Damian Zedower jokes that he became a chef when he realized his dream of being a professional football player was just that—a dream. “I said, ‘What else do I know how to do?’” Zedower recalls. “And my grandmother said, ‘You love food.’” To which he replied, “Yeah, I do.”
Zedower’s interest in cooking began around the age of 6 when he would visit his stepgrandfather’s restaurant. “Coming into the kitchen and seeing the fire and flames and a guy with a big hat yelling at everybody, I was like that’s pretty cool,” he says.
Realizing his passion, Zedower attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he was introduced to the concept of farm-to-table. The CIA taught students about using local ingredients for freshness and flavor, and about the potentially harmful effects of pesticides on the environment. Zedower “fell in love” with the vision. A few years following graduation, he joined renown chef Daniel Bruce at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Bruce pushed the farm-to-table concept to new places for Zedower. “The guy goes foraging for mushrooms,” he says. “I learned the most I’ve ever learned working for him.”
The hotel also was the place where Zedower met his wife, who was employed as a manager. With professions that could take them almost anywhere, the two explored the country, working at high-end hotels and resorts. Starting a family, however, brought them back to the Northeast to be closer to relatives. The birth of their second child made Zedower rethink the hours he worked. “I worked five or six days a week, probably 12 to 16 sometimes 18 hours a day,” he says. “I loved it. I loved the adrenaline rush of that business.”
With two children and a working spouse, however, the time to pull back had arrived. When an opportunity at Sodexo was presented to him, Zedower became executive chef at Babson where he oversees all dining locations as well as banquets. Now he can do what he loves but on a more reasonable schedule. Zedower wants to bring the farm-to-table concept to Babson dining. “We get a certain amount of dollars to spend,” he says, “so I pick my battles. But we can use freshly ground beef. We’re stepping away from using anything from cans except for tomatoes for sauce. We don’t buy frozen fried chicken. We make it fresh.”
Trying to please so many taste buds on a budget can be challenging, says Zedower. Luckily, he adds, Babson students have fairly sophisticated palates. “We did a chef challenge, and I made kangaroo,” he says. “We had the biggest line out the door.” Not that kangaroo meat is the norm, but Zedower believes the Babson community is prime for new flavors. At the same time, he always offers at least one familiar dish. “We have an area called Simple Servings. It’s an allergy-free zone, and we do simple food that’s really done right,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about. If you give people food that’s done right, I think you’re going to win all around.”—Donna Coco