Orthodox Commentary on Theology, Ethics, and Culture
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Saint Vladimir's Seminary Has Great Food!
Chef Nat Fasciani's Delicious Fare Sustains Faculty, Students, and Staff
A member of the community at St. Vladimir's Seminary recently wrote a note to Chef Nat Fasciani, who caters and prepares all the food served at SVOTS, whether it be for special events or refectory meals. "Your delicious food is becoming famous among our guests!" she enthused, and anyone who has visited the Seminary in recent years would have to agree. While he works behind the scenes, Chef Nat is nevertheless recognized as being one of the Seminary's chief assets. Watch for the upcoming release of his SVS Press cookbook titled When You Feast, which will be a companion title to the best-selling cookbook, When You Fast: Recipes for Lenten Seasons.
Recently Svots.edu captured a few moments with Chef Nat while he was working in his beautifully appointed office in the Germack Building.
November, 2012: Cardinal Dolan thanks Chef Nat for his delicious cuisineTell us a little about your family and your professional background. I was born and raised in Abruzzo, Pescara, on the eastern shores of Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea, and I lived there until I was 11 years old. Family and work brought my father to Yonkers, New York, and he is now living in New Rochelle (a neighboring town).
After college I began my career working in the banking industry, but throughout my school days I had always worked in restaurants, first waiting tables then working my way up to cooking in the kitchen. My whole family is into food, and I come from a background full of good cooks. I started to really like working with food, and at some point, turned it into my career! My first business was called Cosmos Deli and Catering; I eventually sold that business and opened up Adriano Catering, which I still own. There is always something to do and I love being busy—busy is good!
How did you come to be here at St. Vladimir's, and what is the scope of your job? My company was doing a job here, and the people at the Seminary loved my service and food! One conversation led to the next. The Seminary wasn't happy with their cook, which they'd obtained through an agency, so they made me an offer: I tried it, I loved it, and in May 2006, we signed the contract.
My obligations at SVOTS are varied. I am the food administrator for the refectory, but also the caterer for all the special events, from the beginning of semester through the end of June. I am responsible for all the refectory meals, all the functions, meetings, special, anything that has to do with food on campus!
I do hire people as needed, and my wife and family help me too. Of course we have a large kitchen crew consisting of the students who live at Germack, usually the ones in their first year. We have a breakfast, lunch, and dinner crew, plus students who clean up, so the kitchen crew is about 20 people. I don't have to physically be here for all of breakfast, lunch, and dinner—it's more an administrative job for some meals, since I'm not cooking every meal.Chef Nat with his signature pie, Thanksgiving 2011
I get the new students every year, and every day we work together. We become friends and it's like a family here. It can be challenging to break them in at first, because they are all different ages and nationalities, whether Russian, Polish, from the Middle East or Serbia, or from all parts of the U.S.
What kinds of food is on the menu at St. Vladimir's? I find it satisfying and challenging to please everyone, so we try different foods for all the different kinds of tastes: Japanese, Chinese, French. When there are special requests, I try to please when I can. I do plan all the menus—A to Z, they have to go through me! Food is so important and is the source of energy for everyone on campus, so I make sure that everything is fresh and good, from Sunday to Saturday.
Of course, I keep the church calendar handy to help me plan. There are a lot vegetarian and vegan days, especially during the Lenten season. Then people also have allergies and other issues, so it can be complicated!
Several people who graduated several years ago and have come back to visit campus, have said, "It wasn't like this when I was here!" Giving everyone good nourishing food is my top priority.
There are many events in the course of the school year—which have been some of your most memorable? I've had the pleasure of meeting Cardinal Dolan when he was here, and we had the feast for the whole community after Hurricane Sandy. Before him, I met Cardinal O'Connor when he was on campus, and Archbishop Rowan Williams was an interesting man to meet. Ed Day has been a big event: all the food is finished in my kitchen under my supervision, and it requires a a week of prep work. We serve international food to 1500-2000 people in the tents. For Pascha, all day Saturday is prep work. I go home, come back around midnight, and the food is pumped out at 3 a.m. It's fun—after such a long time of Lent, they look forward to all the meat!
The Thanksgiving dinner is a big job—what's nice about that is that the faculty are serving the students, we have a great time during that. Every year we host several cookouts with the entire campus, including faculty and staff. We do them outside on the lawn, and everyone plays outdoor games. Everyone is friendly and the neighborhood beautiful and well maintained. It's one huge family here!
What about your role as St. Vladimir's Chef and Caterer is especially stressful, or especially rewarding?
I work better under stress, so I have no problem dealing with the last minute changes. When events are getting rained out, for instance, I step back, refocus, and just make it work! Like a captain of a ship I have to stay calm—if a captain of the ship panics, what happens with the rest of the crew? When you have 20, 30 people working for you, someone has to be in charge and take over.
I think my favorite thing about working here is the environment and these people. I also enjoy the fun events like the cook off fundraiser we had a few years ago between Fr. Alexander Rentel and Bishop Benjamin. The installation of Fr. Chad Hatfield and Fr. John Behr as Chancellor and Dean was also memorable—I fed 300 people dinner during that event. After all, good food is what people remember, and what makes the best first impression!