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Twins from Northeast Ohio place in the Create Cooking Challenge

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Gourmet or Good Enough
Donna Cianciola (right) and Diane Delia grew up in Northeast Ohio. They're big fans of cooking shows on public television and placed sixth in this year's national Create Cooking Challenge.

This year’s national Create Cooking Challenge invited viewers to submit their family’s recipes. Two of the top finishers are twin sisters from Northeast Ohio.

Donna Cianciola and Diane Delia went to McKinley High School in Canton and later Normandy High School in Parma. Delia is still right here in Shaker Heights, although Cianciola now lives in Maryland. She said it all goes back to their heritage.

“[We’re] Italian, Sicilian, it's the same thing,” Cianciola said. “The fun part about living in the Cleveland area [is there] were so many ethnic neighborhoods. We learned German dishes and Hungarian dishes and Greek dishes and Lebanese, all kinds of different things. We incorporate that into ‘Gourmet or Good Enough.’”

That’s the name of their web series, which has grown to more than 200 videos online. The name refers to their cooking styles: Delia makes food simply, which she deems “good enough” to put on the table. “Everyone is going to enjoy it, but I don't have to spend a lot of time doing it and putting it together,” she said.

Cianciola is the gourmet because she likes to add the “extra touch” or twist using different ingredients or techniques. The sisters learned how to cook from their large, extended family. One aunt specialized in fresh vegetables. Another was frugal and used every item in the refrigerator for every meal.

“We kind of combined all of that with what my mother taught us,” Delia said. “When my mother went back to work, it was our job to cook. It was funny because she would spend a lot of time at night creating these instructions and I used to think to myself, ‘She could have just done it herself.’ Our poor family suffered through a lot of burnt pork chops and lumpy mashed potatoes and half-dressed salads, but we persevered.”

That lead to them entering this year’s Create Cooking Challenge, with the theme “My Family’s Recipe.” Their video about Sicilian artichokes came in sixth place. The sisters feel they placed high because of their on-screen rapport, and the fact that they offered two ways to prepare the dish: steamed or stuffed.

The sisters said part of their on-screen rapport stems from the telepathy that twins seem to have, even though their parents made a point of separating them into different classrooms at school.

“My mother would say we'd start a conversation in the morning and then we would pick it right up when we saw each other again in the evening,”Cianciola said. “We were each other's best friends, and we still are.”

The judges of the video contest included Martin Yan (“Yan Can Cook!”) and Pati Jinich (“Pati’s Mexican Table”), and they noticed that bond, too. They also recommended more closeups of the food.

“We did learn some valuable filming and editing critiques, but as far as our presentation, they were pleased and our actual recipe was easy to follow,” Cianciola said. “We're trying to show how fun and easy cooking can be.”

When they cook for themselves, they both said homemade sauce is key to a great meal.

Delia prefers pasta while Cianciola leans toward potatoes and vegetables, something she’s pursued with canning from her home garden. It’s even taken her family to the State Fair in Maryland.

“Last year, my husband won a blue ribbon for cantaloupe and I won a blue ribbon for cantaloupe bread out of his garden,” she said. “It's very satisfying and that's what I like about cooking... it's a little bit of work, it's a little bit of fun, but you have that instant gratification when you're done.”

You can check out more than 200 videos in their “Gourmet or Good Enough” series on YouTube.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.