Tough but enjoyable in the culinary field

Tommy Masaracchia of Tope La is next to present in the Hammond Regional Arts Center's Culinary Arts Series. Zachary Araki/The Lion's Roar

Tommy Masaracchia, co-owner and executive chef of Tope La brought his culinary skills to the Hammond Regional Arts Center’s Culinary Arts Series.

The dinner was held Aug. 14 at the Alack Culinary Equipment & Supplies Superstore. The barbecue-related dinner included a lettuce wrap sandwich with pull pork, smoked barbecue chicken tortilla soup, beef brisket and a sorbet shaped like a wedge of watermelon. Masaracchia is a Culinary Arts Series veteran.

“Featuring Chef Tommy is always a tradition for the Culinary Arts Series as he’s been a local chef featured since the inception of the series in 1998,” said HRAC Media Coordinator Tara Bennett. “Our patrons look forward to having him every year because he is a well-known institution in our community.”

 

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Masaracchia has found the culinary business to be tougher than when joined at 13 years old.

“The workforce today makes it a little more difficult,” said Masaracchia. “It’s a fun business. You have to be dedicated. It’s long hours, the pay’s not great, but the people are good. In today’s time, the workforce is not so committed to the long hours and low pay. It makes it tough to keep a staff and keep it running, which means I work a little bit more than I want to this time in my life.”

Besides the workforce, Masaracchia considered the biggest challenge to be appealing to his clientele’s ever-changing palate.

“We’ve tried a whole bunch of things,” said Masaracchia. “Some things have worked, and some things haven’t. It’s just trying to figure out what people want. It changes all the time here in Hammond. Just when you think you know what people want, they don’t want that anymore. They want something else. You try to find that one thing they want or whatever it is.”

Masaracchia discussed his focus more on taste than having a favorite meal to cook.

“I used to think fancy was the only way to go, but just something simple as long as it tastes good and people enjoy it,” said Masaracchia. “The fun part of the business is when people say they liked what we cooked.”

One of the most satisfying aspects of the job to Masaracchia is finding young, teachable cooks.

“Those diamonds in the rough don’t come around very often these days, not in Hammond, Louisiana,” said Masaracchia. “Hammond’s a small market. Being a small market, you don’t have a lot to choose from. It’s not like being in New York, San Francisco, Chicago or Dallas, the big cities. It’s a little bit more of a challenge here, but when you find somebody like the kid I have, you hold on to him, you take care of him, and you guide him along. You don’t throw him to the wolves. Probably the most enjoyable thing is seeing a kid advance that loves it and will do anything to get to the next step.”

Masaracchia advised aspiring chefs or restaurant owners to be sure they are dedicated to the craft.

“People like to cook at home, and it’s totally different than cooking professional,” said Masaracchia. “Those days you don’t want to cook, you still have to cook. Those days you don’t want to get up early and work 15 hours, you still have to get up and work 15 hours. It’s not like being at the house, cooking an omelet for breakfast. You have to make sure if you’re serving 500 people, you have 500 people happy. It’s a little bit more involved than saying ‘I like to cook.’”

 

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