An Interview with Executive Chef Dennis Bord
Tell us about your background; what made you start cooking, where did you study, and how long have you been a chef for?
I started off, you know, short order cooking working part time through high school, and I thought “This is kind of cool, but I want to go to school for accounting.” I went to MV for one semester and I was like “God, I hate this.” So I did some cooking jobs because it was easy employment, you know, and as I worked, I just started to enjoy it, just truly enjoy it more and more with whatever we were making. So in the mid 90s I was like “I’m gonna go back to school (for cooking), I’m going to go to Johnson & Wales.” I got a scholarship. I worked at Atlanta during the Olympics, and I’ve just kept running with it since then. Unfortunately for me, I ran out of money to go to school, ya know. My parents were like “Oh we’ll pay for it!” and I said yeah, no. I didn’t wanna do that. But I’ve just stuck with it, and as the years have went on, when I see people happy, I’m just like “Yeah, we did that.” Or you take someone who comes into this environment and they’re washing dishes, and you move them into another area. I love food, I love what comes with it, and I like to make people happy. When somebody eats something and is like “Man, how did you make that?” that’s kind of the motivation. It’s the motivation to keep pushing it. And now my motivation is to work with staff and help them keep pushing it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else. I tell my staff I’m probably the luckiest person in the world. I wake up in the morning and I love to go to work. I don’t punch a clock, I don’t work a 40 hour week, not even close. I’m 50, 55 hours a week, I pretty much live here. But I wake up, I drink my coffee, and I go, “Alright, let’s go to work!” And when we get through all the rushes I go “Alright, nice service, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
How long have you been working with Sodexo?
I’ve been with Sodexo as an employee for six years. I’ve worked in one of their accounts for 13 total, so 12 years at Masonic Care, six of it with Sodexo and then I came here. The last six at Masonic Care, those years I was the executive chef at Acacia Village, which is their independent living facility. It was a straight up restaurant-style menu so we got to do some really cool stuff.
Since you’ve only been at SUNY Poly for about a year, do you think that this is a transition period right now? It seems like a lot of things are being run differently before you got here, and seems like you’ve been trying to make a whole lot of improvements. Do you think some of the backlash from students just has to do with the transition?
To be 100% honest, God I hope so. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I can handle criticism, you know what I mean? And I can handle critiques. When I get kind of, blindsided I’m like, “Man, what’d I do?” Cause it always falls back to what did I do? I think some of it might be that I wasn’t a believer in some of the stuff that we were putting out. If I’m putting my name on it, I want to know that we’re putting out the best stuff possible. I think what becomes more frustrating is that I when I don’t have the specifics to go with a comment. I’m a believer in what we’re doing (now) and we’re gonna work through the bumps, you know. I just want the opportunity, and I’m trying.
What is your preferred cuisine to cook?
I tell people I’m not Italian, but it’s probably one of the foods I enjoy cooking the most because of how simple it can be, and it is truly about the ingredients that you use. I love seafood, so there’s kind of a mix there. I like making pasta fresh, and making raviolis, and making a nice, fresh, light sauce. I enjoy that just because of the simplicity of it, ya know. A lot of the food that we see here (the Campus Center) is that American Italian blend. Italian cooking is simple, rustic stuff, ya know. It’s quick, not overly spiced and just simple.
Would you say you specialize in it?
It’s one of the things I enjoy the most, you know what I mean? There are so many things that I like making. I did a rescue mission event a couple of years ago, Gourmet Guys to the Rescue. My dish won Best Professional Dish, it was pan seared scallops, smoked gouda grits, roasted red pepper couli, so it was just a nice combination of some different things. I like cooking Italian, I just like cooking everything, ya know. I like looking up recipes and saying “Yeah, let’s give that a whirl.”
I feel like Italian is one of those things, especially like making pasta and bread, where it may not be necessarily difficult but it takes so much time and effort to do it.
Yeah, ya know I made raviolis for Christmas Eve last year for the whole family. I got about halfway through and I’m like “I gotta get my head examined.” My wife is like “What are you doing??” and I’m like “I don’t know!” Ya know, cause it just takes forever. I’m sitting there and rolling them out, and she asks “How many have you got done?” and I said “Sixteen.”
Is there anything in particular you would like the students to know?
I want students to see that we are approachable. Sodexo is a huge company, we are the largest company you’ve never heard of, almost 500,000 employees worldwide. So we are, ya know, we are corporate world, but I want the students to see that we are approachable. Sure my shirt says Sodexo, that’s who I work for, I’m proud of who I work for, but it’s Dennis who's going to get you where you need to get to. I want students to feel comfortable, I want them to come see us, I want them to enjoy Poly Pizza, and just enjoy their time here, and if you’ve got a question, ask. If a student brings me a concern, it’s a big enough concern because they brought it to me. I have an obligation to at least follow through on it. It may not be the answer someone is looking for but I will follow through, and if I can’t do something I’ll tell you why. That’s all I’m asking for. Let’s forget about the years before, and start with a fresh slate. We’ve got new stuff coming out, the student center is a complete remodel, the library (cafe) is opening up, so I want to take care of everyone’s needs and what they’re looking for.