If you dine on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, you likely know Chef Vic. He is outgoing and friendly, goes out of his way to make his customers happy and satisfied, and is totally passionate about food.
A lifelong foodie, he’s been a Culinart chef for Carnegie Mellon Dining Services since 2009. In terms of his dining roles on campus, he does a bit of everything, including assisting Health Services with incoming students who have special dietary needs, pitching in with catering for busy times like graduation or orientation, overseeing Hunt Library’s food program, attending Dining Student Advisory Council (DSAC) meetings, helping with menu development for Culinart locations across campus, and taking part in union relations and staff training.
Tell us about how you got started in the food industry.
I had a very humble beginning in the food industry, starting out in a fast food chain restaurant at the age of 16. I became a dishwasher in a bar restaurant at 17 and a food prep worker in a country club at 18. By 21, I was the sous chef in a hotel conference center in Ossining, New York. One day the executive chef, who had trained and trusted me with his kitchen, walked out after an argument with the general manager. I inherited his position and from then on never stopped educating myself with food literature and through hands-on dining experiences.
What do you value most about Carnegie Mellon University?
What it represents as an institution – a multitude of ethnic backgrounds and cultures from around the globe. It’s as much a melting pot as my home, New York.
How do you develop your menu(s)?
I have a tremendously creative team. They bring a lot of ideas to the table, from dated classics to the latest trends. We talk the ideas through and come up with a plan. Then we communicate with our guests and the well-received items find their way back onto the menus in the future.
Why are you passionate about food?
I grew up with half of my backyard as a vegetable garden. When my father wasn’t picking my soccer ball out of it, he was picking tomatoes and cucumbers for his homemade pickles and sauce. Memorable experiences centered on food were a big part of my upbringing. One of my fondest childhood memories is “donut day” – the day my father would make a huge batch of sweet buttermilk donut dough. My sisters and I would create any shape that came to mind before dad would drop them in the deep fat fryer. We made dinosaurs, smiley faces, braided art … it was always good times.
So really, at the end of the day, I am passionate about family, and food is a big part of bringing family together.
Personally speaking, what’s your preference – cook in or dine out?
I love to cook in, but of the two I prefer to dine out. I am always looking for a new flavor profile that I haven’t experienced yet.
What is your favorite meal to prepare/cook/serve?
I enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. It is a family effort that can go in many different directions, but in the end it brings people you love together under one roof.
All-time favorite food or meal.
One if by Land, Two if by Sea in Manhattan has the best Moscow Borscht. It’s a hearty soup made primarily with cabbage and beets and was served with skirt steak and covered with a flaky pastry. It was amazing! I have duplicated it on several occasions and have even served it here at CMU on one of our Chef’s Table menus.
Outside of food and work, what are some of your hobbies/interests?
I like RPG video games, intelligent conversation, playing chess, On Demand cable show binging, dominoes, and, most of all, spending time with my beautiful wife, children, and grandchildren (pictured).
(And, for those who don’t know, RPG video games are digital versions of games like Dungeons and Dragons.)
Tell us at least one thing that is on your bucket list.
To beat Bobbie Flay in an iron chef competition.
Global Flavour features international cuisines, exploring a new country each week beginning on Sunday. Cuisine themes include Korean BBQ, northern Italian, Japanese, French, and much more. Global Flavour is open seven days a week from 5:00 to 9:00 pm.
New at Tartans Pizza in Tartans Pavilion are chef’s ciabatta melts, featuring four delicious options available all day and night long: the Meatless Monday Melt, the Buffalo Chicken Bacon Ranch, the Meatball and Sausage Parmesan, and the Jalapeno Pineapple BBQ Pork. Tartans Pizza is open Monday through Friday, 11:00 am to 11:00 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm.