Paul Basciano, VP of Culinary Development at Elior North America, interviewed Chef David Alder from Constellation Culinary Group about his work as Director of Culinary, his background, his advice to young chefs, and more.

Chef David Alder

Tell us a little bit about your role and what your day-to-day looks like?
As Director of Culinary, my early days with CCG were all about working with our culinary programs in each of our locations in NYC, Philadelphia and Boston. During Covid-19 times, I also took over the responsibilities from the departing VP of Operations which have filled my “free time”… lol. My days now have me changing my hat back and forth from projects such as developing menus for new opportunities or doing product cuttings, to creating proformas for RFPs and negotiating contract extensions with our clients.


Given recent changes in the industry, where do you see the business going, and what innovations do you find to be prevalent for the future?
The first and most obvious answer here is the move to a mostly, if not fully, pre-packaged format which has taught many of us to think “inside the box,” so to speak. The logistics involved in this new way of executing have uncovered many unforeseen hurdles such as the increased need for space and efficiency. The less obvious answer and perhaps the one that makes some less comfortable is the expanded virtual arena. Whether creating cooking demos or presentations, the virtual culinary world is not a temporary one in my opinion, and one that many of us need to learn to be more comfortable in. In the past, we impacted people on a personal level through food and experience, now we need to do it from a distance.


Tell us about your background, where it all started, where you’ve been, and what keeps you motivated every day
Simply put, I’m a “lifer.” I started bussing tables and washing dishes in my teens and even during college, I worked as a server and bartender. I quickly realized that life behind a desk would never be for me and decided that the culinary world was the path for me. After years of working in NYC restaurants, I changed gears and went corporate for 13-plus years with one of the “big three” before joining CCG in late 2019. I’ve been working in some capacity since I was 13 years old, so hard work and work ethic, along with a passion for our craft, is what still drives me.


Tell us your favorite monumental ingredient combination
There are so many to choose from, but the one that stands out most to me is soft-rind cheese and coffee. I was taught this by a Parisian instructor at the CIA who said, “make yourself a strong cup of coffee then spread your cheese and crusty bread and dip it into your coffee” (bread is just a vessel). To me, it was an epiphanic moment.!


What three ingredients are must-haves in your kitchen?
Not to sound overly simplistic, but for me the basis of all great food starts with fat, acid and salt. If I have a really good quality olive oil, a flavorful vinegar and great sea salt, I can make anything taste great.


What was the one defining moment in the kitchen when you knew you were meant to be a chef?
This one is an easy one and one that I always draw on. My first cooking position after culinary school was at a high-end restaurant owned by a well-known chef in downtown Manhattan where it was truly baptism by fire. After months of getting my butt kicked and questioning my future in the industry daily, the Chef de Cuisine came to me and asked, “Ok Chef, what is your special going to be today?” This question was reserved for only the worthy cooks on the team, so I was immediately lifted from despair. I was hooked from that point on and never looked back..


What’s your advice to a young chef in the industry, or newcomer to the organization?
Simple: EAT! From high-end restaurants to hole-in-the-wall joints, eat everywhere and everything. The best way to learn is to experience it all and never close your mind to the unknown.


What is your last meal, and who’s the chef? Who’s at the table with you, and what’s the meal?
Tough one… I’d have to say that even though he self-admittedly wasn’t the best chef, I would have Tony Bourdain as the chef, if for no other reason than to hang out with him, which I never had the chance to do unfortunately. If there was no limit to the size of the table, I would have every close brother and sister from my industry family that I cooked and bled with over the years as well as my actual loved ones. And the meal, not a surprise to you chef, a truly authentic bowl of super spicy seafood ramen! Soul quenching!


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