Marco and the Big Cheese
Two of Buffalo's homegrown heroes are about to become national television stars.
Recently, Chef Marco Sciortino, of Marco's Restaurant and the Marco's Deli franchise, was selected by Sorrento Lactalis of Buffalo to represent the company and its fine cheeses on Kitchen Spaces, a cable program that focuses on every aspect of the kitchen, from design elements and appliances to recipes and cooking tips. Kitchen Spaces airs on The Food Network, the WE channel and other cable affiliates.
Sorrento has been firmly rooted in Buffalo since 1947 when cheesemaker, Louis Russo, an immigrant from Sorrento, Italy, began producing ricotta cheese from an age-old family recipe. The business did well locally; Sorrento trucks could be found delivering their product to Italian restaurants and corner grocery stores all over town. They became so successful that in 1986 they were able to purchase Precious Cheese, thus expanding to become a national brand. By the mid-90s, Sorrento became part of Groupe Lactalis, the largest producer of cheese in the world. Now known as Sorrento Lactalis, this local company, together with New York City-based Lactalis USA, forms the Lactalis American Group.
The ever-present perception that Buffalo companies are constantly struggling or looking to move on to greener pastures is certainly not applicable in the case of Sorrento Lactalis. Their bustling South Buffalo headquarters is currently one of largest ricotta manufacturers in the world. Sorrento's high quality ricotta isn't the only product coming out of the South Buffalo plant; provolone, mozzarella and whey-powder (a by-product of cheesemaking) are produced here as well. A second plant in Nampa, Idaho, produces Sorrento's fresh mozzarella, mascarpone and snacking cheeses. Not only are Sorrento's cheeses sold in supermarkets all over the country, but they also have a firm foothold in the food service industry and show continued growth, having acquired both Rondele and Mozzarella Fresca in recent years.
When Sorrento Lactalis decided to participate in Kitchen Spaces, a relatively new television program, their reputation gave them the credibility and backing to sign a celebrity chef. Further consideration led them to decide that a talented but down-to-earth chef would be a better spokesperson for their brand. “Once we determined that,” said Neil Haniford, Marketing Manager for Sorrento Lactalis' Mozzarella, “Marco was an obvious choice. He's dedicated; he's a hard worker, a great chef. He's very familiar with our product, and he has just the type of personality we were looking for.”
Sciortino is in fact a down-to-earth guy, as well as an admired Buffalo restaurateur. In 1988, at only 21 years of age, he opened Marco’s Restaurant on Niagara Street, a place widely considered to be one of Buffalo’s best red sauce joints. More than ten years ago his second venture, a deli on Hertel Avenue, began serving his trademark “sang-wiches", quickly earning a loyal clientele and a reputation for serving the best Italian subs in Buffalo. Today you can find four Marco's Deli locations sprinkled throughout Western New York. Despite his success, Chef Sciortino remains hard at work in the kitchen of his West Side restaurant six days a week, where regulars have come to expect and enjoy a table side chat with the jovial and hospitable chef regardless of how busy he may be. “I'm really excited about this,” said Sciortino speaking of his upcoming appearances on Kitchen Spaces. “It's an awesome opportunity, and it's even better that Sorrento and I share that Buffalo connection.”
Chef Sciortino will appear on three installments of Kitchen Spaces. His segments will include a series of recipes showcasing the versatility of Sorrento Lactalis' products. The first program, scheduled to air in early spring, depicts Chef preparing a Sunday brunch using ricotta in recipes for an assortment of dishes including stuffed French toast and a ham and cheese frittata. Future segments are slated to air in early summer, where fresh mozzarella will be featured in recipes for grilled flat bread and shish kabobs, and later in the year where we'll find Chef Sciortino preparing some of the Italian classics from his restaurant's menu, each dish utilizing Sorrento's shredded mozzarella cheese.
Sorrento's sponsorship of Hertel Avenue's Annual Italian Festival is just one of the many ways in which Sorrento Lactalis has contributed to the Buffalo community. They are both a reliable employer for hundreds of Buffalonians, and a supporter of local charities like Gilda's Club. Now, given the opportunity to provide nationwide exposure to any chef from any restaurant across the country, they've chosen Buffalo native, Chef Marco Sciortino. “This is a partnership that we're happy with,” said Haniford. “Marco is the face of Sorrento now and I can't wait to see what we're going to do together next.”
The actual airing schedule for these programs has not yet been released. Stay tuned to BRO for updates.