I've been writing a bit about the chefs I have met. Today I will talk about one I know, Joe Pagano, the head chef at Sam's Steak and Seafood Restaurant in Johnstown; and one I will meet soon, his brother Chad Pagano, chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, and soon to be guest chef at the Soroptimists' Celebrity Chef Dinner.
With all the chefs I have interviewed, many things stand out.
Mainly, I have learned that the people behind the food we enjoy are just that - people. They come from backgrounds similar to ours, with families, talents and concerns. These chefs are drawn to an industry that starts with a casual part-time job and ends with a notable career.
Joe and Chad Pagano came to our area by way of the ski slopes. Their parents had a ski cabin in Wells, so the young boys got to know our area when they skied at Gore and Oak Mountain. After years of visiting, their parents moved north for good, settling in the Sacandaga area.
Joe and Chad Pagano grew up in a traditional Italian family that was, as Joe put it, "into food." They always ate meals together, meals cooked by Mom and Dad and Grandma. They liked to eat out and talk about the food, how it was made and served. It is no wonder both boys went into the food industry, but not right away.
After high school, Joe entered military service. Joe said the four years he spent in the military brought him the beneficial experience he needed. During those four years, Joe traveled to what was then the United Arab Republic, Jordan, Spain, Italy and more, learning and experiencing much of the world. When Joe returned to upstate New York, he furthered his love for food by attending Schenectady County Community College and obtaining a degree in culinary arts. While going to school, Joe worked at Lanzi's on the Lake and Sport Island Pub, gaining useful kitchen experience. He then went to cook at Romani's Italian Kitchen, where he could cook his favorite, Italian.
Several years later, Romani's owner Sam Vahaviolos opened Sam's. On the first night of operation, Joe was called into action to the Sam's kitchen and there he stayed. Now head chef, Joe follows the way his parents told him to cook, using good ingredients, made from scratch. Joe lives in Mayfield, where he built his own house, with his wife and two children. When asked what he does in his spare time, he answered, "If not food, then family." Asked if he had any vices, he admitted to following the TV show "The Walking Dead."
Chad also went into military service. After four years as a scout in the Army's 10th Mountain Division, Chad decided to do something he loved with the rest of his life, and he knew it would be in food. Choosing to live downstate, Chad found his lack of experience proved an issue in finding restaurant work. He eventually worked at a pastry shop. Despite thinking it was "a girl's job," he found himself loving every moment of the experience.
According to his present employer, the Institute for Culinary Education, Chad attended the now closed New York Restaurant School and found an externship in a pastry kitchen. He got a position in American Place with famed restaurateur Larry Forgione, and moved up the ranks. He worked his way through New York City's fine-dining restaurant and hotel scene, and eventually became the executive pastry chef at Great Performances, New York City's premier off-premises caterer, where he created desserts for mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
Chad thought he'd stay at Great Performances forever, but then the 9/11 attack struck near the company's downtown offices. For two weeks, he did relief work with the Red Cross in Great Performances' kitchens.
In 2002, Chad went to ICE, the renamed New York Cooking School. He was impressed with the exceptional quality of the school's ingredients, and decided to stay. Soon enough, Chad was teaching some of the school's most successful pastry graduates.
Chad is involved in many competitions and has earned a reputation for excellence in the pastry field. Chef Chad has competed in a number of Food Network challenges and captained a team in the National Team Pastry Championships. He has appeared in numerous media outlets, including NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," the CBS "Morning Show" and Food Network's "Throw Down With Bobby Flay."
At ICE, Chad is a pastry chef and instructor. He arranged an in-house "Chopped"-style competition with celebrity chefs, and participates in the New York Jets Cooking School Tailgating Series. Recently, Chad has tapped into the savory side of his culinary skill with a radio show, "Wild Game Domain," on Heritage Food Network.
You can meet Joe and Chad Pagano at the Soroptimists' Celebrity Chef Dinner on April 7 at the Holiday Inn. Tickets are available at the Chamber of Commerce, or I can email one if you email me.
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