If you're Mark DeNittis, you don't wallow in pig shit when the USDA pulls the pork from underneath your livelihood. Instead, you pick yourself up, eat a sausage or ten (and porchetta, to boot) and map out a future that brings you back to what you love most: the classroom.
You know the story: Late last year, DeNittis, the founder of Il Mondo Vecchio, shuttered his artisan salumi plant under duress from the USDA, which claimed, says DeNittis, that his dry sausage production process "didn't show proof that the pathogens for salmonella were being properly addressed -- that we weren't addressing the steps to kill the pathogens." In November, DeNittis called it quits, closing the sausage plant that had made him a household name in the culinary world.
But before opening Il Mondo Vecchio in 2009, DeNittis was an instructor at the Denver campus of Johnson & Wales, a position he held for ten years. It was a job, too, that allowed him to start a meat club -- independent of the university -- which is when he began to cure meats. And if he has his way, he'll do that again in the future, but for right now, DeNittis has another, more immediate focus: He's now the director of culinary curriculum at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts, a (big) job that he started just last week.
But DeNittis isn't new to Cook Street. For the past two years, he's been teaching an intensive, state-certified, ACF-accredited professional butchery program, an eight-day course, taught twice a year, that he describes as an "introduction to the basics of meat fabrication, both from a theoretical standpoint and a hands-on standpoint." Those who complete the program receive continuing-education points -- and walk away with the know-how to butcher whole beasts safely, effectively and quickly.
His new role, however, will be much larger. "I oversee all of the professional and recreational culinary programs, as well as the faculty and all of the culinary events," says DeNittis. And the position, he continues, expands even further: "Part of my job is to make sure that the current curriculum is relevant and rigorous, and that students of both programs walk away with the tools and resources to be successful."
He'll continue to teach, as well, both for professional students and the rest of us, who simply just want to learn from the one of the best. "The professional program is meat-focused, but there's also an emphasis on techniques and methods, while the recreational classes are meat-focused and geared toward those who cook at home," he explains.
And at some point down the line, reveals DeNittis, he'd like to teach pastry classes and complete his level-one sommelier certification, as well as his ACF executive-chef accreditation. "With this job comes so many amazing opportunities," says DeNittis, who tells me that he accepted the position for several reasons, one of which is the enviable student-to-teacher ratio: eight students to every one instructor. "I love the small class sizes," he says.
He admits, too, that he's wanted to return to the education sector ever since leaving Johnson & Wales. "I'm truly and sincerely excited to be back in a culinary classroom, and I have the best of both worlds, because I'm also still heavily involved in the industry sector, too," he notes. He's partnered with Anderson Meats, a local company, to help with sales and marketing, and he's consulting with Justin Brunson, the exec chef of Old Major, on sanitation operating procedures and a HACCP plan for Brunson's charcuterie program.
And, says DeNittis, Il Mondo Vecchio may one day resurface. "We're looking at ways to possibly revive our salumi program (he's retained a lawyer and launched an investigation), but we don't know if it'll return as Il Mondo Vecchi, or as something else, but if we do go back into production, it will be on a much larger scale," he reveals.
In the meantime, he says, life couldn't be better. "I'm thrilled with the way things turned out."
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