By Thomas Kohnstamm, Chief Microspotter
Job title: Director of Collaboration Solutions for Microsoft State and Local Government
By day, Dean Iacovelli travels the country, working to transition New York City, the State of California and other state and local governments into the cloud.
By night, he is a master Italian chef and all-around DIY food and wine geek. Want to make your own mozzarella from scratch? Ask Dean. He’s done it. Homemade salami? Done that too.
Whether he is educating politicians on how the cloud can make city governments more efficient or encouraging friends to explore the great breadth of regional Italian food, Dean is the kind of person who can’t help but share his enthusiasm with others and show them what more is possible.
For the past six years, Dean has combined his passion for cooking and Microsoft to support a greater cause by donating a multi-course dinner for six people to the Microsoft Giving Campaign online auction. Dean works with the auction winner to create a unique menu featuring food and wine pairings from a specific region of Italy.
I recently sat down with Dean at Macrina Bakery in Seattle to discuss the cloud, cuisine and charity.
Where’d you develop such a deep interest in regional Italian food?
I grew up in Montreal and lived close to my Italian grandparents. My grandmother was from outside of Rome and was a master of her regional cuisine. She met my grandfather in Canada and he was from Puglia – so she also learned to make the food that he grew up with.
After my grandmother passed away, I slowly realized that the magnificent food – with all of its culture and history – was not going to cook itself.
I am also diabetic. That means I can’t eat pasta or other carbohydrates and have therefore had to explore beyond Italian restaurants’ “greatest hits.”
How did you decide that you were going to become a dinner party black belt?
I was living in Ottawa and started reading recipes online. I thought I would give a dinner party a shot and invited six friends over for what was like a seven-course meal.
It was pretty much a disaster. I had overlapping courses, huge gaps between other courses and my homemade focaccia was more than a little tough to chew.
But I learned from the experience and starting throwing dinner parties all the time. I soon discovered that research and planning is 80% of the battle.
Has your cooking influenced your work at Microsoft or vice versa?
In both things it is really important to refine your process. But they are very different too. I love the balance between using my brain all the time at work and then switching to something that I create with my hands in the kitchen.
That said; I do get very serious while cooking. My wife avoids me when I have what she calls my “cook face” on.
Tell us how the meal for the giving campaign came to be.
At first, I was donating money each year. But, as my work responsibilities continued to grow, I had less and less time to create elaborate dinner parties. So, I decided that it would be a good way to raise money and to also push myself to evolve as a cook.
A big dinner party can take two months of planning. This event gives me a reason to really challenge myself. In each dinner, I always aim for one big goal… something that I’ve never done before, whether it is curing my own meats, baking a proper rustic bread or infusing my own grappa.
So you work best under pressure?
I essentially work in sales, so I like to have that date on the calendar and then work my ass off to make my numbers or pancetta or whatever it is.
But it’s not just about pressure. I also really like to understand what makes things tick and then share that with others. For example, I do wine pairings for each meal and then create a Word doc with the name, vintage, type of grapes, tasting notes and a picture of the label so people can find the wine again if they like.
Are other people at Microsoft surprised when they learn about your double-life as a super cook?
It’s funny, because I find out all the time that my colleagues have some amazing talent. It’s like, you’ll have known them for years and suddenly they sit down and start playing concert piano or singing an operetta.
That’s just the kind of people we have around here.