Because sometimes you need a break from the constant "Wow, we suck" moments, we're trying to find some unique interviews and angles to write about.
As a guy who loves to cook (and to eat), I was thrilled to talk to Chef Ed Kowalski about his work with the Jackets' rookies this summer, and today we feature an interview with the man in charge of the kitchens, Executive Chef Joseph Ditri.
A native of Royal Oak, Michigan, the Chef started cooking back in 1984 at the Fox & Hound and trained with the Muir Corp before becoming chef at the Four Star Townsend Hotel. He eventually moved into sports operations when he joined Delaware North and became Sous Chef at Comerica Park, where he worked during the 2005 MLB All Star Game and 2006 World Series.
In 2007 Chef Ditri earned a Chef de Cuisine certification from the American Culinary Federation and the ProChef II certification from the Culinary Institute of America before taking over operations at Nationwide Arena in 2008, with the exception of a small break in 2009 to go help out with the MLB All Star Game in Busch Stadium.
We decided to line up a few questions for the Chef about his food and his work at Nationwide Arena - let's see what he has to say!
What are a few words that describe you?
Outgoing, fun-loving, straightforward, honest, serious, and fun. I like to keep it light with my staff, but I can change quickly to be serious when something needs attention.
How would you describe your food?
At the arena, I favor traditional dishes with a flare such as Chicken Cacciatore or what I call Chicken Ditri, which is my take on Chicken French, with the chicken dipped in an egg batter. The fans want good down-home food. I can cook fancy dishes, but they like meatloaf. We also make a lot of dishes from scratch. We process our own vegetables here. We don't use prefabricated foods.
What are some of your favorite restaurants around Columbus?
Chile Verde is a new wave Southwestern restaurant that has peppers and other ingredients flown in from the west. I really prefer quality comfort food so I like some of the better chains like Bravo Italian or Outback. I like good quality comfort food. I'm not very adventurous. I like it simple, like a good fajita.
What are some of the challenges of being a chef in a facility like Nationwide Arena?
Staffing is a challenge as we have many part-time seasonal employees. We can only offer a small number of hours. Another challenge is communication with so many different areas of our operation-the clubs, the concessions, the suites. It's about getting everyone on the same page. Thankfully, I have two great chefs working with me, Chef Ed Kowalski handles our suites and Chef John DiGiovanni is our sous chef. We have each others' backs and always keep the guests in mind.
What are a few of your favorite foods?
I love everything Italian. Some of my favorites are stuffed shells and lasagna. I also love steaks and a good fajita.
How about your least favorite?
Oysters, and I'm not a big mussel or clam guy. I really don't like shellfish. I also don't like food that is too hot and spicy.
What was your hardest cooking lesson to learn?
I am always very careful about trusting someone to count for me. You learn that lesson once and that's all you need. There's nothing worse than doing a steak dinner for 300 and you don't have 300 steaks. I preach using common sense in counting and organizing for a big dinner such as grouping in counts of 30 for a dinner for 300.
Who are some of your heroes, cooking or otherwise?
A number of chefs with Delaware North have been a big positive influence for me since I started working for the company at Comerica Park in Detroit. One has been Regional Executive Chef Mark Sczubeczak, who gave me a one-day trial at the Tiger Club when I didn't know anything about the company. After than he hired me and confirmed that what I was doing was right. I try to model myself on how Mark handled himself in Detroit.
Finally, what do you want for your last meal on earth?
Filet mignon. It's the only steak I eat. I like to cook it myself. I season it with salt, pepper and garlic and broil it to medium rare. I like it with a potato or pasta.
A big thank you to Chef Ditri for taking the time to answer our questions, and Glen White with Delaware North Sportsservice for helping to set up the interview!