- Contributed by Alyssa Cantisani
Joel Gamoran came to UConn to play tennis but one sign hanging up on a cluttered wall is all it took to shape the life of this 2007 UConn men’s tennis graduate, a sign that read, “create your own major.”
“If I never saw that sign I honestly don’t know what would’ve happened,” said Gamoran, “I said, ‘I want to become a chef’ and they told me, ‘Great get all the classes that UConn offers, take that list to 10 chefs and have them circle which classes they would take.’ ”
Gamoran spent eight months seeking the help from his favorite chefs and putting together a curriculum. With the help of his advisor, they shaped a pitched for the director of the individualized major program and created a major that Gamoran was able to graduate with a degree in, restaurant management.
Obtaining that degree however wasn’t what brought him to UConn, it was something much bigger than himself, the tennis squad.
“The second I stepped foot on campus, it was a completely different world. To me that’s what I was looking for,” said Gamoran, originally from Seattle, Wa., “But what really drove me was the tennis program and athletics itself. When Coach Glenn Marshall reached out to me, it was kind of a dream come true. I looked at six or seven other schools and it wasn’t even a comparison.”
Gamoran, who has always been a UConn fan, although he had to watch from across the country, committed to the UConn men’s tennis team in 2003 to pursue what he thought would turn into a career.
Not only was this an unbelievable opportunity for Gamoran but for Coach Marshall and the rest of the team as well.
“He was one of those infectious personality type of kids,” said Coach Marshall, “He was everything we look for in terms of a student athlete. A great student, very respectful, fun and charismatic.”
While tennis had been a part of Gamoran’s life since he was a youngster, the desire to cook began in high school when, for one thing, the girls loved it but more importantly, because of the way his family and friends congregated around the table when it came time to eat. It was the feeling of togetherness that drove the passion behind his cooking.
“Tennis was my number one until about my sophomore year when it switched,” said Gamoran, “It’s when I realized I wasn’t going to go professional in tennis and I knew I had to focus on cooking, that was where my passion was.”
His teammates, coaches and the athletic department as a whole were all extremely supportive of his cooking.
“I have so much respect for Coach Marshall and his willingness to always let me be me,” said Gamoran.
When the team traveled, that was where Gamoran was able to showcase his cooking and bring his teammates around the table.
“We make a big push in our program to make it feel like family, it’s part of how we run it so when we’d go away, he’d cook a lot of the team dinners,” said Coach Marshall, “I am really proud of what Joel has accomplished.”
Regardless of what one might think, the lessons learned here at UConn have transferred over into his current career as an accomplished National Chef at Sur La Table and with his television show, Scraps, on the FYI network where he travels across the United States creating incredible feasts in unexpected places using the most out-of-the-box ingredients, food waste and scraps.
“They’re so different, but becoming someone well-known in cooking and surviving in New York City has been competitive,” he said, “Going on the Today Show and having three minutes to cook a dish in front of 20 million people in the country is where tennis prepared me for performing in a situation when the match is on the line.”
Gamoran’s journey began on a tennis court and ended in a kitchen, but with his upbeat persona and undeniable determination, the transition was possible. He didn’t just walk away from UConn with the skills to succeed as a leader and an innovator, but he took his friendship with three teammates in particular, Christian Malerba, Aaron Ribchinsky and Michael Bobitski, from whom he continues to find inspiration to this day.
“I learned lessons about responsibility, leadership, what it takes to group people together behind one cause and that’s what I’m trying to do with cooking today, I’m trying to inspire the world to cook,” said Gamoran.
It’s clear that Gamoran has an undeniable love for cooking but it’s evident that his success wouldn’t have been possible without the friends, athletics and education that UConn gave him.
And one sign.
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