Mariko Pilliteri, owner behind Sacramento’s most famous foodie dog

Mariko Pillitteri tees up corn on her dog Kilo’s famous face.

Mariko Pillitteri tees up corn on her dog Kilo’s famous face.

PHOTO by Jared Giarrusso

Kilo, a snaggletoothed chihuahua rescued from the streets of Oakland, now has a second life as the Instagram star @macaroni.and.chi. Kilo has an uncanny talent for balancing food on his nose—pickles, popcorn chicken, pomegranate seeds, you name it—and his human pairs every snapshot with punny captions. “You’re all that and dim sum!” reads a post of Kilo with a dumpling on his head like a doughy newsboy cap. Mariko Pillitteri, the amateur chef who adopted Kilo 10 years ago, says she sees a lot of sadness as an emergency surgery vet, and cooking with her two cuddly chihuahuas is a pick-me-up. Between posting for Kilo’s 3,200-plus followers, Pillitteri told SN&R about training Kilo, his favorite foods and how she came up with the name @macaroni.and.chi.

How did you get Kilo?

I was volunteering at the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society as an undergrad. At the time, I really wanted to have my own dog. But I have to be honest, I was not a little dog person. I was not a chihuahua person at all. But Kilo came in—he was terrified—and for some reason he locked on to me. We were checking him in and he leapt onto my shoulder. People sometimes say a rescue dog chose them. I feel like he did that, and I’m so glad he did. I don’t know why he ended up on the streets of Oakland, but he was sick and malnourished when he came in. Animal control had picked him up, and he needed a big surgery. Then the shelter allowed me to foster him, so he became my first foster failure.

How old is Kilo? He looks tiny.

When I got him, the exams said 6 months to a year. He’s about 10 years old this year.

How did you train him to balance food, like short ribs, on his nose?

I was like, “I am not going to be one of those people that has a little barky chihuahua that’s untrained and gets away with everything.” I started training him and he is really food-motivated, obviously. He knows all sorts of tricks, like play dead, dance and roll over. And obviously he can balance things on his head.

What made you start Instagramming him as @macaroni.and.chi?

Last year, I was helping my friends out with their nonprofit for horses. They wanted to increase exposure, and Instagram is a great way to create some hype, so I only started an account to like and comment on their pictures. Obviously, it was just going to be pictures of my dog. I always send pictures to my friends of Kilo balancing things on his head. I sent a picture to one of my best friends of him with a noodle on his nose, and she said: ‘macaroni and chi!’

Every caption is so punny. How do you come up with them all?

It’s pretty dorky. I’ve always been really into wordplay. Recently my dad found all these comic books and pictures I’d drawn as a kid. One thing was a booklet of little pictures I’d drawn with puns. I must’ve been, like, 10.

Like an analog Instagram.

And it was all animal stuff.

What comes first? The food or the pun?

I love to cook and I love to eat. I snap a photo with something edible and on my way to work the pun pops into my head. I actually have zero problems thinking of puns, it’s kind of terrible. I was talking to one of the techs at work about pozole and hominy, and suddenly I was like, “hominy chihuahuas does it take to eat a bowl of pozole?” Then I had to make pozole so I could do it for @macaroni.and.chi.

Does Kilo actually eat all those things?

No. I try not to post foods that aren’t dog safe, like chocolate on his head, but he’s good enough not to grab food from me. Most of the time he doesn’t eat the food. He’s doing it for dog treats. Every once in a while, he does get people food. He kind of has an iron stomach. On New Year’s Day, we gave him his own tiny bowl of ozoni, which is a Japanese good-luck soup. As a vet, we say that less than 10 percent of a pet’s diet should come from extraneous treats. I guess my Instagram is pretty hypocritical.

What’s his favorite food?

Chicken. And what’s weird is that he likes salad. He will crunch on lettuce; he likes carrots. But anything with meat is, of course, golden.

Does he like going out to eat?

We’ll go to outdoor seating areas, but he mostly just sits in my lap. Believe it or not, he’s actually really a shy, nervous dog. He’s come out of his shell a lot in the past 10 years. But a lot of our pictures [that are geotagged at local restaurants] are if we get leftovers and bring them home.

Is he ever recognized in public?

Not yet, probably because there are so many little, fawn-colored chihuahuas out there. Maybe if he walked around with steak on his head.

Any plans for making the @macaroni.and.chi brand bigger?

I did put some of his pictures on little canvases to hang in the house. Maybe someday there will be things like that, but no plans to capitalize on it yet. I’m more interested in spreading the word that you can find wonderful dogs at shelters. But we do joke that one day Kilo will support us.