New Executive Chef Brings Simple, Fresh Approach to GCU Food Services
Story by Bob Romantic
Photo by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
With a name like Spaziani, it’s not hard to guess what type of food GCU’s new executive chef specializes in.
Bob Spaziani can make a mean osso bucco (braised veal shank), saltimbocca (chicken or veal with sautéed prosciutto, sage wine sauce and mozzarella) or rapini (leafy vegetable cooked slowly with garlic and red pepper flakes).
And, when his two boys were growing up, Friday was always pizza-and-a-movie night, with Spaziani preparing the dough and creating different toppings.
Those are the “easy” Italian dishes that Spaziani prepares for family and friends.
That friends list, however, is about to grow by a few thousand.
Spaziani joined GCU on June 1 as its new executive chef and has been busy preparing for the influx of students and staff that will descend on the renovated Student Union dining hall on Thursday.
The Student Union will be open for lunch and dinner Thursday and Friday for Welcome Week, then begin full-day service on Saturday.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Spaziani said of the preparations. “I worked at ASU as executive chef of the Memorial Union back in the ’90s. That was a crazy deal, lots and lots of students. This is not going to be quite that much, but it’s going to be just as much fun, especially with all the new stuff.”
The new menu will feature more freshly prepared items at various islands throughout the dining area. Down the road, you may even see a little more Italian influence from the guy in charge.
“Right now we’re starting with the standard menu,” said Spaziani, who has worked with Sodexo Service Solutions, which contracts with GCU, for most of the last 30 years. “But there will probably be some of that. We can tweak the menu for regional or customer preference.”
Spaziani got interested in food as a boy by watching the “The Galloping Gourmet” on television.
In high school, he followed football practice by working as a dishwasher at Turk’s Restaurant in West Haven, Conn. But after breaking the handle on the french-fry cutter two days in succession while cleaning it, “they said, all right, that’s enough, you’re going to come upstairs and help cook,” Spaziani said.
“That’s how I started cooking. I was breading and cooking fried clams and shrimp, and making soft-shell crab sandwiches. That restaurant is still there today.”
More on the Student Union Sneak peek at new menu Slideshow of new dining area
Spaziani got his degree in hotel-restaurant management with a concentration in culinary from the University of New Haven (Conn.) and continued his education at the Culinary Institute of America, becoming a certified executive chef in 1995.
For Sodexo, Spaziani has served as executive chef at ASU; general manager/executive chef at Phoenix Country Day School; food service manager at Kyrene School District in Tempe; and as a troubleshooter and resource manager during the last year. In the latter role, he helped Sodexo clients for brief stints at places such as Yavapai College in Prescott, Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, Big Ben Community College in Washington, Western New Mexico University, San Juan College in Farmington, N.M., and even here at GCU – helping launch the Thunder Alley eateries last summer.
Spaziani also spent two years working as a sous chef at Dib’s, an Italian restaurant near the shore in West Haven, Conn.
“The reason Bob was selected is because of his vast experience in the culinary field,” said Sodexo general manager Prem Lawrence, who has been at GCU since it began contracting with Sodexo in 2004. “With the expansion of the Student Union and the increase in meal plans … what he brings is vital not only for success this year but for years to come. The University is very aggressive in its growth projections for the next 3-5 years, so we need someone who can grow with the University.”
Spaziani likes to take his work home with him, preparing regular meals for his family. He does admit to an occasional stop at Costco “to buy one of those pre-cooked chicken things. But even then I’ll tear it up and make burritos or something.”
He still enjoys cooking shows on TV, only now it’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” “Chopped” and “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network, and shows such as “No Reservations” and “Man Vs. Food” on the Travel Channel.
And he doesn’t eat out much. “Not to sound overly egotistical … but I can make most of those things at a lot less cost.”
Spaziani’s philosophy toward food is pretty straightforward: “Keep it simple. Keep it fresh. And do simple ingredients the right way.”
That plays well with the new dining options at the Union.
“Just the number of students and the amounts of food can be a challenge. But the systems I’m going to put in place should enable us to do that,” Spaziani said. “My big focus is customer service and making sure students have a good experience when they come in here. That involves not only helping them if lines are long to get through that, but also working with them for suggestions so we can provide the kind of service we need to.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.