Chef David Greco
Uncovering the Heroes Making a Difference Through Food - SNACC's Food Hero Series
What inspired you to pursue a career in cooking, and how has your passion for food evolved over time?
I’ve always been the bigger guy and I love to eat and when you love to eat a lot you learn to cook. I was raised to eat quality foods, not fast foods or junk food. My mother’s family had the butcher shop and my dad had the deli so I was always surrounded by the best. My grandmother lived with us and she was always cooking up a storm. She never cooked for a few, she cooked for dozens.. you never knew who could be dropping in for dinner. The evolution of Mike’s Deli came with tweaking old traditional recipes and putting a spin on them. We never served so many vegetables at the deli back in the day as we do now. We have available options for gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and most other dietary issues.
Can you share with us a memorable experience you’ve had in the kitchen or in your career?
After 45 years of cooking there have been so many memorable experiences. One that stands out is making 4,000 family style antipastos for The National Italian American Foundation, as well as 4,000 individual portions of pasta. Another great experience is being involved with The Saint Joseph’s Parade in New Orleans where I take over the Hilton kitchen and prepare 600lbs of the traditional pasta con sarde topped with special bread crumbs (mudico) representing St. Joseph's sawdust. It then gets piled high and served in a huge 10’ x 10’ round ceramic bowl. It’s an unbelievable sight. We feed about 3,000 hungry Italian Americans that day! I also have fed many celebrities through the years from Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, James Spader, Rob DeNiro, Chazz Palmentiere Michael Badalucco… just to mention a few. As exciting as that all is my most memorable and favorite is to cook for my family whether it is for a Sunday dinner or family gathering it is always most satifying for me.
What is your signature dish and what inspired you to create it?
I have always considered our Italian Combo and our Antipasto (not charcuterie board as seen on Tik Tok) to be our signature dishes but after having a Throwdown with Bobby Flay and winning, our eggplant parm has become one of best sellers and signature dish! Whether it’s prepared as an individual portion or on a hero or a large platter it is always a huge crowd-pleaser. The inspiration behind this now-famous dish is my grandmother, she would make this weekly at home or at her butcher shop to feed all the employees.
How has your experience as a chef informed your understanding of food insecurity and food justice, and what role do you see chefs and the food industry playing in addressing these issues?
Being a chef in The Bronx and having the same purveyors and sales people for over 45 years gives us tremendous security. 70% of our product is from Italy so we have the highest quality of product. Luckily we have the hunts point market in our backyard with the freshest and highest quality of meats, fruits and vegetables at our access. If Chefs didn’t have to rely on buying from all the depots and clubs, they would be able to serve higher quality and healthier foods to the public.
What is your proudest culinary accomplishment?
Through all the years in all our ups and downs at Mike’s Deli, our saddest moment was during the pandemic of 2020 but our proudest was staying afloat and available to all the essential workers. Most businesses were closed but we were considered essential and we didn’t close our doors for one day. It wasn’t about profit it was something much bigger. It was about making sure the real essential workers had food. I’m talking about the doctors, nurses, and all employees of nearby hospitals dealing with all the affected people. The police officers, firemen, and sanitation workers too. All the people that never stopped, they all needed a place they could rely on.
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