- Antonino “Tony” Di Ruocco
Antonino “Tony” Di Ruocco was born on February 9, 1946, in Capri, Italy.
Tony’s involvement in the restaurant business began in Capri at Al Piccolo Bar, from 1960 through 1966. He enlisted in the mandatory Italian military service in the Navy and was discharged in 1968 with the rank of petty officer. He moved to Switzerland to travel and for more opportunity. He worked in various bars and restaurants in Switzerland from 1968 through 1975. During this time, he rubbed elbows with various famous artists, such as the Rolling Stones and Deep Purple.
At this time, he met and fell in love with Patricia Ann Smith and found himself in the kitchen as a cook in Switzerland. When Patricia’s father became ill in Canada, she left Switzerland. Tony sold his red Lancia sports car and got a visa to come to Canada. Tony then worked in various restaurants in Canada from 1975 through 1979. Patricia and Tony married in 1976. They decided to build a restaurant with the help of Patricia’s mother, Jean Ruth Connolly, and her husband, Robert Connolly, in Waterbury, Vt. In 1978, their daughter, Luciana, was born. The Villa Tragara restaurant was opened in 1980 and remained open for 22 years. In 1984, the couple's son, Ciro, was born.
The Villa Tragara won many awards and became world renowned. The restaurant and some of its recipes were highlighted in various local and national magazines throughout the years. Patricia and Tony were awarded the Insegna Del Risotrante Italiano by the president of Italy in 1999 for being one of the most prestigious Italian culinary establishments outside of Italy. The restaurant was also mentioned in the United States Congressional Record and won the Restauranteur of the Year award from the Vermont Restaurant and Lodging Association in 2000.
Tony taught culinary classes at the Essex Technical School and performed culinary demonstrations at the New England Culinary Institute and for various other food and wine events around Vermont. Tony was one of the founding members of the Vermont Fresh Network in the 1980s. The network brings local farm products to restaurant tables around Vermont.
Following the close of Villa Tragara, Tony worked in his brother Ciro’s restaurant in Capri, Lo Zodiaco, for several summer seasons throughout the years. In 2005, he was diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer and beat all odds by going into full remission for 13 years. He worked for the Alpha Gamma Rho agricultural fraternity at the University of Vermont for several years following this recovery. He took great pleasure in cooking for the boys and educating them in the ways of the world and to not wear their hats at the table. Together they held several dining fundraisers for cancer and other worthy causes. He also worked for a summer season in 2016 at the Westhaven Retreat in Nelson, New Zealand.
In 2017, Tony was diagnosed again with metastatic bladder cancer, from which he passed away on August 12, 2018, at the Vermont Respite House. He was beloved by all who knew him and is greatly missed.
He is survived by his children, Luciana and Ciro; his ex-wife, Patricia; his mother-in-law Jean Ruth Connolly; his brother and sister in Italy; and many nieces and nephews in Italy. He is predeceased by his parents, Luigi and Clotilde DiRuocco, and his brother-in-law Antonio Bianco.
Tony’s zest for life, food, people and travel took him around the world, where he made close friends with everyone he met. A celebration of Tony’s life is being held on Tuesday, August 28, starting at noon at the All Souls Interfaith Chapel in Shelburne. If you plan to attend, please come in bright colors. Tony often wore salmon, yellow, purple and light blue. In lieu of flowers, please send any donations to the Antonino Di Ruocco Memorial Fund at the Northfield Savings Bank in Waterbury. This fund will serve as the base of an organization being established by Tony’s children in his name for the advancement of innovative treatments for metastatic bladder cancer.