Mike Russo's Biography
It was apparent from a very young age that Mike
had a love for food.
His interest in helping Mom out in the kitchen was pretty normal,
but it was the degree he helped out that was unusual. It wasn't
just playing with Mom, but playing with the food was like learning
to use a chemistry set.
As a child, Mike was always hustling, delivering
papers, collecting bottles for the deposit, doing yard work, and
delivering groceries door to door. He would go to people's houses
and get their grocery lists and take his wagon down to the grocery
store to do the shopping. Several of Mike's "customers"
would ask him about his opinion when it came to meals and to their
surprise, Mike could offer sound advice at a very young age. Some
of his clients would even let him help prepare and cook their meals.
Mike's Dad used to take him to a friend's restaurant
on a regular basis, and rather than hanging around out front and
talking to the gang with Dad, he always wanted to go in the back
and "help out" in the kitchen. "It was fortunate
that the restaurant was a family-owned place, and our families were
close. They really spent time with me and let me 'play'. That's
where I got my first introduction to all aspects of the business,"
says Mike. "When I was old enough, they hired me as a dishwasher;
it wasn't long before I found out that my earlier 'training' may
have been part of the plan. In a family-owned and operated restaurant,
you can find yourself doing just about anything on any given day.
It's not like you are a Line Cook and that's all you ever do. Besides,
the business not only consisted of a family restaurant, but a diner,
bar, catering business and they also had coffee trucks that delivered
to construction sites and businesses throughout the area ... and
before it was done, I did it all!"
Mike's love for food and its effect on people led him to work in
most aspects of the business in his younger years. He worked at
several food-related enterprises, owning and/or managing some. He
worked all aspects of the kitchen, was a short-order cook, waiter,
caterer, bartender, stocked and ran coffee trucks, had a food vending
business that consisted of trucks that catered to fairs, festivals
and special events, owned a take-out business ... and the list goes
As life took its turns, Mike got out of the business
many years ago to raise his children as a single dad and work in
a totally unrelated field. "Once food is in your blood, it's
there forever. The business is so demanding that I have always resisted
getting back into it in favor of cooking for family, friends and
events of my choosing, you know, things that are fun instead of
work," Mike said. "I really like putting together charity
events, and find myself as an auction item regularly. I go to people's
homes and cook for them ... it's a blast and always for a good cause.
It was kind of a natural progression, if that is possible, to my
'Cooking for Kids' show."
Mike lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, and together
with some friends, has established and hosts the annual "Hospitality
Industry Gala," a recognition party held to honor people from
all over in the hospitality industry. The Gala, which benefits charity,
is a reminder of Mike's respect of those in the industry and his
belief in the power of food. This belief is at the core of "Cooking
for Kids." As Mike puts it, "the power of food is amazing.
If people would only realize that it was something that we had to
do every day and took the time to make the best of it, we would
all be better off. Whether you're eating in or eating out, whether
you are with friends, family or by yourself, you can always have
fun with food. You can always bring people together with food and
make it entertaining, and it's even more powerful when it is for
a good cause, like what we do with the "Cooking for Kids"
If you doubt Mike when he preaches the power
of food, he will tell you:
"check out one of my "Cooking for Kids" shows; the
proof will be in the pudding!"