As I interview the chefs participating in the Soroptomists' Celebrity Chef Dinner, I find they all have one thing very much in common: They all work very, very hard. This week, I looked at my notes and wondered how I was going to fit the next two chefs - longtime friends with longtime experience - into one article.
Chris Lanzi, a third generation restaurateur, is the executive chef at Lanzi's on the Lake in Mayfield. He is the youngest of the five Lanzi brothers - Lou, Chris, Tony, Joe and Larry - involved in the business.
"My grandfather had a restaurant called Lanzi's in Amsterdam, and in 1956 my father started Lorenzo's," Lanzi said.
"When did you know that food was what you wanted to do with your life?" I asked.
Lanzi explained he never really thought about it; it was just expected. The family lived over the restaurant, so after school they would go to the restaurant. He remembers peeling potatoes at age 6.
"At first we would do chores and watch my mother," Lanzi said. "When we were ready, she would show each of us how to make ravioli, pasta, eggplant, etc. My father would make the sauce. We all learned parts of business. My sisters waited tables. It was truly a family affair."
With nine children and parents running a restaurant, I wonder who made the beds, did the wash and shopping and helped with homework?
"My mom," Lanzi said.
"How did you get to be the one in the kitchen, to be a chef?" I asked.
He explained that each brother worked at whatever fit them the best. Lanzi likes to cook Italian the old-fashioned way: veal and peppers and meatballs with "a lot of bread to sop up the sauce." Like many executive chefs, today Lanzi has a trained kitchen so he is cooking less and is concentrating on management and weddings, parties and other events.
The five brothers meet every Monday to coordinate their businesses; they recently opened the Lakeside Tavern (the OldSandbar). Lanzi said he attributed their success to "great teachers." Although all the brothers went to college, I don't think he was referring to those teachers.
In his spare time Lanzi spends time with his daughter Gabriella, 9, and Vinnie, 3.
"Business stops only for family," he said.
Asked to give advice to a newcomer in the business, Lanzi answered, "Know when to work and know when to have fun." Good advice for the hospitality industry.
Jim Rose is a well-known name that brings to mind the essence of an executive chef. I first meet Rose when he was part of the North Country Chefs Association, a local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. At that time he was the chef and owner of the Union Hall Inn. We worked together when he taught culinary classes at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
His restaurant career started in high school when he got a very important job washing dishes at Hands' Diner in Fonda. From there he worked his way up to short order cook. Then he went to the State University of New York at Cobleskill and got a degree in restaurant management. He worked in the kitchens at Tryon and at Union College, but the year he worked at Noon's Gloves in Johnstown was the turning point of his career.
"It wasn't a bad job, but after that I knew I really wanted to pursue the culinary area," Rose said.
So Rose returned to school, this time to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, getting a degree in Culinary Arts. He moved to Colorado.
"It was a great two years," Rose said. "I worked in a new restaurant in Grand Junction and with Ann Cooper, the first female chef graduate from the C.I.A."
When asked why he came home he answered, "[I was] homesick, I guess."
Back east, Rose worked at the Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid for Ed Weibreck, the father of Andrew Weibreck, the recent Bronze medal winner at the Olympics. At the Inn, Rose was instrumental in rebuilding and designing the kitchen after a large fire, and then in raising a mediocre menu to a five-star rating.
In 1990 Rose bought the Union Hall Inn in Johnstown from Crystal Smith and ran it for 16 years, working with the community, catering events, teaching classes and serving a delicious, made-from-scratch cuisine. Always involved in anything culinary, Rose was on his way to earning the title that one friend gave him: the community's resident chef.
Today Rose is the executive chef of the dining services at Skidmore College, where he is in charge of menu planning and purchasing and oversees 62 employees. Together with his wife, Shelly Coons Rose, he is the owner of Wine and Roses Restaurant in Broadalbin. With Rose and Shelly's restaurant experience, Jim's son, Chris, in the kitchen, and chef Mike Forthman at the helm, this is quite the combination for any kitchen.
At Wine and Roses, the Roses work with their chef to make comfort foods with a twist. At home, they prepare foods as they would in the restaurant. Rose likes to enhance the flavor of foods, letting good foods speak for themselves (but he admitted to being a potato chip enthusiast). Currently Rose is back to studying, working on his executive chef certification with the American Culinary Federation.
Rose told me a great story about delivering a catering job to the wrong house. I'll have to serve that another time when I write something about amusing restaurant stories (or mistakes).
You can meet Lanzi and Rose at the Sorptomists' Celebrity Chef Dinner April 7 at the Holiday Inn. Invitations are available at the chamber or by calling 774-4468.