Smith College hires first executive chef
Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 12, 2016, By Amanda Levenson.
NORTHAMPTON — Newly hired Dino Giordano is Smith College’s first-ever executive chef, and he’s bringing some ideas to the table.
Giordano, 42, is a Brooklyn native who has had his fair share of experience. He studied at the French Culinary Institute and worked at BLT Steak, both located in New York City, and more recently worked as a chef at 30Boltwood and the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst.
Now, he’s putting his skills to the test in a new way.
“I find it more meaningful to cook for students who are preparing themselves to get out there into the world and do great things, as opposed to a restaurant setting where people may not necessarily care,” he said.
Giordano said the position entails a variety of tasks, including menu development, training, sourcing local foods, sustainability and student interaction.
Andy Cox, director of dining services at Smith College, was instrumental in the decision to hire an executive chef.
He said he began to notice what needed changing, such as menus and the amount of student engagement, and realized he needed a counterpart to help him.
Cox said he worked to create a position that would be grant-funded for the first three years by the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, which strives to create a strong and healthy food system in New England by increasing the production and consumption of local, sustainably produced food.
Cox convinced the college to subsidize the position afterwards, and then put out an ad. Applications poured in from all over the country, but Cox was looking for a certain type of candidate.
“It was a need for knowledge, to know how to handle a whole beat,” he said of the need to have a chef who knew how to use whole products rather than merely canned ones.
Cox said Giordano was selected because of his experience not only with cooking, but employee training, food sourcing and using local farms. His energy and excitement were simply a bonus, he said.
Giordano said he’s driven to make mealtime more enjoyable.
“I’d just like to see people as excited as I am about food,” Giordano said. “Whatever you do, cooking or whatever, should be fun on some level.”
A college student’s diet can also impact their academic performance, and so the chef agrees with what mom always says — you are what you eat.
He said students who are enthusiastic about food and exposed to a variety of options will be more likely to eat and take in the nutrients they need. Good food can help students study, Giordano said, and inspire them to seek out the best food options later in life.
To him, food is much more than what’s heaped onto your plate.
“I love the connection that exists between food, where it grows, how it’s grown, the care and love that’s in it. When we get that food, it’s our responsibility to put as much love and care into it as was put in at the infant stage,” he said.
Executive chef is a big jump from roles Giordano has held before, he said. Lately he said he finds himself at a desk more often than an oven, but he is embracing the change.
“It’s definitely different, but that’s why I chose it. To have new experiences, to get out of my comfort zone, to learn new things, to retrain my brain to know what it could do,” he said.
Giordano said he is now responsible for 13 kitchens and hundreds of employees, which will allow dining services to be more responsive to changes that need to be made over the course of every semester.
While his list of duties is long, the chef says he will be committed to interacting with students.
He said he plans to take actions such as standing in dining lines, talking to students in order to get feedback. His hope is to become a liaison between customers and the kitchen, and to maintain an open relationship with the people he feeds.
“I want it to be open communication. I want to learn from them. I want to understand what their needs are and meet them, and also, I want to have them feel comfortable enough to come up to me and say, ‘you know, this sucks and needs to be better,’” he said.
A big part of Giordano’s new role, he said, will be improving the dining services’ eco-friendly momentum.
In October, Smith College joined dozens of other universities in the Real Food Challenge, a national sustainable food initiative. The school pledged that 20 percent of the food provided on campus will meet sustainability and fairness standards set by the Real Food Challenge organization by 2020.
“It’s a team effort really. I don’t think there has been any resistance to any of the changes we all want to make, and I think (Giordano) will help accelerate it,” said Cox, adding that the college is also “fortunate enough to have a student body that’s progressive enough to understand these changes.”