Chef Michael Fusco Catholic Charities — ‘Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty’

“My parents grew up in the Depression,” says Chef Fusco, “so eating dinner together was so important.”

Chef Michael Fusco and his kitchen crew
Chef Michael Fusco and his kitchen crew (photo: Courtesy of Michael Fusco)

Michael Fusco is the head chef at Catholic Charities in Tulsa, Oklahoma — a challenging job, to say the least. “We are getting ready to redo our pantry to be like a small grocery store,” he said. “We want to give those in need a voucher so they can come to shop. And we are fundraising for a kitchen to produce side dishes, soups and entrées that people can take home that are almost ready to eat. We are also doing cooking classes for those who don’t have that skill.”

He grew up Catholic — “my dad was Catholic,” he said, “but my mom was Lutheran”— and attended Catholic schools in his native New Jersey. He also worked as the office boy in his parish’s rectory every weekend and on holidays. He did such tasks as writing out Mass cards and making breakfasts and sandwiches for the seven priests at his parish, Saint Peter’s in Riverside, New Jersey. “It was a fantastic place,” he said. “The priests were very holy men, and they laughed and joked all the time. They even took an interest in my spiritual and emotional direction.”

Firmly formed in his faith, Fusco has credited his food and cooking passions to how he was raised. “My parents grew up in the Depression,” he said, “so eating dinner together was so important. We would sit down together, and even when I was in high school, we had to be together. My love for food comes as highlights of our family life sitting at the dinner table.”

His mother cooked everything Irish, but she also would serve Italian food. He remembers that her cooking was so good that her cheesecake recipe got published in a cookbook. His mother was also very generous, for when someone died, she would make cream puffs to drop off as a comfort food. “When my mom made our dinner,” he said, “she would make more than we needed and we would take leftovers to someone around us, like a widow or a widower.”

Obviously, enjoying good family food added to his food passion. But probably so did his teenaged work in a Greek diner and an Italian restaurant for about four years. Perhaps all this inspired him to attend culinary school at Johnson & Wales. 

After graduation and years later in his culinary career, he owned two high-end restaurants and a seafood restaurant in Tulsa. “What I did at the restaurants,” he said, “was to use only fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. I would find what was best around so that it would be traditional classic food. If I could serve the rich that way, why not serve the poor and humble? We cook the same type of food we give out in our pantry so everybody can eat what we give out. Christ is always involved in eating all or part of what we serve. Catholicism is based on his grace and his hospitality.”

As he summed up his cooking life, Fusco said all he has really liked was to work all the time. That used to be No. 1 in his life. But he is proud that God is in his life, and serving God is now his top priority. “God is so good to us,” he said.

Note: Chef Fusco said that his father named him Michael to honor St. Michael the Archangel.

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Chef Michael Fusco’s Tomato Salad

Serves 6

  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes, rinsed and cut in half
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced (optional)
  • 3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Blend the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and seasonings. Add the tomatoes and onions. Mix well, and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.