Alumni Profile: John Gasparini, M.S. ’02
On the Fast Track
Each summer, the Maryland State Fair in Timonium draws an explosion of people—more than half a million, to be precise—for 11 days of rides, races and indulgences like deep-fried Oreos.
And behind the scenes, John Gasparini, M.S. ’02, lecturer in UB’s Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences, dons his chef’s hat and serves up wholesome, homemade meals—the complete opposite of typical “fair food”—to help employees, track workers and owners make it through those long fair days.
Managing the fair’s track kitchen for a few weeks each year is hardly a stretch for Gasparini. After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Lafayette College in 1984, he started and led United Foods, a conglomeration of successful restaurants and food delivery services. It was while catering an event for Fasig-Tipton Midlantic, the oldest thoroughbred auction company in North America, in 1999 that he connected with Andy Cashman and Max Mosner, B.S. ’65, assistant and general manager, respectively, of the fair. Not long afterward, they approached him about revamping the then-dormant track kitchen.
“At that point, I’d already started migrating away from the restaurant business,” says Gasparini, who by then had enrolled at UB to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. “But I thought, ‘Hmm, I get to be a restaurateur for three weeks out of the year,’ which is a great thing because I really thrive in that environment,” he says.
Utilizing his restaurant background, Gasparini was able to update the track kitchen to better serve the needs of the fair’s working community. “I went and looked at the facility; it was pretty antiquated at the time,” he says. “We began this process of gradually renovating … which meant bringing in the kind of robust commercial equipment necessary to do … an enormous amount of breakfasts and lunches.”
He also fine-tuned the kitchen’s product line and introduced the “real meals” the track workers have come to love. “When I got there, I found a community of people that live a very rough life,” Gasparini says. “Track life is tough by any standards. People were more interested in eating good, rustic food—some kind of real [meal].”
“I have people that come in every year and their first question is, ‘When are you making meatloaf?’ or ‘When are you doing the spaghetti?’” he says. “There’s a little, close-knit community that comes together every year for the state fair, and I feel like we’ve really become the center point of that community. It’s a place to come, eat, relax and enjoy yourself.”
When not “cheffing,” Gasparini focuses on teaching psychology at UB, a career that he calls “an extension of [his] passion to help people along.” And despite the differences between the kitchen and the classroom, Gasparini sees them harmonizing perfectly.
“They’re both fields that deal with nurturing—they come at it from different perspectives, obviously,” he says, “but they both have to do with nurturing people, and I think most important for me is … they’re both sacred roles. Taking care of people is a sacred duty.”