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Local chef shares words of wisdom with culinary students

Local goes beyond fruits, vegetables and protein

Katherine Noll,

Chef Domenic LombardoChef Domenic Lombardo of The MINT Gastropub in Bethlehem believes in community. Seasons permitting, the chef buys locally-produced food whenever possible for his restaurant. That's just the beginning.

"Local goes beyond fruits, vegetables and protein," he said at the NCC Chef-in-Residence cooking demonstration on October 27. "It's about me, a local chef coming to the culinary school in my hometown to share with students. It's about giving back to the education system and paying attention to who does what in your own back yard. That's how cities grow."

Chef Lombardo was born into the industry, his playpen set up in the middle of the kitchen of his parents' Italian restaurant. At the age of 10, he decided he wanted to work in the kitchen, but his father insisted he earn his way. "I had to start out washing dishes," he explained.

Yet after high school he went on at first to study architecture, but soon had a change of heart. While attending Johnson & Wales University, he found "that groove I was looking for." He then went on to the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners and apprenticed at Ristorante Capriccio in Manerba del Garda, Italy.

"Get as much experience as you can," he urged the culinary students in attendance. "Travel. Don't stay in any one place too long and avoid complacency. Never stop learning. Humility is the most important ingredient in the recipe of your career. If you think you know everything, you're never going to learn."

As he demonstrated how a vacuum sealer could be used to lock in the flavors in his compressed fruit salad, or how an immersion circulator could cook an egg perfectly for his upscale version of bacon and eggs, he sprinkled words of wisdom to the culinary students in between culinary tips.

"Remember the theory and the why, don't get caught up in the how and when," Chef Lombardo said. "If you get caught up in the how and when, you forget about the why. That's when people tend to burn out."

As the chef spoke, culinary students passed out samples of fruit salad that resembled glistening jewels, a salty and sweet bone marrow "bruschetta," and an egg bathed in a cream sauce accompanied by a perfectly cooked piece of pork belly.

"You're never going to be the first to do it. We've been doing it the same way since we invented fire. As chefs we see how we can change things and add taste and whimsy. We smack 'em, flip 'em, and throw 'em out with our own approach. That's how we put our stamp on it," he said. Chef Lombardo went on to explain that for most dishes, he tries to achieve four flavors: hot, sour, salty and sweet. "If I can achieve all four of those flavors, it will satisfy your palette and you won't need to overeat."

His final words of advice to students were that hard work pays off in the culinary industry. "Start at the crappiest, lowest-paying jobs. Prove you can earn your keep. That's how chefs like me can see if you're dedicated. If you're going into this for the glitz and glamour, if you think you're going to be famous, it's not going to happen. This is a vocation, not a job. All the clichés about hard work and blood, sweat and tears, they're true."

Sodexo established the Chef-in-Residence program to enhance instruction for students enrolled in the culinary arts and hotel/restaurant programs at Northampton Community College. Each year two outstanding chefs spend two days on campus, conducting a cooking demonstration for students and the public and then working with students to prepare and serve a gourmet dinner which is also open to the public.

If you are interested in receiving an invitation to future cooking demonstrations and dinners, please email your name and mailing address to bweppel@northampton.edu.