Becoming A Chef
I knew in 8th grade that I was going to become a chef. I love to cook. My Mom taught me and my Dad, who died when I was eight, had taught her. I was the youngest in my Italian family of four siblings making cooking more fun than a responsibility.
What I remember about my father was his passion. His passion for cooking, his passion for life! My most vivid memories of him were from four to seven. They took place on Sundays. All day Sunday this 6’4” 230 pound larger then life “spaccone” would be in the kitchen, singing opera, Mario Lanza style, cooking tomato sauce (gallons of it), making meatballs and watching cartoons with us. Those meatballs were wonderful, he would always make one gigantic meatball. I miss those meatballs, I still don’t know how he did them exactly. My mother would say, “put some gawlic in thea”. Since he’d make gallons of this thick bubbling tomato sauce taking hours to neutralize the acids he would sear these meatballs and throw them in the sauce to braise them. It would make for these beautiful, just fall apart meatballs. There was always this one gigantic one, like a meatloaf but it was round. He would simmer that in the sauce all day. The next day he’d slice it up for meatball sandwiches. I’m starting to salivate just thinking about it…
Growing up in Massachusetts I had the opportunity to choose regular high school or a state of the art vocational school. I knew that learning to become a chef at Tri-County was my direction. Absolutely. The first trimester I took six electives and at the end petitioned for cooking. Not everyone gets first pick. They score you on talent, how well you pick it up and enthusiasm. I was one of those that did get my first and only choice. We had an 80 seat restaurant in our school, a bank, a store, and 20 other trades that were mostly open to the public. It was like a functioning town with carpentry, car repair, and a wonderful auditorium. Tons of stuff to say about this place but it’s beside the point except to add that it’s a great way to learn a craft or vocation if that’s your path.
I competed against Emile Chagnon and others at the state VICA competition. The winner would get a scholarship, I ended up with the bronze. He took my belt too and I never did get that back.
Gerry Slaney was my instructor and a second father figure. I was definitely one of his favorites in that class for four years. His guidance and passion fueled and nurtured my skills and confidence. He died the year I graduated. That was rough; he was a great man and a mentor who trained me for success. I will always carry him with me in what I do.
Cooking is a necessity. If you never learn how to cook or don’t like to cook, your destined to just not eat well. It’s a life skill that allows you to have a higher standard of living. Your able to buy better food at a more reasonable cost then if you were to pay to go out every night, or just eat Top Ramen or frozen food at home. You’re able to better regulate the health side of things as well.
Cooking is also a gift. Something you create with your hands. It provides nourishment, enjoyment and brings people together positively. What better way to express love.