Meet our competing chefs!

Chef Daniel Genco

Provisions 139 Pantry Manager,
West Side Community Services

Daniel Genco is a Buffalo native that began working in kitchens at the age of 15, though he has had a love for cooking since he was a kid. He vividly remembers cooking for his parents and three younger siblings as young as eight years old. His first kitchen job was as a prep cook and dishwasher at Gramma Mora’s, a Mexican restaurant on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo, which is still open today.

Over the next 10 years, Daniel honed his fundamental skills while working throughout Buffalo. He took a position at Daniel’s in Hamburg, a fine dining restaurant that served classic French cuisine. Here, he worked as a grill cook and became more interested in creating, learning, and tasting more complex and interesting recipes. Fiamma Steakhouse was another highlight for Daniel and a place where he took away invaluable skills.

In 2014, Daniel said goodbye to Buffalo and moved to Denver, Colorado. The Denver culinary scene was vastly different from Buffalo’s but was just another challenge for Daniel to master. His goal was to eventually own his own concept, but he knew that he needed to build his repertoire before he could begin that journey. His first head chef position came at The Bent Fork in Aurora, Colorado. From serving weekly specials to participating in Denver’s Restaurant Week, the Bent Fork proved to be a wellspring of knowledge. After a few years, Daniel took on a position as head chef at a restaurant called The Wine Experience. Weekly wine-tasting dinners offered him some creative freedoms and he thrived on creating five-course menus based on wine pairings with cuisine from the featured wine’s region. Eventually, a kitchen colleague from the Bent Fork presented him with the opportunity to run a food truck in Denver, so he did. He was able to use The Wine Experience’s kitchen as his commissary kitchen.

As much as Daniel loves cooking, there’s one thing he loves more—helping others. In 2019, he made a career change to the nonprofit sector. He was able to get his start by working as the kitchen manager at the Denver Rescue Mission. The DRM is in the heart of Denver and serves the homeless community by providing a variety of services including free hot meals. Daniel managed the service of, on average, 3,000 meals a day! Working at the Denver Rescue Mission pushed him into eventually working with youth experiencing homelessness at  Urban Peak, a nonprofit organization that “provides a full convergence of services solely focused on one of the most vulnerable populations.”

In 2022, Daniel made the decision to move back to Buffalo to begin a family. In July 2023, shortly after the birth of his daughter, Daniel began working at West Side Community Services as the pantry manager for Provisions 139. Since then, he has founded the Souper Cooks program, through which he teaches youth in the community fundamental culinary skills through food preparation, cooking, and tasting.

Chef Nathalie Zola Malu

Owner and Chef,
Malkia & Co.

Nathalie’s journey from the Congo to Buffalo has been marked by her unwavering commitment to bringing people together through warm hospitality and delectable cuisine. While Nathalie initially ventured into the entrepreneurial world with a focus on self-image and fashion, her true passion for cooking has been a constant since childhood.

At her father’s encouragement, Nathalie earned a degree in Pharmacy from the Université Paris XII before making her way to the USA in 2014. When the pandemic hit in 2021 and Nathalie found herself laid off from her job, she seized the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of sharing her culinary talents with the community.

Amidst challenges, Nathalie enrolled in business classes at Buffalo State University, a decision that would shape her entrepreneurial path. Encouraged by friends from the Buffalo City Mission and Buffalo State, she applied for a restaurant spot at the West Side Bazaar. In 2023, she proudly opened Malkia & Co., named after her daughter, Malkia, which means “Queen” in Swahili.

In this culinary venture, Nathalie not only pays homage to her roots but also subtly connects with Buffalo, often referred to as the Queen City. Through Malkia & Co., Nathalie continues to embrace her love for hospitality, creating a space where delicious Congolese cuisine becomes a catalyst for community and connection in the heart of Buffalo.

Chef Theresa Dempster

Chef & Kitchen Manager,
Big Big Table

After leaving the mysterious and lucrative life of a pre-school teacher, Theresa decided to completely switch careers, go back to school, and become a pastry chef. After graduating from Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, Theresa held glamorous and dangerous baking jobs around Buffalo before joining the Big Big Table team in October 2021. She is able to cook and bake and kitchen manage and dish wash and coffee drink and laugh every day. It also gives her time to perfect her sweet ninja moves. Big Big Table has given her the opportunity to bring together what she is most passionate aboutfood and helping others. Theresa’s love of baking comes from her family; without family, she wouldn’t be who she is today. She loves to share her recipes and traditions as well as learn about new ones.

