Jason Giagrande: Bringing Sexy Back
Jason Giagrande knows what’s sexy. As Flik’s director of foodservice operations and events at NBC Universal in New York, his main goal has been to create a trendy and sexy atmosphere for both the many catering events NBC demands each year and the famed 30 Rock commissary.
“I wanted to transform the whole image of corporate foodservice,” Giagrande says.
“Before, the clients here would never even think to ask the in-house foodservice to do an event where they were trying to impress someone. Fortunately now if cable or any big department here wants to impress somebody, they’ll call me. To be able to put that sexy and trendy event together as a corporate foodservice provider is a big deal to me.”
Catering expo: When Giagrande came to NBC Universal in February of 2009, the commissary was not known for its catering.
“Before I came here the catering group was just an extension of the commissary so customers thought the most catering could do was your basic sandwiches or breakfast,” Giagrande says. “Now we are the premier caterer for the business. I’ll work with them from start to finish, even on the look and design of the event. For me, that’s the biggest success I’ve had here so far.”
Giagrande says he’ll set up an event in the “Saturday Night Live” studio or other studios and spaces in the building and completely transform them into whatever kind of space the client wants. One recent event Giagrande did with the NBCU TOPS team was a carnival where they brought in dunk tanks and other carnival games to make the event extra special. A big piece in building the event business came from setting up a catering expo last July.
“I saw all these events going outside,” Giagrande says. “I thought an expo was a way for me not only to show the clients what I could do but also show my own staff what we could do together. A big piece was to say, ‘I know you haven’t done high-end events in the past, but we can do it.’ I can tell people all day, ‘we can do this type of event,’ but to show them what we can do is what makes it a reality.”
For the expo, Giagrande’s team set up 30 Rock’s mezzanine into three separate areas. One area was turned into a New York City nightclub with lit bars and couches, where high-end hors d'oeuvres were served. The second room was a set up in two pieces. The first was an artisanal cheese table. The second piece was three tables set up restaurant style—one for salads, one for appetizers and one for entrées. The last room showed options for conference lunches, high-end continental breakfasts, different types of breaks during the day and high-end desserts.
“That showed we can do a nightclub setup, a high-end cheese setup and then have a sit-down dinner where you’re seeing meticulously plated foods, which you don’t think of as coming from the commissary,” Giagrande says. “We really went to the extreme to show them what we could do. We had more than 200 people show up.”
The expo helped to increase Giagrande’s catering sales by about 17% last year. The department projects another 22% increase this year. Deenise Rebeiro, manager of special events and programs for NBCU Cable Entertainment, says that Giagrande brought a fresh perspective.
“Until Jason came along you couldn’t be trusting of in-house catering,” Rebeiro says.
“Jason put this sense of style back in everything. He asks all the right questions pertaining to an event. He makes me look amazing.”
Courting celebrity: One way Giagrande keeps on the forefront of trends is his relationship with celebrity chef Joey Campanaro. Campanaro also acts as a consulting chef for NBCU and his relationship with Giagrande is one that Giagrande is very proud of.
“Joey was a chef at Universal Studios in L.A.,” Giagrande says. “When Joey left Universal he came to New York and opened some restaurants. Before I got here they brought Joey in to be the foodservice liaison. When I came here Joey and I got along very well and we worked together to bring this foodservice to another level. It was stuff I would normally do, but it was enhanced by Joey’s culinary skills and by having a celebrity name behind it.”
Campanaro occasionally does chef’s tables for catering events or consults on different menu items.
“We just bounce ideas off each other,” Giagrande says. “Culinary-wise he brings something to the table that’s hard to compare. His burger was rated one of the best foods to eat in the world [according to the The Guardian] so he gave us his burger mix and now we serve that in the commissary.”