Written by J. Patrick Eaken
Friday, 03 October 2008 15:58
At Eastwood, Michael DeFalco played football and ran track. Now he wants to get back to his Italian lineage as a chef, and he’s getting a good start.
A grill cook at Biaggis Ristaurante Italiano at Levis Commons, DeFalco is planning to attend the French Culinary Institute in New York City and then study in Italy.
“I want to go because I have a passion for food, and it’s a real good school,” DeFalco said.
At FCI, there is an Italian Culinary Academy where DeFalco would study for 10 weeks, return home for Christmas break, and then move on for five weeks of study in Italy. Then, for an additional 10 weeks he would intern in the country that is home to three-quarters of his ethnicity.
There’s one problem — he has to raise $55,000 for tuition and expenses.
A financial aid package fell through because DeFalco has found out government grants do not cover tuition for classes at an international trade school.
So an aunt has purchased a $50 grant book, which DeFalco is researching, and his family is considering a fundraiser.
He has begun taking basic classes at Owens Community College, and plans to attend culinary classes there. But Perrysburg Township is a long way from New York City, a place he has never even visited.
Part of the reason for thinking big is because DeFalco realizes an opportunity to do something for his older brother, Ron, who passed away after living with muscular dystrophy.
“When my brother passed, that was an eye-opener,” DeFalco said.
There’s more to his familial reasons than his brother. Not only his lineage has him curious to visit cousins who live in Italy, but his mother, Karla (McKenzie) DeFalco, has a lifetime of experience in restaurant management.
A Walbridge native, her father worked for the railroad until one day deciding to open a couple restaurants, Karla said. Later, she managed truck stops and also worked for East Toledo restaurateur Tom Cousino. She understands the business.
“I love managing. The bad thing is you have to put yourself into it. If you have a big family, it’s hard, but I did it,” Karla said.
“It’s a 24-hour job running a restaurant. It’s a tough career, actually, because you are there a lot. Someone doesn’t come in when you’re ready to leave to go to a movie or something that’s tough. He even knows what it is like. Sometimes you get Mondays and Tuesdays off instead of Saturdays and Sundays.”
She knows what she’s talking about, especially because Michael has 10 brothers and sisters father Ralph DeFalco she’s had to feed, too. What she sees in her son is an impending superstar in the kitchen someday.
“He’s pretty much always done our grilling at home. At Biaggis, he’s working on a plate and getting to take his career to a different level (Mike previously worked at Fricker’s),” Karla said.
“As far as plating and stuff like that, I think it’s really been interesting for him. He always comes home and tells me what the special is that day and how he plated it, and he really likes that stuff making sure his food looks excellent to go out to customers. They are a very good restaurant and make sure every plate looks very elegant. I think it sets his culinary skills even higher,” Mom continued. “He’s a perfectionist with his plate.
“Now at home, it’s totally different since he went to Biaggis. It’s a lot of spices and doing different things with stuff — creativity and different elements at home that he didn’t do before.
“It’s really kind of interesting, especially when he comes home from work and says, ‘Oh, I sautéed duck in wine sauce,’ and this and that. I’m like, ‘Wow’. I have always loved to cook. I’ve always had to cook a lot of food, but it’s never to that extent. It’s always chilies and fried chicken and stuff like that. We’re learning some new stuff.
“The other night we had a dinner party for 30 here, and he grinded some pork on his own, soaked them overnight, and they were delicious. I mean, it was just awesome — different taste to a pork loin than I’ve ever had before, and he did all the grinding himself, put in all the spices that he came up with himself.
“Before it was barbecue sauces and this and that, now its spices and grinds and doing things different with meat.
“He not only prepared the food, but he had to go to work and had to miss the whole schlemiel with the dinner party. He worked all day and left,”
Michael wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like it a lot. It gives me a lot of opportunity to prepare myself, especially for my culinary career,” Mike said. “I’m a grill cook (at Biaggis) — I’m cooking meat and steaks, so I’m like a meat and potato guy pretty much.
“It’s definitely one of the best restaurants in Toledo. The food we put out will make it stay that way. Plus, now is the time when everybody goes to Levis Commons for all that Christmas shopping, and we’re just going to get busier and busier until after Christmas.”
He even relates his cooking to his former days as an athlete. Unfortunately, Michael says, he cannot attend any Eastwood football games because he’s needed at Biaggis Friday nights.
“I think it’s the competitiveness,” Michael said. “Making sure my plates look better than everybody else’s. It’s athletic in the same route. It’s keeping up with the rush and everything. You have to have an athleticism where if you’re not able to keep up, you are going to drown. It’s definitely a stressful job, but I enjoy doing it.”