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‘It’s in our blood, that love of food’
As the Godmother’s gourmet Italian food truck hung a sharp left into the Colony Liquor parking lot, a 12-year-old Val Parker wedged herself securely between towers of pots, pans and trays of Italian sausages piled ceiling-high.
“Dolores would blast the horn to let everyone know we were there; the horn played the theme song from ‘The Godfather,’” Parker said, laughing. “That truck was one-of-a-kind back then. It took some guts.”
From those humble roots, Parker, her mother, Marlys Titus, and the Godmother herself, Dolores Rivellino, have created a Malibu mainstay and a tradition worthy of its name, The Godmother of Malibu Cafe and Catering Co. While their kitchen in the Malibu Racquet Club may be a bit less cramped than the truck from Parker’s childhood, Parker said all of the same rules have continued to apply throughout their more than three decades in business; real recipes from a real Malibu family.
“None of us are classically trained chefs, but we’re known for our comfort food,” Parker said. “Those are the recipes that last and those are the chefs that last.”
Trudi Reynolds can be counted as one of “the chefs that [lasted],” as the Godmother’s current head chef who, along with Parker, has been satisfying Malibu tourists and residents alike with her classic dishes, namely the Godmother’s City-famous tomato bisque.
The bisque, originally Titus’ recipe, has become such a Malibu gem that the Godmother’s team have expanded their output; selling approximately 15 quarts of the soup per week, as well as their homemade herb and spice blends, at Vintage Grocer’s in the Trancas Country Market.
“People are reminded of us when they see the label, so it heightens awareness,” Reynolds said. “It’s become so popular that we’re considering looking for a bigger space to manufacture it in.”
While the tomato bisque is an undeniable favorite, Reynolds said that she likes to keep her customers guessing by offering different specials, like the salmon, avocado and bacon wrap — a twist on the traditional BLT concept.
“We like our food to be fun and interesting but familiar, too,” Reynolds said. “People come here because they know some things will always be on the menu, but they also know that we like to mix things up.”
The summertime wrap is just that — bright and vibrant, with fresh, handpicked tomatoes and lettuce, made hearty with the addition of crispy bacon and grilled salmon, which is balanced with the creamy texture of summer-ripened avocado.
Much of Reynolds’ freedom to diversify the menu comes from the availability of fresh produce, the majority of which they source hyper-locally.
“We rely on a lot of local products, a lot of which are super local because they’re grown right in Malibu, by us, our friends and our family,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds’ own garden provides many of the herbs needed for the Godmother’s seasoning mix. That seemingly small detail has proven pivotal to Parker, though.
“People want a sense of home,” Parker said. “They’re tired of the big box stores and they want something sustainable and locally grown — basic and tasty.”
Having lived in Malibu since she was 6 months old, Parker has seen the genesis of Malibu from its small town roots to its current status as a coveted California coastal destination. Within that transformation, she has seen the growth of her own family and the business they began as a tight-knit unit.
Although Parker left Malibu briefly while she was pursuing a fine arts degree from UCLA, the pull of family and home eventually brought her back. Now, in the Godmother’s kitchen, she crafts a different kind of art on a different kind of canvas, nurturing that same love of food, family and home in her own young daughters.
“We might take it for granted, but when I step back and look at it all, I think ‘What an accomplishment,’ — all we had when we started were hard work and good family recipes,” Parker said. “It’s in our blood, that love of food.”