ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The 2023 season was Alessandro Buccino’s first as executive chef for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. This despite the fact that, for most of his life, he never gave any thought to a career in the food service industry. But, then again, he also hadn’t thought that he’d be living in America, let alone working for a Minor League Baseball team. Why would he? He’s a native of Italy and lived there until 2010.
“We are the culture of food,” said Buccino, of his home country. “We love food. We have the high expectation about food, yes. But I never thought to become a chef. That’s for sure.”
So how did Buccino get to where he is today? “It is,” he says, “a funny story.”
Allentown — where the IronPigs’ home of Coca-Cola Park is located — is a long way from Buccino’s native soil, both literally and figuratively.
“I lived in South Italy, 20 minutes from the Amalfi Coast. Yeah, by the beach,” he said, perhaps a bit wistfully. “Any morning when I woke up, by my balcony I was seeing the beach. Now I’m seeing mountains.”
Buccino has gotten used to mountains by now, as his initial residence in the United States was in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountain region. The move to the U.S. was precipitated by his wife, whom he met while both were living in Italy. Her parents, as it turned out, owned a pizzeria in the Poconos.
“I started from the bottom, a helper in the kitchen until I became a cook,” said Buccino. “After we sold the pizza shop, I started my own way to become a chef. I kind of pushed myself in the last five years, to become where I am now. It became a kind of dream, doing the work to do this job.”
Prior to working for the IronPigs, Buccino was employed as a sous chef and hoping for a promotion. That hadn’t materialized, and when an opportunity to work for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate presented itself, he jumped at the chance. Eventually.
“This offer came at the right time, but I didn’t decide right away actually,” he said. “I take my time because [the ballpark] was totally different. Besides the big responsibility, it was totally different hours, a totally different environment, serving so many people.”
Different hours and a different environment, all within an industry Buccino had very little experience with. Baseball is, as he puts it, “not one of my favorite” sports. On his IronPigs staff profile, his favorite baseball memory is listed as follows: “Slept for my entire first game!”
The IronPigs are known for their expansive and creative concessions menu, with items listed on a team-maintained standalone website. Buccino doesn’t handle that aspect of the operation; his focus is on the suites and group areas. When the IronPigs are home, he works long hours overseeing his team as they prep and cook meals for approximately 1,500 ballpark patrons.
“Let’s say the food, it’s not the difficult part of the job. Of course, the amount is very different,” he said. “The biggest issues, it’s my learning process. It’s the paperwork and stuff like that. First year as an executive chef, it’s something new.”
Buccino and his team largely stick to the ballpark basics, but he takes pride in adding a “little bit of Italian touch” to everything he does.
“It’s all love and passion,” he said. “[Italian] is one of the best cuisines in the world, and one of the best-known cuisines, so if you can tweak something even a little bit Italian, it’s a fun part of the job.”
Buccino’s unorthodox path has been confusing to some of his friends and family back home, but he has no regrets.
“One of my friends — let’s say this in the nice words — he says, ‘What are you doing over there? Why? Why?’” he said. “But that’s the beauty of life, you can never predict. It’s something funny, and something exciting to tell when I have the chance now to go [to Italy].”
He’ll also tell his friends — and, well, anyone — the following:
“Come and visit the ballpark, because it’s a really, really cool atmosphere. Every night we do something different and make it fun. …And let’s try the food!”
Oh, and how do you say “IronPigs” in Italian? Here, Buccino paused, laughed and ultimately demurred: “It’s better that we don’t.”