Breaking Bread with Brooklyn’s Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello
Msgr. Gigantiello graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and worked as a professional chef for 10 years before entering the seminary.
An ardent priest and a passionate cook, Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello has made, and is making, a giant impact on his local community and parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Brooklyn. For one, he cooks for parish events, especially for the annual observance of Our Lady. For this cheerful day, the parish hosts a large feast and parishioners carry a giant statue of Our Lady through the local streets, an event that started about 10 years ago.
But for another, Msgr. Gigantiello, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York, and a professional chef for 10 years, takes his culinary message to the world — he not only celebrates his faith but also the glories of the food world with his show Breaking Bread on NET TV.
For each episode, he travels from local restaurant to local kitchen to interview chefs and highlight their menu, traveling around with a co-host and a camera crews. Not surprisingly, he admits, Italian cooking is really his favorite cuisine, but he also embraces every cooking style. As he noted on a website interview, “We're not really critiquing the restaurants… It's conversation.” He noted that until the pandemic is over, he does cooking shows three to four times a week from his kitchen.
Born in Long Island City to a devout Catholic family, Msgr. Gigantiello attended a Catholic grammar school and volunteered as an altar server at his local parish. In high school, he started working part time for a caterer and one of his brothers was an administrator at the CIA. Cooking was certainly a strong passion for his family members, he said. “All in the family cooked and I started baking cakes when I was 11 years old,” he said. “I had thought of becoming a priest many years back, but after high school graduation, I attended the CIA.”
But while in high school, he said, he also attended retreats, and was asked to volunteer as a lector and a Eucharistic minister. Although he did not feel he could ever fulfil a priest’s role, these were clearly calls from God to consider becoming a priest.
Later, with his cooking diploma in hand, Msgr. Gigantiello worked for four years at New York’s Carlyle Hotel’s Restaurant and its Café Carlyle, and then for four more years at the Intercontinental. Because he was always involved with the church, however, the appeal of becoming a priest never faded, and he entered the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception on Long Island. His first assignment was at St. Patrick’s Parish in Bay Ridge, New York. There he discovered and enjoyed countless local restaurants.
“I started a Taste of the Ridge,” he said, “and went to restaurants throughout the borough.” He started a local food drive for $10 per person, an activity that lasted for 20 years. After serving at Mary Queen of Heaven parish for several years, Msgr. Gigantiello was assigned by the bishop to the present location. “He wanted me to work with new people who had moved there,” he said. The bishop also asked Msgr. Gigantiello is he would host a local cooking show, and that was the genesis of Baking Bread.
Of course, his parents are very happy he became a priest. They are also happy with his cooking, many of his early skills he learned at home. “A lot of the recipes and techniques I use came from my mom,” he said.
And, of course, Msgr. Gigantiello easily links these two life roles: “I became a priest to feed the stomach and to feed the soul.”
* * * * * * *
Grandma’s Eggplant Meatballs
- 1 loaf hard Italian bread
- ½ cup milk for bread soaking
- 1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
- 10 ounces ground beef
- 10 ounces ground veal
- 10 ounces ground pork
- 1 cup diced mozzarella cheese plus extra for baking
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for baking
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 2 eggs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 quart Italian tomato sauce
- Oil for Frying
Soak the bread in milk and water, squeeze out the excess, and remove the crust. Allow 1 to 2 days to dry.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil the cubed eggplant for 10 minutes, then drain well. Mix together in a large bowl the beef, veal, pork, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, Italian parsley, chopped basil, chopped garlic, the eggs, the bread, and salt and pepper. Form the mixture into round meatballs. Heat oil in a large skillet and fry the balls on each side until browned.
Pour a layer of tomato sauce into the bottom of a large baking pan. Place the meatballs into the baking pan, and cover with a layer of the tomato sauce, mozzarella cubes, and Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes, remove from the oven, and enjoy.