know and love today from the ground up with her own two hands and a tremendous faith. Even though she only stood 4-foot-11, she was a force: my inspiration and Mama to all who knew her.” — Renee Dugas, director of sales and marketing at City Pork Hospitality Group, former BRES executive director

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of 225 Magazine.