As a young kid growing up in NY, I always wanted to be a chef. My Italian heritage always involved cooking. I was always around great-tasting food made by my Sicilian-born Grandmother and Grandfather. Food in my home was always a family gathering or a special event, each one with a unique memory.
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It’s now onward, the year is 2000, my health turned bad, for the first time, with the start of pancreatitis. As a person who never really drank, my diagnosis was hereditary pancreatitis. This got worse, and worse, each year leading to a very painful 6 weeks in the hospital, and a Whipple surgery. My life, at that time, as I knew it, would change, and lead into September 2010. This was for sure the turning point, and as well as the year that I realized my life could possibly end. I had to fight back from horrible odds, and I made the huge decision to have my pancreas, and spleen, removed in a procedure called an Islet Cell Transplant. My good cells would be injected into my liver, my body would recognize the cells, and think my pancreas was still around. The surgery worked in terms of pain, but also rendered me diabetic.
In between the surgery, and early 2013, my life would turn upside down with more surgeries, dramatic weight loss, obstruction surgeries, major pneumonias and so on. Clearly, I was not in a great place mentally. Looking back, my lifestyle of training, eating great healthy food and focusing on positive mind kept me alive, and I got better everyday. It has become my mission in life, preparing great healthy food, with great fresh ingredients to fuel the body and your health.
Before I go forward, I know the question about Johnny Carino’s restaurants will be on your mind. The answer is yes; I am the namesake of the chain, first founded in Fort Collins Colorado in 1994. As a young chef, I was given the task of recreating a menu for an existing chain based in Dallas and told to make it authentic Italian. For me, as a chef, this was a dream come true; a chance to take my childhood, and my experience, and put it on a menu. Even today, I am extremely thankful to God for the opportunity I was given. I’m no longer involved with my namesake, it is alive, and well, and in great hands with the current ownership, for my part; it was just one of many dreams come true.
When I was about 13, I fell in love with cooking and weight training. I always wanted to be a bodybuilder, this was unusual in the 1970s, but I stuck with it and grew into competition bodybuilding as well as healthy eating; loves I hold to this day. This has defined me as a chef, and a person. My life has been filled with severe health issues that I have overcome with my lifestyle eating, and my never-say-die attitude, and quite frankly, this saved my life.