Many chefs say food has changed their lives, but Chef Franco Lania said, “Food saved my life.” How? By cooking therapy, which he travels around the world to promote.
Students in Southwest Minnesota State University’s (SMSU) Culinology and Hospitality Management program met Lania on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Chef Lania visited Marshall, Minn. to participate in Marshall Radio’s Fall & Holiday Cooking Show and also taught in SMSU’s student kitchen.
“The radio people asked if we could help with their cooking show on Oct. 17,” said Michael Cheng, Director/Professor of Culinology and Hospitality Management. “I said sure, if they got Lania to speak to my class.”
Lania agreed to speak to SMSU’s Culinary Essentials II class. He sported an orange and black chef coat with his logo, “F” and “L” in script letters, on one sleeve, ready for action.
First, Lania talked about growing up in New Jersey where he found his love for food. Through years of schooling and experience, that love evolved into his passion. Now he has his own show, Jersey Gems, and has appeared on Food Network twice. He is also a member of the Culinary Advisory Board for ConAgra Foods. Through his experiences in both restaurants and cruises, he’s at the “marquee level” of a Certified Culinary Professional.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Lania was taking a test for a food handler’s certificate in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. At that time, the other was being pierced by a plane. Lania was evacuated before it was hit. This event sent him spiraling into despair, and his passion for food faded.
But he didn’t give up. He forced himself to cook again and regained his passion.
Lania knows cooking helped his life get back on track but doesn’t want to stop there. His goal? “To inspire people that have hit hardships and adversity in their lives using the invigorating energy of cooking.”
“You have to connect with what you’re doing in order to get everything out of it,” Lania told students. “If you just cook without putting yourself into it, then you’re not really enjoying it.”
The students tried their hands at Lania’s recipes, such as Butternut Squash Salad, Pumpkin Ravioli, and Zeppole.
Lania’s website is www.francolania.com where he talks about his mission, his experiences, and his recipes.