Yiayia’s call over the fence has become as familiar of a sound as a notification ping or a phone ringing to siblings Daniel and Luke Mancuso.
The brothers’ set up the Instagram page @yiayianextdoor to share yiayia’s plethora of home cooked meals and sweets, and bring some light to their world that had been darkened by tragedy.
By now, many people are aware of their collective story.
In 2013, Daniel and Luke’s mother, Teresa Mancuso had been fatally stabbed by her ex-husband and the siblings’ father in Melbourne’s north.
While their loss is undeniably immeasurable, it is perhaps the small, special touches of a mother that they remember most fondly.
“It was the little things, like when she would heat up our socks on top of the heater in the mornings on cold days and coming home to smelling a beautiful home cooked meal. She would do anything and everything for us like we didn’t have to say… She would go the extra mile and whould treat our friends like her own kids too,” Daniel told Neos Kosmos.
Ms Mancuso was living at her mother’s house in Reservoir at the time, where Daniel and Luke currently reside next door to the Insta-famous Yiayia.
The elderly woman next door, simply known as ‘Yiayia’ to their almost 75,000 followers had raised the alarm after hearing concerning sounds from the neighbouring house. Following the tragedy, Yiayia began to share food over the fence to comfort the young men in their loss.
Nine years after Ms Mancuso’s passing, her two sons have carried on her memory and honour the woman who took them under her wing with a cookbook aptly named Yiayia Next Door.
“Honouring Mum is something we do every day with this [Instagram page] and just trying to be as calm and polite and be the best man we can be, each and every day… Especially now like we’ve both got girlfriends and we’re sort of settling down a little bit and then it breaks your heart when you’re with them and you’re like ‘I wish you could meet Mum’. So instead of saying that, we take all of mum’s great qualities and try showcase them in our own lives so then her legacy lives on forever,” Luke told Neos Kosmos.
“I think I can attribute that to what we’ve done with the cookbook. Food brings people together, and it’s good that we can utilise our platforms to shed light on the domestic violence space, but also to bring people together and show how powerful community can be.”
The Yiayia Next Door cookbook joins a range of items that Daniel and Luke have produced to boost the message of their Instagram turned social enterprise.
First and foremost, the cookbook pays homage to the wonderful woman next door who has chosen to remain anonymous for almost a decade now, but also honours the community that rallied around the siblings after their loss to domestic violence.
“Funnily enough she’s not only just seen us grow up, but she’s also seen mum grow up, so she’s been in the picture for our whole lives really. Since mum passed away, I felt like she’s literally taken us under her wing and treated us like her grandkids, she always calls us ‘her boys’….We’re very blessed to have her and Pappou in our lives,” Daniel explained.
“She’s very sweet, loving and caring like all yiayias and nonnas are, but she’s also got a good sense of humour. She doesn’t take life too seriously, which is something myself and Daniel look up to and aspire to do. She’s obviously been through all of her own struggles as a result of mum passing away and even just moving to Australia. We admire that she still takes the piss out of life. She’s also quite a strong woman and I can tell that she can definitely put the foot down if she wants to,” Luke added.
Yiayia truly is the soul of the book, lending her recipes that have brought the siblings so much comfort to the rest of the world. Capturing the essence of Yiayia’s captivating cuisine however took much time, patience and a bit of trial and error.
“The start was a bit of a frustrating process when getting the recipes down because as you know there’s no measurements in the kitchen in Yiayia’s house,” Luke explained.
Luke initially suggested Yiayia attempt to use measuring cups and spoons (which Yiayia naturally never owned), but they just weren’t cutting it. Yiayia could taste that something was off and so Luke had to revise his approach.
“I had to literally sit her down and say ‘alright this doesn’t work, you just cook and anytime you put something in, do the same in a separate bowl and then I’ll try and measure it or guesstimate it and then we’ll go from there.”
While Yiayia’s magic is weaved into the tapestry of the cookbook, Yiayia Next Door also invited their wider community to submit their own recipes too, fully encompassing the love and support that the social enterprise was born of.
“We know that there’s not only one yiayia out there. There’s millions and so we’re just making sure we shed a light on every yiayia and also share a tribute to all women out there and all mums so I think it was important for us to feature some of those recipes from very special women in everyone’s lives. The best thing about the book is each little recipe has a story that goes with it,” Luke said.
The pages are seeped in countless years of memories and tradition, but of course of all the recipes collected, there are a couple that will always stick out to the siblings.
“I love her [kourambiedes], I call them moon biscuits, because I can never pronounce it right, they’re on of my favourites,” Daniel said.
“For me it’s the chicken and rice. It was the first dish she ever gave us at that time and it brings us back to that memory of her looking out for us, so it holds a special place in our hearts,” Luke added.
Although the cookbook has only just launched, the young men are already buzzing with more ideas to spread awareness about the impacts and prevention of domestic violence, namely a sequel to Yiayia Next Door.
“We’re definitely hoping for a sequel. We would love to essentially tap in and respect our Nonna now and get our Italian recipes out there with the community input again and incorporate our stories and maybe have a bit more of a story about Mum in there,” Daniel said.
Life changing tragedies happen to people every day, few however turn it into the opportunity to help others and foster change in the world. Reflecting on all that has unfolded has given the brothers the chance to think about how they would like to look at life ahead.
“I just want to make an impact in that domestic violence space and really be a voice and an advocate, in that’ turning that negative into a positive’ kind of way. I really want to put the spotlight on that and showing this is an issue and we need to tackle it. And even making things normal, for example, if your parents get divorced, that’s fine. You know you’ve got to remember, if you were in their shoes and your relationship wasn’t working, sometimes it’s healthy to break up and disconnect from each other because you don’t want to resolve into what myself and Luke had to deal with,” Daniel said.
“I just want to be happy and free and want that for everyone else. I want to think back on my time, when I was alive, living, that I went the extra mile for everyone that I loved and cared for and tried to understand as many people as I could. I just want to try and be a positive and one day, hopefully be as good as a father as my mum was a mother,” Luke concluded.
The “Yiayia Next Door” cookbook launched on 26 April and can be purchased by visiting yiayianextdoor.com.au.