When The Gasparilla Inn & Club opens on December 15, a new team of chefs will be on the scene. They have been in Boca Grande a couple of months, surviving Hurricane Ian and beginning their work to raise the Inn’s food and beverage offerings even higher.
Chief among this team is Executive Chef Nick Marchesano. The pronunciation is Mark-i-san-o, with emphasis on the “san,” which Nick notes is like the region of Italy known as the Marche, along the Adriatic coast. This may give you a clue as to what sort of cuisine Nick especially enjoys.
His Italian heritage has played a strong role in his culinary career, with his father and grandmother being big influences.
“I grew up in a very, very Italian household,” he said, “and I think that’s where my cooking came from originally. I lived with my grandma for a while, and I cooked with her a lot. My dad was in the men’s club and we did a spaghetti dinner every Sunday. I think that’s where it all started.”
Some childhood early years were lived around Washington, D.C. In high school he had already decided the culinary world was where he wanted to be.
“I’m an only child, and was just involved in cooking from a young age. All the holidays were always big. When there was nothing going on, we would make meatballs or make something,” he recalled. His father was not a professional cook, but a home cook of the highest quality.
“At the church, when they would have their spaghetti dinners, several of the Italian families would put it on, using somebody’s mother’s meatballs, or somebody’s grandmother’s sauce, or someone’s grandfather’s salad dressing.” Nick was always part of that cooking, and learned that not only was he good at it, but he came to love it.
There were no programs at his high school for culinary arts, so he sought out programs sponsored by the American Culinary Federation and others. There were competitions and online classes and workshops.
“During high school I was in a couple of culinary competitions every year” Nick said. These helped him hone his skills and learn even more. After high school, Nick moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend Johnson and Wales University, which has a highly acclaimed culinary school. While there, his studies took him to Italy, where he worked under Chef Andrea Trapani, at the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence.
It was while he was at Johnson and Wales that Nick also was introduced to the Augusta National Masters Tournament. He was hired to assist in the opening of Berckmans Place, under Chef John Johnstone, CMC (CMC designation is the highest level of certification a chef can achieve). Berckmans Place is part of hallowed grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club, and is hailed as “the world’s most exclusive US Masters hospitality experience.” Nick has now been involved in nine of the Masters in Augusta and is expecting to be back again for the next tournament in April.
The Augusta National Tournament was not only important for Nick from a professional standpoint, but also a personal one. It was at the tournament in 2018 that Nick met Casey, the woman who would become his wife.
Nick and Casey became engaged during another milestone in Nick’s career. It was while Nick was touring Europe and the United States as the Touring Chef for Grammy Award-winning musician Ed Sheeran. Nick and Casey became engaged while backstage at one of Sheeran’s concerts, in Riga, Latvia.
Nick has moved around and gained experience continually since his college days. He was sous chef at the Charlotte Country Club in North Carolina, then sous chef at the Atlantic Room at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina and was also executive sous chef at the Dewberry Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. At the Dewberry, Nick assisted in the creation of the menu and with the team as the Opening Executive Sous Chef. There he also built relationships with local, small farms and purveyors to provide guests with a genuine glimpse at low country cuisine.
Cooking in Charleston instilled in Nick a chef’s responsibility to source ethically and locally, while maintaining the region’s historic customs and practices related to food and hospitality.
He stayed with the Dewberry for a year and a half and then was enticed to move back to Charlotte to open the Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel, which is known as an “Uptown boutique hotel where the buzzing energy of a major city blends with hospitality.”
“I sought out Kiawah Island originally,” Nick said. “The executive sous chef position I took at the Dewberry I kind of lucked into. The HR manager of the Dewberry came and ate in the dining room at Kiawah and I was ‘poached.’”
He noted that, “Once you open a hotel, some people migrate.” It is a path to success in the culinary business.
It does not hurt to be sought after by a mega-celebrity, either. So when Ed Sheeran wanted to have him cook for his tour, Nick could not pass it up.
After a year and a half of that tour, however, another offer came, and Nick accepted a position as chef de cuisine at the iconic Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs. The Broadmoor is the “longest running Forbes 5-star, AAA 5-Diamond resort in the world.”
He was brought in to develop their Italian cuisine. He remained at the Broadmoor for about three years, before being ‘poached’ again by The Gasparilla Inn & Club.
Nick believes The Inn has always been a key player in the culinary arena and has been home to many renowned “culinarians.” He hopes he will be considered one of them.
As Executive Chef he is responsible for “everything” that has to do with food, beverage and hospitality – except The Pink Elephant.
“Rob (Plesh) still has a tight grip on The Pink Elephant,” Nick said with a bow to Rob’s expertise.
Nick will also work with the bakery, whenever it is able to get back up and running, staff meals to the banquet program, to the amenities in the rooms, to all of the special events, including the Beach Club.
As for the menu, that is still under lock and key. He did say that Italian will be a feature.
“I kind of pigeon hole myself into having a specialty in Italian. I kind of went back to it for a while, and that’s what I was hired for at The Broadmoor.”
Other than that sneak preview, he said the biggest thing he will be adding right away is the new pizza program at the Beach Club.
“We’ll be introducing those and stretch those every day,” he said. “We’ll do something a little bit more niche.”
Other menu changes are possible as the ideas come from some of the new chefs he has brought on board.
“The Inn’s menu is where a lot of our most creative dishes are going to come from and shine. They will have a lot of influence on that.”
Nick will oversee just over 40 line level employees, six sous chefs, a chef de cuisine, a banquet chef and two executive sous chefs.
“There are some things The Gasparilla Inn is kind of well known for, and I think that having a culinary environment that is very learning-focused is something that we’re going to try to bring back. It is just something maybe we’ve let rest for a little bit, and now we have a lot of very young, creative minds bringing in as many interns and students as we possibly can, and really make it an environment where people are learning.”
As for his own personal cooking, he said, indeed he will be adding his touch to the menu.
“If the job did not allow me time to cook, I think I would be unhappy, so yes, I will be cooking. I only cook the things I want to cook now though,” he said. Of course, that’s Italian.”
At 30 years old, Nick Marchisano comes with quite a resume. But he also comes with a heart for Boca Grande. He and seven others (six chefs and a new member of the Innspire Management Training Program all poached from the Broadmoor) came to the island about two months before hurricane Ian arrived.
The eight of them were just getting settled when the storm threatened. As a group, they left for Miami and waited out the storm there. As soon as they could, they returned to Boca Grande, and began setting up a community kitchen.
“We got up about 4:30 in the morning to come back to the Island and we started putting stuff on Instagram, blasting things for people to come and get some food. It started with 20 people the first night, about 150 the next night and at our top, I think we did about 250 meals for people on the Island. It turned into a real community event out there; people just coming back to the Island and seeing each other for the first time. I had the opportunity to meet more people … every sheriff and every police officer, and everybody who lives on Island … than I probably would have met in maybe two seasons, under normal circumstances. It was nice to do something for the community. It was a good time.”
That’s the kind of executive chef – the kind of people – The Gasparilla Inn attracts. For the time being, he and Casey will live on Inn property, but they have already had an offer on a house in the Gulf Cove area accepted, so they are putting down roots here.
“I much prefer the beach to the mountains,” Nick said. “From Colorado to here – I would much rather be at the beach. Casey is from Buffalo and I am from D.C., so we are glad to be back this way. Casey and I took some time off between The Broadmoor and here, but we are ready to start serving the public again.”