April 20, 2017 marks the 20th year anniversary since the opening of Vita Nova. Astonishingly enough, many current faculty members have been there even since the thought of Vita Nova started. I was lucky enough to sit down and ask a few of these members questions recollecting their fondest memories and impressions Vita Nova has left upon them and on the students they watch over every day.
Dr. Sheryl Kline (Professor & Department Chair in the Department of Hospitality Business Management)
What is your favorite memory about Vita Nova? "Everytime I walk into Vita Nova, and I do so a lot, I love being able to see the students working together in the back of the house with those that are in the front. Seeing students learning through hands on experience is really inspiring."
How important do you think is Vita Nova's hands on experience classes for the Hospitality Management students? "I think it's a very rare opportunity students get to experience for themselves such a hands-on learning environment. We understand that it feels like you are being dropped into an unfamiliar environment, but that's the greatness about this program; it's fail proof. Even if you do make a mistake, it's used as a learning experience rather than a failure. You aren't learning how to be a chef, you're learning how to communicate and work in a high-stress environment as a team member in a group of others. The team building experience will allow you to develop your leadership skills while learning how to be a vital part of a working environment.
How do you think Vita Nova has changed within the past 20 years? "Structurally, we have been very fortunate with donations from multiple donors such as Aramark as well as the J. Willard and Alice Marriott Foundation. Through their help and trust in our hospitality management students, we were able to remodel the front of the house in the spring and summer of 2014. Luckily enough, we have been blessed with another opportunity to remodel our back-of-the-house kitchen as well as satellite kitchen where we hold teaching demonstrations. The colors of the chapel that you can see through one of the main dining room's windows was conflicting with the color scheme of the restaurant, so we had to re-do that as well! We are very excited to include more windows in the Bistro room when the renovations begin!"
Do you have any special thanks to give to anyone for making Vita Nova as great as it is today? "The faculty that work with the students each and every day really make it all possible at the end of the day. Each and every single one of their talent, efforts, creativity, and their focus to give the students the best learning experience possible is really something. I'm very, very proud to have them on our team."
Chef Joseph DiGregorio (Executive Chef and Senior Instructor)
"How did you get into cooking? "During the 9th grade, my freshman year in high school, I was looking for a way to make money. This seafood restaurant called "Captain's Clam & Oyster Bar" was near by, so I applied and got the job. I was working alongside other teenagers around my age, and my manager noticed that I was a hard worker. He promoted me to be a manager by the 11th grade, managing other students. I developed my knack for leadership in restaurant settings through this fortunate opportunity."
What is your background like? "Before attending the Culinary Institute of America, I was working many different jobs at restaurants where I would pick up those different skills I could bring with me to my studies. I was wait listed until I turned 19, so at that point I was taking time to learn things such as ice carving from a chef restaurant owner I had met. Just like every executive chef, I was starting at the bottom and working my way up. As I always say "if you work your butt off, people will notice." After graduating from the CIA, I proceeded to prepare and take the Certified Executive Chef (CEC) exam."
What has been your most memorable moment at Vita Nova? "Vita Nova hosted a Paul Wise Galla that consisted of a 250 person table-side dinner. Each seat at each table had their own carvers, own servers, and own tenderloin the carvers would carve right in front of the guest. Watching our students perform such a beautiful service in perfect synchronization around a table of very important VIPs, Presidents, and our very own Paul Wise was astonishing to witness."
What gets you up in the morning to come back to Vita Nova?
"It all goes back to wanting my very own restaurant. Vita Nova is metaphorically my baby. I love watching the students enjoy the space as much as I do, which translates to the lessons that are being taught in the kitchen."
How do you like your steak cooked? "I used to like it a touch under medium rare, but I'm starting to enjoy it more towards the medium rare side now."
What is your proudest moment as a chef? "I took my Certified Executive Chef exam in the early '90s. During that exam, I had multiple executive chefs watching my operations and seeing how clean and precisely I executed and at the very end, they told me their review/ critique sheet was blank and empty. I had such a perfect exam that they offered me a position to be a judge alongside themselves."
Chef Debbie Ellingsworth (Senior Instructor)
You've been with Vita Nova for the past 20 years. While we are all going to miss you, what is your next step in life? "I'm going to Paris to learn how to make authentic croissants and other French bakery. I went to France 3 years ago and became inspired to enroll in a class on authentic baking."
How did you begin your journey with Vita Nova? "While I was working as the Kitchen Manager at Pizza By Elizabeths and teaching a baking & pastries course at Delaware Technical Community College, my friend had showed me the opening for an instructor position at the University of Delaware. They wanted to start this amazing student-run restaurant and I knew I had to jump aboard. I'm still involved with the culinary camps Vita Nova hosts where we have 2 students help facilitate the teaching as well."
What have you learned about yourself since you've been with Vita Nova? "I learned that I'm actually quite a patient person. I don't mind answering questions (which we get a lot of) all day long. I understand its a learning experience for all of us!" What is your favorite dessert to make? "I love making French Macaroons because of all the different flavors and colors; however, it's very tedious to make. You need to sustain the exact and perfect temperature in order to produce the needed legs or it won't work out at all."