When she isn’t at Big Big Table, Theresa is often seen having dance parties or lightsaber battles with her 6-year-old Star Wars enthusiast son, Nathan, and her 5-time D&D National Champion husband, Matt. They are her heart. She loves all things having to do with baking, the Buffalo Bills, the New York Mets, The Barenaked Ladies, Harry Potter (Hufflepuff 🦡💛🖤), Doctor Who, all things Scotland, good coffee, reading, Ada & Barnum, her extended family whether by blood or by love, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson movies, and of course, bread. She absolutely will bring a veggie tray.

Chef Alex Zimmer

Executive Chef, Executive Dining Room,
M&T Bank

Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, Chef Alex has always had a love for cooking, which began when his parents gave him a children’s cookbook at the age of 10. To this day, this very cookbook remains in his possession. Chef Alex’s journey spans over twenty years with experience from various restaurants.

During 2002, Chef Alex was a dishwasher at Colter Bay and later became a line cook while sharpening his skills at several Buffalo staples like Ambrosia, Nektar, Hutch’s, and Buffalo Chop House. He was mentored by an impressive list of exceptional chefs, including Daniel Johengen (Daniel’s Restaurant), Mark Hutchinson (Hutch’s), and Mike Andrejewski (James Beard-nominated chef of Seabar). A decade later, Chef Alex moved to Spokane, WA where he worked at The Historic Davenport Hotel and learned the intricacies involving high-volume catering for exclusive banquets and events. Chef Alex returned to Buffalo in 2011 and worked at a few restaurants until he began his current career at M&T Bank (2019) as the executive chef of the Executive Dining Room. Here, he showcases his creative freedom in a supportive environment.

Chef Alex is excited for the opportunity to officially represent M&T Bank and unofficially represent Provisions 139 food pantry, where he donates his time on a weekly basis.

Chef Evan Wargo

Executive Chef, Patina 250
Delaware North Sportservice

Patina 250 executive chef, Evan Wargo, is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Upon graduating, Wargo returned home to California to work as a sous chef for Patina Restaurant Group at Catal Restaurant. With Patina, Wargo worked special events at the Emmy Awards, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Pebble Beach Golf Club, assisted the Patina PGA team at the PGA championships, and served as one of the chef mentors in the CHEF’s program for Delaware North Corporate.

He returned to the East Coast to Block Island, Rhode Island, working as executive chef at a small bistro for six years and a fine dining restaurant for two. Wargo returned to Patina in 2016 and spent six months working in the company’s NYC restaurants before coming to Buffalo, where he’s been in leadership roles at Patina 250 since.

Chef Jake Brach

Manager Culinary Programs – Community Engagement,
Rich Products

Jake Brach, a native Western New Yorker, began his culinary career at age 14 at a family-owned restaurant. He attended Erie Community College where he earned an associate’s degree in food service administration, then continued his education at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, earning an associate’s degree in culinary arts. After school, Jake toured the the Western New York area working in numerous clubs and restaurants in a variety of positions. In 1987, he took over the family retail wine and liquor business where, from 1987 through 1996, Jake studied wine and adapted his culinary knowledge to become known as an area authority on food and wine. In 1996, Jake stepped back into the world of foodservice operations when he began working for Delaware North Companies—first in operations, and later as a corporate trainer.

In 2002, Jake joined Rich Products Corporation, a global food manufacturer that is known for their innovative products and outstanding customer service, as regional culinary manager for the Northeast. In this role, Jake supported a sales team by delivering that outstanding customer experience through product demonstrations, trainings, and menu ideation. Jake’s role at Rich’s changed rather quickly over the years to accommodate recruitment of new Culinary Team members, becoming the liaison to both the Culinary Institute of America and the New York State Restaurant Associations ProStart Program, and becoming Rich’s first manager of culinary learning and development. In this role, he was responsible for the continuous learning and development path of the Culinary and R+D Teams in both the US and global markets.

In 2006, Jake completed a stage at Charlie Trotters in Chicago where he experienced the cuisine and service that earned Charlie Trotters a Michelin two-star rating. In 2007, he completed a stage at Aureole New York, a Michelin one-star restaurant that serves progressive American cuisine.

Jake is an ACF Certified Chef de Cuisine and has successfully completed ProChef 1 certification at the CIA’s San Antonio Campus. He is a member of the Culinary Institute of America’s Alumni Association and has been inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Society of Fellows. Jake is the author of 2 books: “The Sustainable Chef – Cooking with the Farmers of New York State” and “Of Food and Family – A Seasonal Account of Delicious Memories.”

Jake is currently the principle of The Sustainable Chef-LLC, a culinary consulting service that specializes in farm-to-table events, food enthusiast classes, and cooking-themed corporate team-building events. He is an avid gardener, home brewer, and cider maker and enjoys carrying on his family’s food traditions, promoting the healthy connection between farm, food, and family.


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