What factors led you to decide to attend Hudson County
I started taking classes at the Culinary Arts Institute at
Hudson County Community College when I was in high school. The program was
recommended to me by a friend who was in the culinary world his whole life. I
found the Culinary Program to be very professional, interesting and
educational. It is where a part of my foundation as a Chef comes from. I found
the instructors to give real life experience that most professors do not have.
It was a lot more hands-on than other programs and it was about the skills;
which I still use today. Also, obtaining a degree versus a certificate was very
important to me, so this was the right choice for me. I was very fortunate to
have attended a prominent private high school in New Jersey and basically had
my pick of schools. I still chose to go to Culinary School in HCCC.
What is your favorite memory of the College, in or out of
I think back and a memory that pops into my head was the day
of the annual Gala. This is one of the only places you will see over 100 people
preparing for 200 people. I was the first one in the kitchen in the morning and
one of the last to leave. It was a 20-hour day and it was worth it. I also
remember the Chefs who were in charge saw my passion and encouraged it and fed
it. For that I am grateful.
How did your time at HCCC prepare you for your career/ life
HCCC especially the Culinary Arts Institute prepared me for
what it is like to be in a professional kitchen. It gave me real, hands-on
experiences both in and out of the classroom. The externships really started me
on a path that led me to where I am now.
Who are your biggest inspirations that have impacted your
work in some way?
Who are the people who inspire me? I have been very
fortunate to have a great family. First and foremost, my sister and partner
Jenna Cuccia. Without her to push me and keep me going, we would not be where
we are today. The restaurant industry as a whole has shaped me into the man I
am and continuously inspires me. I can name a very long list of great chefs and
restaurateurs who I know and have had an impact on my cooking and business. But
I am not one to name drop. The industry standard who those before me have
created; that is what inspires me and makes me strive to do better and continue
to learn and grow.
What advice would you give to recent HCCC graduates?
My advice would be and what I tell most recent graduates
“keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.” This means listen, learn, and be a
sponge. To be successful, you must be willing to admit you don’t know
everything and need experience and knowledge. So, go look for it. Take a job
for the experience, not the money. It will get you further in life. Work harder
than everyone else and stay humble.
What advice do you have for those students who are just
starting their college careers?
If you are just starting college, listen to this. My father
always told me “it’s not where you start, it's where you finish.” The small
steps we take will eventually lead us to greater things. Work your way though
and stay focused. Overcome the little obstacles and they will add up. Also pay
attention and do your work. This is college; you don’t have to be there if you
don’t want to so do not waste anyone’s time. To the Culinary students, I would
advise to ask questions and not just go through the motions. Absorb as much
information as you can. Make mistakes in the kitchens in school. After that it
is the real deal. Work hard, work clean and do not be afraid to get burnt –
it’s going to happen so just keep going