Chef Walter Potenza has cooked for a lot of famous people in his 41 years of working in the kitchen, but his latest gig is a shining imprint on his resume – he cooked for Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome in November. The event was a fundraiser to benefit programs for the poor in South America.
Potenza was chosen by the Association of Professional Italian Chefs. He was the only chef from the U.S., along with one from Brazil and 30 from Italy, chosen from a group of 300 to offer a regional dish at the event.
Cooking for dignitaries and celebrities is an invigorating experience for Potenza, but it’s just part of his repertoire. He thrives on digging into history and creating tasty cuisine that brings the taste of a unique time and place to the table. Teaching others – from teenagers to corporate teams – to understand and prepare food is the icing on the cake for Potenza, whose wide-ranging ventures expand the boundaries of even the professional kitchen.
PBN: What did you cook for Pope Francis?
POTENZA: I made a New England seafood dish – my Napolean of lobster tail and scallops with Newburg sauce. My food was flown in. It was New England lobster, scallops from New Bedford and some of the cream in the Newburg sauce was Rhody Fresh.
PBN: What was the event like at the Vatican?
POTENZA: The event had a very simple structure. It was a fundraiser with a lot of dignitaries and the food had to be pretty simple. It wasn’t a lavish buffet. Each chef made one dish. We made 500 portions. We had plenty of staff to help us out.
PBN: Did you see Pope Francis or meet him?
POTENZA: We saw him in the morning. He had an audience and there were thousands of people. The chefs were on the steps at St. Peter’s. There were always 10 to 12 people around the pope. It’s very tight security. The Vatican makes an airport in the U.S. look like nothing. The event was at 5:30 at night and the pope was there. You realize he’d been on his feet since 10 in the morning. He left his seat and came pretty close to us, about four or five steps away. He stayed for about 12-to-15 minutes.