R5 Andy Spano


Andy Spano Makes Lunch 

 But  will a grateful county go low-carb?

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Photo Credit: Dmitri Kasterine

He’s the kind of politician who avoids making careless political moves. But outside the office, on a cold midwinter day in Yorktown’s Food Emporium, County Executive Andrew J. Spano lives dangerously and samples several red grapes on his way through the produce section.

“Too soft,” he mutters, annoyed. “I like them when they snap.”

 I look around to see if anyone might cuff the 71-year-old county executive, but the only other witness to this fruit infraction is Spano’s security guard, who’s pretending to be interested in lemons. As for me, I’m not about to complain, because Spano is shopping for my lunch.

It’s not just soft grapes that Spano dislikes; it’s bad food in general. Under his influence, the county’s Board of Health has introduced “no junk food” weeks to many county schools, has organized conferences on nutrition, and is considering requiring chain restaurants to list calorie contents. Spano was the force behind the county’s acquisition of Hilltop, the environmental center and organic farm near his home in Yorktown. He’s been doing the food shopping and cooking in his own household for decades—in fact, he’s been doing the cooking since his first divorce in 1974 when he discovered that no woman can resist a man wielding a spatula. He also does most of the decorating, not only at home in Yorktown, but at the Spanos’ other houses in Saratoga, New York, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and even at the county office building, which had a certain Dragnet quality before Spano brought it up to date.

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Today’s mission is to secure the remaining ingredients for a Middle East-inspired dish Spano plans to create using his newest cookware, a funnel-shaped steamer known as a tangine. We head for the spice rack, where Spano studies a large jar of dried anise skeptically. Sure, he can afford the $6.49, but isn’t that an awful lot of money for one little ingredient? He considers the liquid version, which is cheaper but not quite the same. Time passes. The spice standoff ends only when I spot a tiny jar of dried anise at half the price. “I knew I brought you along for something,” Spano says. “I really don’t know how people manage,” he adds ruefully. “Everything is so expensive.”

We drive back to chez Spano in Yorktown, a tidy house in gray shingle and stone veneer that he describes as “a modest cape”—and so it is. Set back only a small distance from a busy thoroughfare, the red-shuttered house looks utterly average, unusual only in that four cars are crammed into its driveway, among them a county-owned limousine and the county-owned SUV from which we disembark, bearing the raw materials for a homemade power lunch.

Brenda Resnick Spano greets us at the door, taking coats. One of her two grown children (he has four), in a bit of a crisis, is temporarily occupying the downstairs rooms, and Brenda is clearly feeling that mixture of delight and anxiety many parents experience when a grown child still needs a parent.

Andy gives a house tour. I admire the Chinese harp he brought back from a recent junket to China (“fun but I don’t have enough time to practice”), the new, lattice-paned living room windows, and Spano’s tiny office off the front hall. “This is my government office. I just created this about five months ago. This is the first time I’ve had a room of my own.”

Prompted by Brenda, Spano opens his closet doors to reveal a most meticulously organized wardrobe, with a pullout rack of ties that are color-coordinated. (He says his brother’s the same way.)

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The kitchen, which opens onto a family room with a large flat-screen TV, was entirely Spano’s doing. Always thrifty, he used the original wooden cabinets in a different configuration, adding a center island with a work surface across from the stove and facing a countertop with four chairs.

This kitchen island is Spano’s home podium, where he lectured six now-grown children for the past 21 years and where he continues to hold forth at dinner parties or whenever opportunity knocks.

“What’s nice is you can talk while you’re cooking,” he says. “This space is designed so everything’s within my reach. It drives Brenda crazy, but she’s not as organized as I am. I’m always looking for the next little gadget. Like this”—he holds up a slender plastic thingamagig. “This is a dicer for garlic. I bring Brenda things home to organize her,” he says. And adds, “The Container Store’s my favorite store.”

Does the expression “control freak” mean anything to the third-term county executive? He shrugs off the suggestion, slicing a lemon while studying the recipe intently.

“This is my routine on Saturday mornings,” he says. “I have an alarm that rings at five and at six, and depending on what I have to do, I shut off one of them. Then I come into the kitchen and go through the refrigerator. If I’ve run out of sauce, I make more sauce and freeze it. Then I see what else we need. But I usually shop on weekdays, on my way home. I go to the Chinese market in White Plains, to Turco’s here in Yorktown, and to the Food Emporium. Whole Foods has a cheese I like.”

He says he cooks a lot of fish. “Calamari, conch, lobster tails, stuff I ate when I was young. But we’re on a low-carb diet, have been for three years. So I buy this low-carb pasta that doesn’t taste like cardboard. I try to buy low-carb sauces and doctor them. I use a lot of my own recipes.”

So Brenda doesn’t cook? “She cooks normal stuff, but I don’t like normal stuff. She doesn’t mind. She takes out the garbage.”

“We balance each other,” she says.

Thanks to the tagine and to Spano’s powers of organization, lunch arrives quickly. As promised, it’s a low-carb, low-fat, aromatic dish that leaves the stomach crying out for something illicit. I ask about the Spanos’ by-all-appearances solid marriage.

“I’ve known Brenda since time immemorial,” says Spano, counting back 36 years. “We were friends for a long time before we started dating.” Brenda was working for Spano—then county clerk—when they started dating, a fact that drew much publicity and for which Spano makes no apologies. “We got married while she was still working for me, in this house, on January 1, 1986, inauguration day,” he says. And Brenda remains very much in her husband’s employ—she serves as his chief campaign fundraiser, making the calls that secured more than $1 million in contributions for each of his three runs.

“I’m running again in two years,” Spano says. “Why not? I like what I do, and I’m good at it, so as long as people want to elect me, I’ll do it.”

But Spano says he’d be just as happy retiring, and Brenda concurs. “He has so many interests, he’d stay busy,” she says. “He’s a happy person with whatever he has in life. It’s a very nice quality.”

On that note, I thank my hosts for a wonderful main course—and drive off to look for an artery-clogging dessert.

Ann Loftin is a freelance writer who resides in Lakeville, Connecticut.

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Try your hand at Andy Spano’s recipes.



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