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Chef’s Corner: Joe Ditri

This is the first of what will become a regular feature, Chef’s Corner – shining the light on those who helpchefjoeditri-2453072 shape Delaware North’s vast culinary team. 

We recently caught up with Joe Ditri, Delaware North Sportservice’s executive chef at Nationwide Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets. In his role, Ditri oversees a culinary team that is responsible for all-things food and beverage at the arena, including in the concessions, clubs and suites.
Ditri and his team – including Suites Chef Ed Kowalski and John DiGiovanni, who oversees the arena’s Time Warner Cable HD Lounge – take pride in menus that are filled with in-house specialties, which proved popular at the Jan. 25 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus. 
Among their in-house efforts are processing their own vegetables, smoking their own meats (pork, ribs and brisket) in smokehouse stands, baking most of the bread served at the arena and creating desserts from scratch. But the real joy for Ditri has been using his own sausage recipes to make Italian, Polish and Buffalo chicken sausage – right in his kitchen at the arena.
Words that describe you
Outgoing, fun-loving, straightforward and honest. I like to keep it light with my staff, but I can change quickly to be serious when something needs attention.
Words that describe your food
At the arena, I favor traditional dishes with a flare such as Chicken Cacciatore or what I call Chicken Ditri, which is my take on Chicken French, with the chicken dipped in an egg batter. The fans want good down-home food. I can cook fancy dishes, but they like meatloaf. We also make a lot of dishes from scratch. We process our own vegetables here. We don’t use prefabricated foods.
Favorite moment at Delaware North
My most memorable moment at Delaware North was the execution of this year’s NHL All-Star Game and overseeing the Winter Park across the street. I was involved from a logistical standpoint in the Major League Baseball All-Star Games in 2005 at Comerica Park in Detroit and in 2009 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, so it was tremendous to be in a leadership position this year.
The challenges of being a chef in a facility such as Nationwide Arena
Staffing is a challenge as we have many part-time seasonal employees. We can only offer a small number of hours. Another challenge is communication with so many different areas of our operation – the clubs, the concessions, the suites. It’s about getting everyone on the same page. Thankfully, I have two great chefs working with me, Chef Ed Kowalski handles our suites and Chef John DiGiovanni is our sous chef. We have each others’ backs and always keep the guests in mind.
Your favorite foods
I love everything Italian. Some of my favorites are stuffed shells and lasagna. I also love steaks and a good fajita.
Your least favorite foods
Oysters, and I’m not a big muscle or clam guy. I really don’t like shellfish. I also don’t like food that is too hot and spicy.
Hardest cooking lessons
I am always very careful about trusting someone to count for me. You learn that lesson once and that’s all you need. There’s nothing worse than doing a steak dinner for 300 and you don’t have 300 steaks. I preach using common sense in counting and organizing for a big dinner such as grouping in counts of 30 for a dinner for 300.
Cooking or other heroes
A number of chefs with Delaware North have been a big positive influence for me since I started working for the company at Comerica Park in Detroit. One has been Executive Chef Mark Sczubeczak, who gave me a one-day trial at the Tiger Club when I didn’t know anything about the company. After than he hired me and confirmed that what I was doing was right. I try to model myself on how Mark handles himself in Detroit.
Your last meal on earth
Filet mignon. It’s the only steak I eat. I like to cook it myself. I season it with salt, pepper and garlic and broil it to medium rare. I like it with a potato or pasta.