Seems Chris Spinosa ’15 (SFA) doesn’t pay as much attention to his @ChefZaddy Instagram account as his thousands of followers do. It was two months after “Next Level Chef” producers slid into his DMs that Spinosa noticed the missive and responded. Six months later he was filming in Las Vegas with Gordon Ramsay, whom he calls “the Michael Jordan of cooking,” and ended up in the finals, one of three chefs standing in a field whittled from 18.
His risk-taking and fiery personality got him through four weeks of 12-to-14-hour shoots, where he says the stress was so noticeable that by the end of the competition, the makeup artist was “caking on foundation.” On that final day, he made his peace with the show, considering himself a winner just for having gotten to the end.
A music major at UConn, he spent summers and breaks doing restaurant prep work and realized “cooking scratched my brain in a way music didn’t.” After earning a certificate at the Institute of Culinary Education, Spinosa spent seven years cooking in high-stress restaurants in New York City, before the COVID pandemic spurred a move to Florida, where he now works as a personal chef. Regardless of how many exceptional coconut tarts he makes or Major League Baseball clients he has, Spinosa attests, “I’m humble because I know that I’m always gonna be a student no matter what.”
Q: What have you been up to since the “Next Level Chef” show ended? Has it opened any doors for you?
A: I haven't done anything big yet. I've done a few podcast interviews, I've done a few dinners here and there, but I will say one of the bigger clients I have right now is a Major League Baseball client. I also have another client who I can't really say his name but let's just say he's a very close friend of Michael Jordan. The thing is that the timing in which the show ended is where it gets quiet here in Florida, because not everyone wants to be in the heat. So a lot of my clientele are leaving town, but when October/November hits is when we'll reconnect and when I think more opportunities will pop up.
So in the meantime, what I’m doing is essentially capitalizing on my social media. That's the way to go these days! I also plan to compile a list of companies I would like to work with and get endorsed by. But basically the name of the game for Chris this summer is to work on my social media because this is the time I'm going to be able to. As my brother put it really well: I'm working on the plumbing this summer. Is it sexy stuff? No, but it's very necessary to grow.
Q: You mentioned working for a Major League Baseball client. How is that experience?
A: Well, the Major League Baseball season runs from April until October and that's great because that's when the summer here in Florida is quiet. So how it works is: he flies me out to St. Louis whenever they are doing these six-days-at-a-time home games. He puts me up in a ritzy hotel right across the street from his apartment, I cook for him for six days, and then I fly back out to West Palm where I live. I do it every other week for the rest of the summer, and it pays my rent bills for the entire month so it's definitely worth it. Not to mention after I cook for the guy, I have the rest of the time in St. Louis to go gallivanting around town and explore the city. I also take that time to go to the gym or edit content that's waiting to be posted. I'll take care of any business things like expense reports. Really anything to keep myself busy.
Q: Speaking of cooking for people, have you ever tried to remake any of the recipes you created on the show?
A: I do want to do those recipes again! Especially the coconut tart I made that a lot of people were raving about. I gotta tell you, that one was hard, but it was extremely well executed. I made two tarts during the challenge because you assume one might get screwed up in the process. The one that I put on the platform was obviously the more beautiful one, and then I had an extra tart left over at my station, and I went to have the whole thing. And when I did, I was like: this is one of the best things I’ve ever made in my entire career. So it was fun that something I was so proud of came from that environment. That’s definitely one recipe I'm gonna try and do.
Q: It seemed like your philosophy during the show was to take risks, was that your plan going in?
A: Yeah! The show was my time to showcase my work, and I would not be doing myself justice if I hadn't gone out of my way to take risks and be a total degenerate psycho on it. A well-known fact in the industry is that we function in chaos way better than most people. And no disrespect to my competitors, but I think one of the biggest reasons I fared the way I did in this competition was because I've worked in such stressful environments. When it came down to the stress, I was calm, it was like the switch went off and I knew exactly what I was doing.
Q: What would you say is the biggest lesson the show taught you?
