Lydia Estelle Bravo

Lydia Estelle Bravo
World Trade Center

A Passion for Food

The night before the planes hit, Lydia Bravo cooked a pot of ribollita, the Tuscan stew of beans and greens. She and her fiancé, Anthony Bengivenga -- "she called me Antonio" -- opened a bottle of Sangiovese. They had just returned from a week in Mexico. Ms. Bravo, a nurse at Marsh & McLennan, returned to work on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

They would have been together 11 years this month, Mr. Bengivenga said. Both had been married before, both had grown children. They had found in each other a passion for all things passionate -- the films of Pedro Almodóvar, flamenco music and food. All kinds of food.

Ms. Bravo, 50, was a devoted cook. She had taken classes at Peter Kumps. She had hundreds of cookbooks -- some picked up at flea markets, others on trips abroad. Whenever they went to Italy she peeked into kitchens and chatted up the cooks. At home in Dunellen, N.J., she cooked elaborate meals.

"That was really her forte," Mr. Bengivenga said. "I would help. I enjoyed being in the kitchen with her." She taught him a few things, but not nearly enough, he said.

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on October 12, 2001.

Lydia Estelle Bravo, 50, life was a feast

Thanksgiving at Lydia Estelle Bravo's house was always a big event, her daughter Mia Gonzalez recalled.

In her Dunellen home, Ms. Bravo had three bookcases full of nothing but cookbooks that she had collected over the years.

She had a lifelong interest of preparing food that included taking courses at the Peter Kump School of Cooking in Manhattan (now the Institute of Culinary Education), where she studied Italian and French cooking.

"She always made a big five- course Thanksgiving dinner. It was a big event," said Gonzalez, 32, of Manhattan.

On Sept. 10, a day after Ms. Bravo and her fiancée, Anthony Bengivenga, returned from another of their vacation trips to Mexico, she prepared a stew based on a recipe from the Tuscany region of Italy.

"We enjoyed that with a Tuscany wine," recall Bengivenga of Green Brook. "She had a certain laugh. If you mention her laugh, everybody who knew her will know it. She got everybody laughing."

One day after preparing the stew, Ms. Bravo, 50, returned to her job as an occupational nurse with the Comprehensive Health Service of Marsh & McLennan on the 94th floor of the World Trade Center, where she perished in the terrorist attack.

A Mass for Ms. Bravo will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. John's Roman Catholic Church in Dunellen.

"We were like sisters, like best friends," Ms. Bravo's daughter said. "It's a huge loss for everybody who knew her. She always had a smile on her face. People who weren't sick would come to her in the medical department (at Marsh & McLennan) just to see her," Gonzalez said.

Each Mother's Day, Ms. Bravo visited her daughter in Manhattan and the two would usually go out for dinner and then to Lincoln Center to see a foreign-language movie.

Bengivenga said he and his fiancée enjoyed films from Italy, Spain and France. The couple, who often traveled outside the country, were so familiar with the foreign languages they often didn't need movie sub-titles, Bengivenga said. "For the Italian films, not at all, and for Spanish films, only a little," he added.

Ms. Bravo was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from Manhattan College as a registered nurse and worked for eight years in the oncology unit of Cornell Medical Center, New York City.

Bengivenga met Ms. Bravo while she was working at the medical center. "We used to celebrate the anniversary of when we met. This month would have been our 11th anniversary," Bengivenga said.

Before working at March & McLennan, she was employed at the World Trade Center by Solomon, Smith Barney and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Ms. Bravo moved to Green Brook in 1991 and moved to Dunellen three years later.

Along with her fiancée and her daughter, Ms. Bravo is survived by two brothers, Albert Bravo of Queens and Edward Bravo of Dunellen; and two sisters, Norma Bravo-Reifel of Smithtown, N.Y., and Leticia Muszel of Flushing, N.Y.

Profile by Tom Haydon published in THE STAR-LEDGER.

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