According to Director of Food Services Sam Fazio, who manages both the Harvest Hill and The Woodlands kitchens and dining rooms, the best part of his job has always been connecting with residents.
“I love how we get to know our residents every day,” said Sam. “You can really be personable with your clientele which in the restaurant world you don’t really get to do because you’re just cooking the ticket that is in front of you. I really appreciate the relationships I’ve been able to develop with the residents. They’re the people you’re taking care of and they become like family. You’re always looking out for their needs.”
After moving up to New Hampshire from Buffalo, New York in 2005, Sam initially worked for Harvest Hill, which at the time provided meal service for the entire campus, including Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital. When Harvest Hill’s kitchen became self-managed, Sam became head of food services for the hospital and Harvest Hill. Over the years, he also helped APD open The Woodlands and at one point, he was even cooking for all three venues.
When he first arrived, Harvest Hill’s menu was mostly all-American meat and potatoes, but over the years, Sam said he has worked to incorporate additional cooking styles, dishes and cuisines and to adapt to resident dietary requirements. To keep up with residents’ tastes, Sam and his dining services team also gather feedback at monthly resident food meetings.
“Nowadays, everyone eats differently, everyone has a different background,” said Sam. “You’re starting to see different diets come into play, gluten-free or low salt, and it’s our job to embrace those different preferences with open arms.”
Fazio’s culinary background begins in Buffalo at Erie Community College’s culinary program. After graduation, he worked with multiple local chefs: at a mom and pop Italian restaurant, where he learned the ins and outs of smaller establishments; TGI Friday’s, where he learned corporate restaurant culture; and at a country club, where he learned how to cook for large events. By gaining experience in these different areas, said Sam, he became quite well-rounded.
Today, Sam has 11 culinary employees on his team, including back of house personnel and chefs, as well as three full-time dining room attendants, two dining room managers and a wait staff that consists of students from local high schools. During the early months of the pandemic when all campus dining rooms were closed, Sam and his team worked hard to create a delivery system to bring hundreds of meals a day directly to residents’ apartments.
“The team is really what helps make this whole thing go around,” said Sam, and this has been especially true during the pandemic. “It’s not a one-person job; it’s us working together as a unit that helps make these residents’ lives better, and I really appreciate how invested my staff is in achieving that goal every day.”