A: Honestly, that I'm way more capable than I've given myself credit for. Which is funny to say because they definitely looked at me like the cocky [jerk] on the show. The last 10 years I've been working in this industry I was extremely humble; I was very quiet and I kept things for myself. But now, because I actually have a decade’s worth of experience, I know what I'm doing, and I’ve learned to run my mouth a bit more because I have enough trust in myself and my skills. The show did edit me in a certain way but truth be told, I really am a humble guy in real life. And I'm humble because I know that I'm always gonna be a student no matter what. No matter how good I get as a chef you know there's always room for improvement. You always learn something new.
Q: What are your long-term plans for your career or anything you want to do?
A: My long-term plan is kind of two-fold. I do want to get a product on the shelves in supermarkets that I can sell. For me I would like something to be sold in Publix or Big Y. I have no idea what that product is but I’m still toiling away thinking about it.
And if there was one other thing that I could have or do, I want to go back on TV again. I think my personality was just so TV friendly. I would totally do a cooking show, but it would definitely be more akin to my personality. Kind of like Anthony Bourdain meets “Jackass,” something that's a fun cooking show but there's still travel involved, and there has to be silly antics. You’re not gonna catch me home cooking like Martha Stewart’s “Welcome to my kitchen I'm your host.” No, that's not me at all. God willing, I get put on another competition cooking show again because let me tell you, the high that I got doing this competition was better than anything. I mean it was just nonstop and it was awesome. I wanted to keep doing it.
By Valeria Diaz ’25 (CLAS)
Chef Zaddy Recipes
Warm Summer Squash Salad
- 3 medium-size summer squash
- 1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
- 5 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand
- 12 sundried tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- ½ cup toasted pistachios, crushed
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- arugula, for garnish
- salt and pepper
- Heat oven to 425 degrees
- Slice your squash into 1-inch thick slices, season with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and roast the squash until it is tender. This should take approximately 30 minutes. Note: Ideally, you want the squash to be roasted heavily, there should be parts of the squash that have charred pieces to it.
- As the squash is roasting, cut your sundried tomatoes, crumble your goat cheese, and chop your parsley. Either cut your pistachios with a knife, or you can crush them inside a large bowl using the bottom of a sauce pot or a smaller bowl to crush them.
- Once the squash is ready, place in a mixing bowl, add your sundried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, and parsley. Toss all of the ingredients together. Either plate individually for your guests or serve out of your salad bowl. Whichever way you choose, make sure you garnish with torn basil, pistachios, and arugula.
This can also be a warm side if you are having a nice day of BBQing with your friends and family. The amount of arugula you use with this will determine if this is more of a warm salad or a squash-forward dish. The choice is entirely up to you. Whichever way you choose to navigate this, have fun with it, and more importantly: taste and make sure it is to your liking! You know your guests better than I do.
Steamed Mussels Salad
- 1 pound PEI Mussels
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ bulb Fennel, shaved thin
- ½ white onion, shaved thin
- ½ white onion, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/3 cup arugula (or more to taste)
- 1 sprig thyme
- ¼ cup sliced salami, cut in half
- 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- salt & pepper for seasoning
- Place a large pot on your stove, turn the heat on high and oil with 3 Tablespoons of olive oil.
- Once the oil starts to smoke a little bit, add your sliced onions and chopped garlic. Sweat until soft.
- Add your sprig of thyme and your mussels.
- Deglaze with the white wine. Now put a top on the pot and let the mussels steam for about 5-7 minutes (they should be opened at the end of this).
- Place your mussels in a bowl and set in the fridge so that they can cool off.
- Now, using either a knife or a mandolin slicer, cut half of a white onion and half a bulb of fennel.
- Using a knife, cut your sliced salami in half and set aside with your onions and fennel.
- Once your mussels have cooled, use your hands to separate the meat out of each of the mussels and place the meat in a separate bowl.
- Grab a salad bowl, fill with arugula, salami, onions, and fennel. Dress the salad with your red wine vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
If you have bought a whole bulb of fennel that still has the leafy greens, save the greens and pick them from the green stems. Garnish with the fennel fronds and add more texture to your salad!