When Nick Marchesano accepted the role of Executive Chef of The Gasparilla Inn & Club (Boca Grande, Fla.), he had no way of knowing Hurricane Ian would slam into the island two months into his tenure.
“We were still setting in when the storm became a real threat to the island,” he says. “We decided to wait it out in Miami.”
Days later, Marchesano and his team returned and evaluated the devastation caused by the hurricane. Roofs were gone. Buildings were leveled. The golf course would need an entire year’s worth of repairs. There was no power or water. Cell service was spotty at best.
It would be easy to leave this scenario and find a new opportunity elsewhere, but Marchesano was committed not only to rebuilding the Inn but also to the community his members and guests call home.
The Gasparilla culinary team set up a seven-day community kitchen to feed neighbors and emergency response teams. They offered fresh water, meals and other supplies.
“We wanted to help with disaster relief, but we aren’t firefighters,” says Marchesano. “Instead, we did what we knew would be most helpful—we cooked for our community.”
Club + Resort Chef (C+RC): What you did in the storm’s aftermath is inspiring. Was it difficult?
Nick Marchesano (NM): Sure, but reopening The Broadmoor (Colorado Springs, Colo.) after COVID was far more challenging.
C+RC: How many people did you serve during those seven days?
NM: At first, we only served about 50 people, but by the end of the week, we were serving 250 daily. We served from the back loading dock, using every piece of portable banquet equipment we have. One night we served an Indian curry; another night we did tacos on the grills. We tried to be creative and resourceful.
C+RC: What happened when power was restored?
NM: We shifted gears and returned to preparing for the upcoming season, though we continued to feed the contractors working to repair our property. The Inn decided to push the open date back to December so we could make the needed repairs to our buildings, which was a blessing in disguise. We were able to have a fresh start, wipe away bad habits and begin again.
C+RC: How’s it going so far?
NM: Super smooth sailing. Fortunately, I brought several cooks from The Broadmoor, so a large part of my team is used to a rigorous culinary environment. The Broadmoor essentially trains chefs to run their own hotel operation—so running the culinary program here at Gasparilla is not much of a stretch.
C+RC: You’ve worked in high-profile operations like The Broadmoor, Augusta, Kiawah Island and others. You also have some very well-respected mentors, like John Johnstone, CMC. What have you learned from these places and people?
NM: The future of the culinary industry depends on chefs teaching and training others in an environment where growth is possible and encouraged. It’s not enough to brand your operation with an empty slogan like, ‘It’s a pleasure to work here.’ That won’t bring cooks in the door.
Our industry has a unique opportunity to bring people into our kitchens that we might not have targeted before. Our future depends on chefs helping those individuals build their careers through proper training, growth and by offering an experience they can’t get elsewhere.
C+RC: What does that philosophy look like at Gasparilla?
NM: We are actively recruiting tech and high school students—and I’m not looking for the best and most qualified candidates. I actually want the least qualified candidates. It doesn’t matter to me if they don’t know how to cut an onion properly. I can teach them that, and when we start at square one together, we build a skill set we are equally invested in.
C+RC: What challenges come with bringing in such
novice team members?
NM: These kitchens are busy, and we don’t want to it be too intimidating and scare them away. We want to expand their view thoughtfully. We start with how to cut an onion and how to slice garlic and build from there. We put effort into training. It takes valuable time, and it’s hard to slow down to explain why something is right or wrong. But it’s well worth our time and theirs.
C+RC: This is your first Executive Chef title. Why did you choose Gasparilla?
NM: This property has benefited from a long line of talented chefs. From Peter Timmins, CMC, to Seth Shipley, CEC, CCA, to others. When the opportunity arose, [John Johnstone, CMC] encouraged me to apply.
C+RC: Now that things are settling down, what’s next?
NM: I want to continue pushing the culinary envelope of what’s possible here at the Inn and create an