Chris Carbone, a chef who spent 35 years working across many Yale residential college dining halls and facilities, died of a heart attack last month in his home in East Haven. He was 57 years old.
He leaves behind his wife Linda and two daughters, Jennifer and Alyssa.
Carbone’s fellow chefs, friends and family remembered him for his team spirit, humility, boisterousness and humor.
Stu Comen, first cook in the Silliman College dining hall, speculated that “everyone on campus” has eaten Carbone’s food, but Carbone, who spent most of his career cooking in the basement of Commons Dining Hall, was largely unknown among students.
Carbone, who was born in New Haven, began his Yale career as a part-time Zamboni driver at Ingalls Rink in the 1980s and was then hired by Yale Dining as an entry-level pantry worker. His career as a chef took off two years later when he began working in Jonathan Edwards College as third cook, moving around until rising to the top of Yale Catering, where he remained for over 20 years.
“Chris was never trained professionally as a chef,” said Linda Carbone, who currently works as a Yale mail carrier. “Food runs in his family, and he was so good at what he did.”
Comen said that before Yale officially had a catering service, the dining halls each catered independently of one another. When Yale decided to centralize the catering services for all dining facilities in 2014, Chris Carbone took over the hot food division, and his wife took over cold food.
Carbone catered specially for University President Peter Salovey’s house on a regular basis, and he also served food at Yale’s annual reunions on Old Campus every year.
“Being in catering, he got to feed unbelievable people, a lot of famous people,” Comen said. “They always complimented his food.”
The Carbone couple was also at the forefront of a University-wide effort to encourage professors to use Yale Catering for private events, which many faculty were initially reluctant to do.
Roughly a year and a half ago, Chris Carbone moved from his position as the head of Yale Catering to work in Commons, which will soon undergo renovations as it transforms into the Schwarzman Center.
“Catering changed — it used to be more of a family, but now it’s more corporate. That wasn’t part of Chris, and that’s one of the reasons why he left catering because it wasn’t about the customers or food anymore,” said Ernst Bher, first cook in the Ezra Stiles and Morse dining halls.
Linda Carbone noted that Yale Catering now worries more about cooking for “VIP events,” and said that her husband had never cared about the high-profile status of his customers. When Chris Carbone resigned from his catering position to become a chef at Commons, he enjoyed the interactions he was able to have with students in the dining hall, Carbone said.
“He put his heart and soul into that last event that would ever happen [in Commons],” Linda Carbone said, referring to the most recent freshman holiday dinner. “He tried to make it special for the kids because the kids were the focus of what he did.”
She added that Chris Carbone never strictly followed recipes when he cooked, so a lot of his work in Yale catering departed with him, including “a rib rub that everyone would love to have and everyone has tried to copy.”
In addition to his food and original recipes, Keri Logan — Yale’s head baker who worked alongside Carbone for over 13 years in the Commons basement when the catering and bakery services were both housed together — said that she and her fellow chefs use many of his quotes as mantras. He was a mentor to everyone in Yale Dining, she added.
“Everyone respected him. We chefs have egos … but around him, we were a team,” Bher said. “It was unspoken that he was in charge because the teamwork and camaraderie just clicked.”
Bher said that Carbone’s grandmother once owned a corner grocery store, and food played a significant role in his Italian family’s culture.
Comen added that Carbone treated everyone with special care and attention and always made sure his fellow workers were fed.
“That’s the Italian in him,” Comen said.
Logan said Carbone changed the face of Yale Dining and stands as a testament of what hard work and dedication can accomplish.
Salovey recently sent a letter to Linda Carbone offering his condolences and expressing what a good man her husband was. Carbone, who also runs a soup kitchen, said that every Thanksgiving her husband would cook a meal for 900 people in their soup kitchen.
“He served his passion for food with everyone. If you lived on the street or were the president of the United States, you got the same treatment, the same sort of meal. It didn’t matter what your background was or where you came from,” she said.
Chris Carbone’s funeral was held Jan. 19 at Center Church on the Green in New Haven.