About This Episode

Is being fortunate an obligation to help others? Host Billy Shore travels to Portland, Maine to chat with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo and pastry chef and restaurant owner Ilma Lopez (Piccolo, Chaval) about the good fortune that has propelled their careers and how they use their talents to create social impact. “Successful people don’t like to talk about how important luck is… Luck does have a large part to do with success,” says Russo. Lopez agrees that being in the right place at the right time helped her career advance, and her habit is to give back when something fortunate happens to her. “The more blessings we have in our lives, the more we have to give. Every time something good happens to us we have to give something out,” she believes. The guests discuss whether social responsibility is more important than ever given our current political climate. Russo and Lopez agree it comes down to using our strengths. “Storytelling is about empathy… and that is an act of moral imagination. I use my time to make myself heard on moral issues,” says Russo. “We talk at the restaurant ‘Is it really meaningful what we’re doing or should we really be doing something else? What if we close the restaurant and go down to the border and try and feed these kids?,’” asks Lopez. However, she concludes that helping neighbors and local charities can ultimately be just as valuable. Share in this thoughtful conversation among people who see social responsibility as a basic human instinct as well as a moral obligation.

Resources and Mentions:

Richard Russo

Richard Russo

An American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and teacher. He is the author of eight novels (most recently Everybody’s Fool and That Old Cape Magic), three collections of stories (including The Destiny Thief), and a memoir (Elsewhere). In 2002, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which was adapted into a multiple-award-winning HBO miniseries. In 2016, he was given the Indie Champion Award by the American Booksellers Association followed in 2017 by France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine. Russo earned a bachelor’s degree, a Master of Fine Arts degree, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Arizona. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Ilma Lopez

Ilma Lopez

Pastry Chef and co-owner (with her husband Chef Damian Sansonetti) of Piccolo and Chaval in Portland, Maine. She is a veteran of some of the most demanding and rewarding kitchens in the industry, such as DB Bistro, Corton, Tailor, El Bulli, Café Boulud, and Le Bernardin. With a mastery of colors, flavors, textures, and spices—and a seasoned ability to work under pressure—Lopez makes classic dishes her own, with attention to micro-detail and thoughtful twists. For her work, Lopez earned a 2014 StarChefs Coastal New England Rising Star Pastry Chef Award. In 2018, she was chosen as a James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef semi-finalist for the second year in a row.

No Kid Hungry logo

No Kid Hungry


Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.


A casual eatery inspired by the home cooking of Central and Southern Italy. Every dish at Piccolo is simply made, but with great care and passion. All of our pastas, sauces and breads are made by hand on-site. Imports such as abruzzi smoked ricotta, Sicilian oregano, and Mediterranean sardines balance a traditional Italian flavor with local seafood, meat and produce. The wine list is focused on hard-to-find Italian wines. Many feature indigenous grapes, natural, organic and sustainable practices that are sourced from small producers all over Italy. The atmosphere at Piccolo is intimate, relaxed and warm.


The second restaurant from the wife and husband team of Ilma Lopez and Damian Sansonetti. It is a neighborhood brasserie located in the West End of Portland, Maine, featuring Spanish and French inspired seasonal cuisine. Restaurant critic Andrew Ross named Chaval the Best New Restaurant in Maine in 2017.