By Tobias Havard
Every Wednesday night, crowds of people spill out from an apartment in the Olde, the air filled with warmth and laughter and their stomachs filled with fresh, homemade food.
“I cook a meal for whoever would like some food. Sometimes it’s fancy, and all at a very decent price,” said Luciano Catalfomo, the head chef and mastermind of Catalfomo Catering.
Catalfomo, who’s a junior studio production major, hosts a weekly dinner that’s open to all. The dinners serve as not only an opportunity for many students to eat outside of the campus’ two main dining options, but as a chance to come together as a community. Catalfomo caters to a wide variety of palates and has featured dishes from all around the world, causing many students to rejoice at not having to settle for pizza from the Hub or for D-Hall's orange penne.
“I’ve been cooking for about five years now and really started to enjoy it after getting a job in a kitchen. Cooking for people makes me happy, it might be because I’m Italian,” said Catalfomo.
He started the dinners as a way to keep sharp for his job at the Mohonk Mountain House, a resort and spa in New Paltz, NY where he works on the weekends. “I wanted to keep my cooking skills up during the week and then I realized that people liked it and it could be a bigger thing,” he said.
“If I’m cooking food from a specific country I usually ask someone from that country,” said Catalfomo. “I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside many Jamaicans and Latin Americans so I get a lot of recipes from them. Italian recipes I get from my grandmother, but I like to look up how others do it on the internet as well and combine all those resources to create the dish.”
He said he owes his culinary skills to, “a lot of people but mainly I owe a lot to the chefs I’ve worked with and my grandmother.”
Catalfomo said the prep time can vary but he tries to make sure he provides quality ingredients every single time. “It depends on the dinner; it can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. I get all the groceries the day before or the day of for the stuff that needs to be fresher,” he said.
And while he cooks for the masses, it’s not often he can for himself. He admitted, “I have a meal plan (laughs) I don’t have enough time.”
Tyler Thompson, a photography major and friend of Catalfomo, said about his favorite dish Catalfomo Catering has offered, “I’m kind of biased because we did a Jamaican night where I was also a cook so I really liked his curry chicken and rice and beans. Other than that, probably the tacos.”
“I think he does a good job accommodating vegetarian options,” Eliza Heidebrecht, an avid regular, said, “In terms of – well you know the food options on campus, they suck. So any alternative to the Hub is much better than the Hub. You have this option on Wednesdays, when it starts you can pop by anytime and it’s just, it’s good fucking food. I think it speaks for itself, it’s good food, it’s student-run, and it’s also a social event.”
On her favorite dish Catalfomo has made Heidebrecht agreed with Thompson. “He does great tacos, he does tacos a lot. I think… shit, I’m going to have to go with the tacos.”
“Most of the time it’s pretty spur of the moment decisions but I always can fall back on tacos because they are one of my favorite dishes to make,” Catalfomo said. But he also loves getting to make a variety of food. “I think the crab cake was the best dish but I don’t know if I have a favorite,” he added.
But above cooking, socialization is Catalfomo’s favorite part of feeding people on catering nights.
“I like getting to see all my friends and meeting new people,” he said. “It’s cool because that’s what food is about, bringing people together.”
“I feel like it’s nice, it brings a good community, everybody that comes here is always peaceful, it’s always good vibes,” said Thompson on a night where the Catalfomo Catering was serving Italian sandwiches; the menu called for toasted ciabatta bread, homemade pesto, fresh mozzarella slices, salted heirloom tomatoes, imported prosciutto, a balsamic glaze, and extra virgin olive oil.
“We all make connections with people and through that we work with each other. It's been great, I’ve worked with people who have come here that I had never met before,” said Thompson.
Heidebrecht said, “It's an amazing thing because it inspires sort of this– every Wednesday you meet these people and you get to hang out with these people. There are a lot of friends that I’ve met at this thing that I only see here, but I love to see them here. I rely on the fact that I know I’m going to see them and it just makes me happy.”
Garret Silver, a fellow studio production major and first time attendee on the night of Italian sandwiches commented on the community aspect of the dinners.
“I think that adds to it,” he said. “I think that’s like a return to what food was about before the industrial revolution where it’s like food was about gathering together and exchanging ideas, it’s not just about, let’s eat and then go to bed; or dinner time, let’s just eat our food and then go home, like no. It’s about the social aspect of eating food, I don’t know, I think that’s an important part of it. That’s a very Purchase-esque way to put it.”
“If it’s just for fun and he breaks even, that’s a really positive thing, I mean you’re doing something for a community,” Silver added. “I know students always complain about food so I’m sure one dinner a week where someone knows what they’re doing with real ingredients, yeah I’ll pay some good money for that.”
“Personally, I get tired of the food they sell here on campus so it’s nice to have somewhat of an outlet from the regular stuff that we get everyday like at the Hub or D-hall. And it’s good food for a good price,” said Thompson.
Heidebrecht also appreciates the outlet Catalfomo Catering provides. She said, “It’s so important. I have a very small meal plan, the smallest, and I cook my own food. And when that becomes expensive, yeah sure I know this is 10 dollars but it’s so worth it. Buying the ingredients to make your own food is expensive and you only have a certain amount of meals. I like to eat healthy and I know that when I come here I’m eating healthy.”
Catalfomo said, “In the beginning I lost a lot of money but now it’s profitable. I usually break even and then use the extra to buy kitchen equipment.” Although he only started doing the dinners at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, Catalfomo is hopeful that it is something with room to grow.
As far as plans for the immediate future go, Catalfomo said, “Me and my friend Ari are planning on doing a Greek night and there may also be a Jamaican night part two with my friend Tyler. I think there will be a special one at the end of the semester as well.”
Catalfomo Catering is hosted weekly, on Wednesday nights. You can follow @catalfomo_catering and @lucianocatalfomo on Instagram for further details about times, prices, and menu options.