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Chef Tanner has big plans at More Perreca's

Chef Tanner has big plans at More Perreca's

Former SCCC instructor will help chart future of Little Italy restaurant
Chef Tanner has big plans at More Perreca's
Chris Tanner stands outside More Perreca's on North Jay Street in Schenectady.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Chris Tanner has been in the classroom.

He's been on the corporate ladder for big-name companies.

Now he's back in the kitchen. And loving scenes with spices, sauces and souffles.

Tanner, a former instructor in Schenectady County Community College's highly regarded culinary arts program, recently joined Maria Perreca Papa at More Perreca's Italian Kitchen in Schenectady. The title is general manager and executive chef.

The new position means new things for More Perreca's. Tanner is changing menus, developing new tastes and will have a say in redesigning the dining room at the Jay Street restaurant in the city's Little Italy section.

Tanner was executive chef at the Winnisook Club, a private member club in Ulster County, before arriving at SCCC in 2008. At the college, he worked as chef for the Casola Dining Room and was lead instructor for Garde Manger.

Once Tanner began traveling, the first stop was Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. He worked as culinary director for the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College in 2012 and 2013.

Tanner, 41, left collegiate culinary labs for corporate culinary labs in 2013, working as executive research chef for Campbell's Soup in Camden, New Jersey and later as senior executive research chef for Pepperidge Farm in Norwalk, Connecticut.

During the corporate years, Tanner worked on product lines such as Prego and Swanson. He worked on 400 products and launched Campbell's Skillet Sauces and the company's new "Well Yes!" line of canned soups.

Tanner talked about the past on the road and his future in the kitchen at More Perreca's in a question-and answer session with The Daily Gazette.

Chef Chris Tanner at More Perreca's on North Jay Street in Schenectady. (Eric Jenks/For the Daily Gazette)

Q: How did you end up at More Perreca's?

A: In the '90s they called it being laid off. In the 2000s, they called it downsizing. Now they call it right-sizing. After a year and a half I was promoted to a global position with Campbell's and Pepperidge Farm. I was senior executive chef of the global biscuits and snacks division. And as the stock market goes ... a number of our sales division was laid off for Pepperidge Farm, as was my position. They consolidated my position back to vice president of global culinary.

They took very good care of me, I loved working there. I was looking at about a half-dozen other corporate positions and then Maria sent me a message on Facebook or LinkedIn and asked me if I would ever come back to Schenectady.

I said, "I'll come back and talk to you." She got me on the phone and didn't stop talking for about 15 minutes. She told me everything she wanted to do with the business and I said, "I'll come back and chat." I love coming here ... my wife and I used to eat breakfast here all the time. I came back to visit with my kids, we'd eat breakfast with my mom, who still lives in Schenectady.

Q: What will you be doing here?

A: I love the food here, I see an opportunity here for me to make it even bigger. Maria has pretty much given me the opportunity to run the entire business.

Q: You've been in the college game, the corporate game. What's it like coming back to the restaurant game?

A: It's a lot more hours. I left a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday, six-weeks-paid-vacation job. I'm putting in about an average of 85 hours a week right now,  but it's going to change a lot. The difference is here — one of my chef friends said to me, another corporate chef, I used to travel 30 to 40 percent of the time in my old job — and he said, "What's more important, have dinner alone in some awesome place or being home with your kids each night?" You might not be able to spend the entire day with them, but at least you're home to see your family every day. That's more important to me.

Chef Chris Tanner at More Perreca's on North Jay Street in Schenectady. (Eric Jenks/For the Daily Gazette)

Q: What are your plans for More Perreca's?

A: Top line, we've already made sure we have the right people in place. We're slowly working through the menu. A lot of things are going to stay the same, but we're going to bring them to another level. We're still going to have bacon here, but I'm going to make bacon in house, curing and smoking my own bacon. We're making our own sausage in house. I've already changed the pizzas on the menu ... it's still going to be that Italian-American classics. My ethos I've developed, we're a from-scratch, locally inspired kitchen.

You're also going to see the room change a lot up front ... Maria and I agree on everything, that's why she called me, she knew she needed an update. The restaurant has been here for 12 years, it needed a facelift. That will be coming in January, we'll have a relaunch party at the end of January.

We're going to feature more of the local flavor of the restaurant, but also feature the history of the restaurant. Maria is the face of the restaurant still, I'm the heart of the restaurant. We're going to do a rooftop garden, so we're going to grow our own tomatoes and basil. You'll see some more of that.

Q: You've developed products for national distribution. Any plans to develop More Perreca's products?

A: We're going to, we're going to develop a More Perreca's marinara vodka sauce for retail sale. It will start within the first year. We're standardizing the sauce here, we're going to start selling it fresh and frozen in the Perreca's bakery. We're going to do brodo — broth, stock. They call it brodo in Italian.

Q: How about developing other Perreca's restaurants?

A: It's definitely not out of the question. If we do anything like that, it will be right here in Little Italy. Maria and I want to invest in this particular area of the city. It could be a high-end Tuscan-type restaurant on the same street.

Q: Besides the time crunch, what has been the biggest challenge here?

A: Finding the right people for the positions. A couple people left before I got here, another person decided he wanted a 9-to-5 job. So finding the right people. I don't want people to be just people who want a job. I want people who want to have careers. I taught culinary arts because I was passionate about it. I want to have other people who are passionate about the things I'm doing here.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124, wilkin@dailygazette.com or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

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