Delivering a cake to a Sicilian baker’s third cousin leads to a new job opportunity for Amy, played by Zoë Saldaña, in From Scratch as Amy’s husband Lino, played by Eugenio Mastrandrea, fulfills his dream of being the head chef in his own restaurant.
The Netflix drama is based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by actress Tembi Locke about her relationship with her late husband Saro who succumbs to cancer and her journey through the grief in Saro’s homeland of Sicily.
In the limited series, Amy starts volunteering at the Watts Tower with teaching kids art. She feels more of a purpose as a volunteer compared to her job at an upscale art gallery. When her boss calls her to convince a client to keep their work in the gallery in the middle of a volunteer session, Amy realizes she would rather make the community gig full-time.
Meanwhile, Lino loses his job. The greasy Italian restaurant he had been working at since he moved to Los Angeles is closing over loss of business. The owner says he’ll keep the building, but operations will cease. Lino asks if he could finally cook his own authentic Sicilian cuisine in an experimental dining experience. The owner agrees, making Lino the head chef of the new iteration.
Amy wrestles with her decision for the lower-paying job, so she calls her father Hershel, played by Keith David, for advice. Hershel reminds her that she’s a married woman who needs to discuss the life-changing decision with her husband.
When Amy and Lino come together to talk through their career moves, they convince each other to follow their dreams.
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
A banner for L’Isola, Lino’s test run of a dining experience, hangs over the old restaurant’s signage for opening night.
Amy’s sister Zora, played by Danielle Deadwyler, brings her former NFL boyfriend Ken, played by Terrell Carter, to the new restaurant. Zora is acting on Amy’s advice to introduce her boyfriend to their mother Lynn, played by Kellita Smith.
Frenzied by serving patrons, Amy tells Zora that she did not expect the introduction to happen on the opening night of her husband’s restaurant. But Zora explains that they would all be under the same roof, so it makes the most sense until Lynn rebuffs Ken every time he shares information about himself. The introduction is a fail, especially without Amy being able to sit down with her family to be a mediator. Zora becomes upset with Amy for the bad advice.
A DREAM DEFERRED
One day, Lino comes home after a long day at work complaining about pain in his knee. Amy checks the knee and notices it’s swollen. Noting the hardened texture, she suggests Lino should see an orthopedic doctor.
Amy reaches out to Zora for an orthopedic doctor since Ken would know one with his professional football background. Zora becomes enraged; she feels she’s being used by her needy younger sister again. She gives Amy the information but warns her about her dependence.
At the doctor’s office, the scan of Lino’s knee leads to a referral to an oncologist. Lino eventually gets diagnosed with a rare soft-tissue cancer. Right away, Lino is rushed to chemotherapy, as Amy suddenly becomes a caretaker.
Though L’Isola is getting rave reviews, the trial restaurant closes immediately without Lino being able to be on-site as the head chef. Amy has to convince her former unfeeling boss at the art gallery to give her contract work in order to keep her health insurance policy. She doesn’t share Lino’s diagnosis, but her sobbing convinces the boss to help her.
Zora comes by the house to see what happened to Lino’s restaurant. As soon as she’s at the door, Lino collapses behind Amy. They rush Lino to the hospital, where he has to stay. Amy reveals to her family Lino’s cancer diagnosis and how it has already upended their lives.
THE BITTER AND THE SWEET
The name of the episode, “Bitter Almonds,” is also the name of a chapter in the memoir. But the book focuses more on life in Sicily after Tembi’s husband Saro dies from cancer. During her time of grief with Saro’s mother, Tembi receives a heavy bag of almonds from a neighbor in the town who said the almonds were from a cousin of Saro’s mother. When Tembi brings the almonds to the home, she realizes she brought another chore to the kitchen. Cracking the nuts open becomes a worthwhile experience to taste authentic Sicilian almonds.
“Bitterness, Sicilians understand, is an essential flavor both in food and in life. It has shaped the island’s culinary identity. There is no sweet without bitter. The poetry of island tells us that the same is true of the Sicilian heart.”
Saro’s cancer diagnosis is first detailed in the chapter “At the Table,” where Tembi describes the hardship of becoming a caretaker while still working as an actress. They are exhausted from the medical situation until Saro suggests Tembi should “take a lover.” They can’t enjoy their time together as he gets sicker. The swift transition came with her husband’s chemo rounds and knee surgery. The cancer is still a secret to his family.
“Many rounds of chemo, three hospital stays, and a major surgery later, Saro still had not told his parents about his diagnosis,” Tembi writes. They soon have to notify his family, who fly to LA. Like in the next episode where Amy must pick up Lino’s parents at the airport stateside and prepare mentally on how to deal with the parents who have failed to build a relationship with her.