THIS CHEF MAKES SPECIALTY CAKES WITH A MESSAGE OF HOPE AND AWARENESS
BY JENNIFER VIKSE • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
Growing up in Great Kills, Keith DellItalia came from a family that loved food. A graduate of Susan Wagner High School, he decided to pursue the culinary arts professionally afterwards.
“I originally wanted to go for baking, but they pushed me toward savory,” DellItalia recalled. He graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2002, having double majored in culinary arts and restaurant management, and then went on to Las Vegas to complete an internship at the Bellagio, a stretch that lasted two years.
Not least because of its access to the highest quality ingredients and its wealth of knowledge and talent, DellItalia loved the experience at the famed Vegas hotel. “I got to work with a lot of fascinating people, including a number of pastry chefs,” he recalled.
Bellagio cooking experiences focused mostly on parties and banquets. (“I got to do Super Bowl events, things like that… learned how to cook for large groups. That was fun,” he said.) DellItalia then returned to Staten Island and pursued a career in beverage sales. Ultimately, he decided on a career with the Department of Sanitation, but continued to cook for fun.
Then everything changed. His younger brother, Eric, was diagnosed with a blood cancer Myelodys plastic syndrome. He chose an aggressive form of chemotherapy as a treatment, but at just 35 years old died of a stroke (a rare complication of his form of treatment) in early 2016.
“There was nothing they could do,” DellItalia said. “He was way too young. It changes you.”
Grieving over his brother, he decided to take action becoming involved in blood drives with the New York Blood Center at DSNY and raising awareness about blood cancers and the need for blood and platelet donations. (In fact, his brother’s illness was detected as a result of a blood donation he’d made.)
Now a supervisor with DSNY, DellItalia donates blood regularly and raises awareness about strokes as well. (“There’s no substitute for human blood or platelets,” he noted.) Specifically, he works with the New York Blood Center to educate the public about blood donations, along with BeTheMatch.org, which matches bone marrow donors with those in need.
Currently living on the South Shore with his three pitbulls Henrik, Storm, and Khaleesi, he’s also taken things a step further, using his skills as a chef to bake cakes then sending 10 percent of his profits to organizations he works with. “That’s where this whole baking thing really came into play,” he explained. “I needed an outlet…needed something to get my mind off my brother’s passing.”
The endeavor has become an active side business one which allows him to both create and give back. “The city has been good to me,” he said. “Sanitation is repetitive, but this allows me to create things, and to make people smile with some desserts,” adding that Instagram and word of mouth have helped grow the side gig.
DellItalia is currently focused on buttercream cakes, cheese cakes, and pastries, and also bakes does cupcakes and layer cakes. For him, eating the results should be just as enjoyable as looking at them in other words, “it should be as delicious as it is beautiful.”