A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
A native of New Jersey and raised Catholic, Chef Franco Lania turned to cooking as a teen to move his life in a positive direction. This, along with his strong faith, led him to cook around the world and eventually to start his own travel company, called Tavola Tours. Opening a travel company was a leap of faith, the Chef said, and for four years he has been offering culinary and cultural adventures to Italy. Thus, cooking and travel have become a major way he expresses his Catholicism.
Chef Lania admitted that for some years he fell away from his faith, being too focused on work and life’s daily struggles. Right out of high school, he needed a job, and was hired by one of Kings Food Markets in Short Hills, New Jersey. For Chef Lania, it was an act of divine intervention — it put him in contact with chefs who inspired him to become a chef himself. Because of its high-end reputation and product, the market with its exclusive clientele became a destination for chefs from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “They made all their food products in the store,” he said. “I would taste many foods that I had never tasted before — ethnic foods, such as German potato salad, or the Jewish gravlax, and much more,” he said, adding that he hung out with them to learn about cooking.
Although his parents were not keen on his culinary choice, Chef Lania made up his mind to become a chef. He entered Le Cordon Bleu London Culinary School, Wine and Management, and graduated with the Grande Diplôme. Several years later he went to Italy to the Master Course at the Italian Culinary Institute in Costigliole d’Asti, Italy. He then moved back to New York City, where he was hired as a sous chef in a new Italian restaurant.
But fate changed his life: “I had just come back from studying in Italy,” he said, “and I was supposed to take a Department of Health test for my new job.” The test was to take place at the World Trade Center early in the morning on 9/11. Hundreds of people, including Chef Lania, were evacuated out of the South Tower in time.
Because of that horrific event, Chef Lania slowly slipped into depression — and that is likely the time that his Catholicism began to restore him to a more positive outlook. “I came back to the faith,” he said. “When you hit bumps in the road, like lose a business or see the death of something horrific, you humble yourself. My faith has been a cornerstone for me… without my faith I would not have pushed on.”
He began to tie his Catholicism to his daily cooking, something he had never done before. After all, he realized, the nourishment from food is a fundamental gift from God. “When you are cooking,” Lania said, “You must keep your mind on what you are doing. This draws you out of your own head, and you begin to get new thoughts and feel good. This is a more spiritual side of cooking. It’s the cooking that will pull you up from yourself,” he said, “because it ties you into a higher power.”
Note: Chef Lania’s favorite quote is this, and it underscores his love for his faith and for food: “To illuminate our lives, we must first have a spark ignited inside of us. From that spark we can illuminate our lives, the lives of others and eventually the world.” For his recipes, visit his website at https://www.francolania.com. To learn of the culinary and culture tours, visit www.tavolatours.com.