Italian Chef Will Shake It Up At Taste Of Rim Benefit

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The tiramisus and cannolis chef Gerardo Moceri serves at his Italian family dining restaurant are divine.

Library patrons at a Taste of Rim Country 2008 will get to taste a creamy Italian dessert from Gerardo's at the fund-raising event.

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Each wine dinner chef Gerardo Moceri holds at his restaurant has a different menu. A cookbook of the recipes is planned for the future.

"I might shake it up with a chocolate or amaretto tiramisu," he said, but as of press time, he had not yet made up his mind.

Long before Moceri was a chef with his own restaurant, Gerardo's Italian Bistro, he was helping his parents in the family produce business in Detroit.

He picked up recipes from his mother, mother, bussed tables, received advice from chefs and judged their kitchens while still in high school.

One of those chefs with advice was a Yugoslavian immigrant.

"He told me if you want to learn to cook really good, you have to go to Europe," Moceri said.

Moceri took the chef at his word and headed to Italy where he apprenticed under renowned chef Angelo Paracucchi.

When he wanted to learn to make pastries, he went to France.

For the next few years, Moceri worked for about nine months then returned home to Michigan for three.

On one of the trips stateside, Moceri looked up the Yugoslavian chef to thank him for the advice.

"He was jealous. I will never forget the look on his face," Moceri said.

Serious and out to learn every detail of his chosen profession, Moceri went back to work for the mentoring chef, cleaning fish -- for free.

"You don't remember me, do you," Moceri asked him one day. The chef was not sure.

Uncertainty did not hinder Moceri in pursuit of his dream.

As a master chef, Moceri oversaw the kitchen of the prestigious Hyatt Regency in Kauai, Hawaii.

When it came time to raise his own family, they moved to Payson and opened Cucina Paradiso (now Gerardo's.)

Active in the community, Moceri has taught cooking classes to adults and given many demonstrations.

Payson High School culinary program has benefited from his kind heart. He has volunteered time teaching, donated black restaurant coats and provided raw foods for the class to prepare. A few of the teens in the class have worked at his restaurant in the past or do so now.

This year he will assist students in the culinary class with their dishes for A Taste of Rim Country.

"The key is that these kids will learn how to do a banquet; prepare food for 100-plus people," he said.

The chef has shared his recipes with adults in cooking classes and at demonstrations.

He received the National Restaurant Association's "Restaurant Neighbor Award" in the single unit category for serving 30,000 meals to victims of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire at the evacuation center in 2002.

Gerardo's is located at 512 N. Beeline Highway, Payson. (928) 468-6500. It is open Tuesday through Sunday.

The hardest part of Moceri's success is balancing the business with family. At home, you might catch him baking chocolate chip cookies with his family.

What do you love to eat? Ethnic foods: Asian, Indian, Mexican, Greek, etc.

What is your worst chef disaster? In Hawaii, going to the beach in a heat cart with 200 lobsters that flipped over. Had to carefully lift them up to save the lobsters.

What do you love most about your job? When local customers come in and say, "Gerardo, cook something for me."

Is there a trade secret that every person who cooks should know? Patience.

What is your ultimate career goal? An ultimate career goal would mean that would be the end for me. My focus right now is putting my children through college. Someday, I would like to go back to Italy and cook with my friends again. It would be fun to have my kids cooking with me in the Italian kitchens where I learned.

A Taste of Rim Country takes place between the bookshelves at the Payson Public Library at 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23.

General admission tickets are available for purchase at the library.

Fifty percent of the $30 ticket cost is tax-deductible. Funds raised will go toward the $1.4 million library expansion project, designed to fit the growing needs of Payson.

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