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No ‘calamari comeback’? The squid chef from Democrats’ 2020 convention says he’s a Trump backer

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The “calamari comeback” chef who delighted viewers of the last Democratic National Convention might not be coming back.

John Bordieri was dubbed by some as the “calamari ninja” for standing wordlessly, clad head-to-toe in black, and holding a platter of lightly buttered, sautéed squid on a Rhode Island beach during a video roll call of states that formally made Joe Biden the party’s presidential nominee in 2020.

Bordieri said he’s not heard from state or national leaders about a repeat performance when Democrats gather again this summer in Chicago.

He is planning to start a vacation when their convention opens on Aug. 19. And more importantly, he prefers former President Donald Trump to Biden — so organizers likely won’t want him back, anyway.

“I’m a Trump supporter, to be honest with you,” Bordieri, 57, said in an interview during which he divulged for the first time publicly his true political sympathies and his plans to vote for the Republican in November. “But I was told to tell everybody that I’m independent.”

The Democratic National Convention has announced plans to again nominate Biden via a virtual roll call before the in-person event formally begins. That’s so it can satisfy an early ballot deadline set by Republican-controlled Ohio, even though state lawmakers there have since eased their rules.

The convention floor in Chicago will still feature an in-person nominating process. But the coronavirus pandemic offered numerous lessons about using virtual content to modernize often staid norms. That’s left political junkies — and at least some people who count calamari among their favorite foods — asking about whether they’d see Bordieri again this year.

Convention organizers said no programming decisions have been made.

“Our convention will pull in people across the country to showcase how President Biden and Democrats are delivering for Americans and lay out a vision for the future,” said Emily Soong, a convention spokesperson.

Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Liz Beretta-Perik didn’t respond to questions about whether Bordieri — or calamari more generally — will star in the Ocean State’s plans at this year’s convention.

Bordieri said he’s open to doing a video contribution similar to 2020’s. But he’s planning to be off during the convention and has no travel plans then, except to suburban Boston for an Aug. 25 concert by country star Kenny Chesney.

His part in the 2020 convention was so memorable because many officials speaking for their states stuck to serious topics. They decried the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic or the virus-decimated economy under Trump, or otherwise promoted efforts to fight poverty or combat racial injustice.

Rhode Island focused on squid — meant to highlight how its fishing industry was finding innovative ways to boost sales after COVID-19 shuttered restaurants and saw prices and demand for fresh catches fall.

Then-Rhode Island Democratic Party chair Joseph McNamara, a state lawmaker who successfully lobbied to make calamari Rhode Island’s official appetizer, taped the state’s 30-second video contribution on Oakland Beach in Warwick, near Iggy’s Boardwalk restaurant, where Bordieri is executive chef.

Bordieri didn’t speak. He only hoisted for the camera calamari with garlic, parsley and slices of cherry peppers. That’s how it’s most often served locally, sometimes with banana peppers as well.

McNamara declared Rhode Island “the calamari comeback state,” prompting immediate, snarky proclamations online that the appetizer had clinched the Democratic nomination — or that it had even won the entire 2020 election.

Bordieri said he wasn’t going for a ninja look, only wearing his normal black uniform, “and I just happened to wear black gloves that day.” When he arrived on the beach, he says, producers “looked me up and down and said, ‘You’re going to be in the shot.’”

He was instructed to wear a mask for filming and slipped on a black face-covering that only made him look more like a ninja. After the video aired on the 2020 convention’s second night, the calls started coming by midnight, making Bordieri too excited to get much sleep.

“My wife says, ‘Oh my God, you’re trending!’ I said, ‘What’s trending?’” Bordieri laughed. He also quickly became acquainted with another term he’d not previously heard, “blowing up” online.

When he went to work in the morning, he recalled: “The phone’s ringing all day long. The business phone. My phone. Reporters, TV, newspaper, radio, the whole nine yards. I was talking to everybody.” And, of course, their calamari sales spiked.

The crispy snack remains popular at Iggy’s three locations around Rhode Island, which sell around 400 pounds per week. “If it’s done right, and you use a good product, people are going to love it,” he said.

The hubbub from four years ago has mostly subsided. But Bordieri said a few buddies still call him the calamari ninja.

“If we go out to dinner, if I’m with these certain friends, they let everybody know that I’m in the building,” he said. “I get a little embarrassed sometimes.”

By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press

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