The People of the CIA … Culinary Delights Soar to New Heights at CIA Thanks to Head Chef
“I like to take some of the classics, some things that people are comfortable with, and I’ll generally just make my own spin on them,” said the CIA’s Executive Chef Fred DeFilippo, who has been making a splash with dishes like his Chocolate Tiramisu since he began cooking for the Agency in 2004.
DeFilippo creates his delectable dishes for three dining rooms – Agency Dining Room 1, Agency Dining Room 2, and the Director’s Dining Room. On a busy day, the collective total of customers for all three dining rooms ranges between 120 and 150.
DeFilippo’s affinity to comfort food is attributable to his Italian upbringing. “It’s in the family, it’s in the blood,” said DeFilippo of his love of cooking. “It comes from growing up with a pure Italian background.” Everybody in DeFilippo’s family -- except his parents -- owns a restaurant in New York, and he grew up learning to cook in his uncle’s kitchen.
DeFilippo creates his own menus, which is one of the things he likes the most about his job at the CIA. “I base my menus around the season,” DeFilippo said. “I have a good relationship with my purveyors – especially my fish and meat purveyors. If there’s something that’s in season or that they have in bulk that’s fresh, they let me know and I try to design a dish around it.”
DeFilippo wouldn’t have the freedom to be creative without some helping hands in the kitchen. Four other chefs assist DeFilippo and spread out the work between the sauté, grill, and pantry stations. The sauté chef handles pasta and vegetable dishes, the grill chef prepares meat dishes, and the pantry chef crafts delicious salads and sandwiches.
But DeFilippo has the final say on what’s served. “I usually go down the line and check plates before they are taken out to customers,” he said.
DeFilippo also relies on his crew to help him get through the rush of lunch hour. The group usually meets in the morning to decide how they will the approach the day.
“Sometimes we have four or five events going on at once,” DeFilippo said. “In order for everything to run smoothly, we really need to pull together and work as a single unit.”
Time to Make a Change
Before DeFilippo came to the Agency, he served his finest at the West Point hotel, Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, and privately owned restaurants in New York. But it was when he was working grueling 80 to 90 hour weeks at a ski resort in the Catskills of upstate New York that he decided it was time for a change.
“I saw an ad for a chef that said Monday through Friday and weekends off,” said DeFilippo, a 1992 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “I wanted to be able to have weekends off and have a high quality of life.”
DeFilippo got in touch with the alumni program at the Culinary Institute of America to inquire about the job. They thought the job that would be a good fit for DeFilippo. When he applied, he only knew the job was with a government agency and that he needed a background check. “I had to go through the same process at West Point,” DeFilippo said. “I thought it was pretty standard.”
DeFilippo didn’t find out that he would be working at the Central Intelligence Agency until after his paperwork went through. “I’m proud to be working here. Everybody in the whole world knows the CIA.”
The major difference between the Agency and in the private sector is DeFilippo’s clientele. “In the private sector, people go to a restaurant for leisure. Here our Agency customers are dining for business purposes.”
When it comes to judging whether DeFilippo’s dish was a success, he has to settle with knowing that “no news is good news” and that the empty plates serve as a testimony to how much clients enjoyed his cooking.