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Nonnewaug High School's Chief News Source

NHS Chief Advocate

Nonnewaug High School's Chief News Source

NHS Chief Advocate

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Nonnewaug freshman baseball player Ashton Elsemore bats during an April 8 game against Shepaug. Elsemore and most baseball players do not travel for spring break because the team has games and practices that week. (Courtesy of Noreen Chung)
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Kelly Farrell, a junior tennis player at Nonnewaug, prepares before a match against Wamogo on April 1. (Courtesy of Noreen Chung)
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From right to left; Kaylee Jackson, Arabella Rosa, Christopher Pelletier, Lana Manganello, and Karisa Cizauskas setting up their new saltwater aquariums and learning how to control their coral lighting.
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NHS Dramas production of Once Upon a Mattress runs April 11-13 in the NHS auditorium. (Conor Gereg)
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Dominello Impassions Students to Do What They Love

John Dominello enters this winter for his 14th year as a co-coach of Unified Sports, but his role with Nonnewaug Special Olympics is just a small part of what he brings to campus beyond his role in teaching culinary arts. (contributed)

WOODBURY — For anyone who enters John Dominello’s culinary classroom, it is made clear: He runs his classroom like he runs a restaurant, with students taking initiative, delegating roles, and creating success — one ingredient at a time. 

Dominello’s career in cooking started with his family. 

“My father was a butcher and I had two brothers and a sister. We all worked in the butcher shop as soon as we got home from school and did some catering on the side,” said Dominello. “I really started learning to cook from my mother and father and from helping with some of these catering events. That’s when I really got interested in culinary arts, so I took around six months to save up my money, applied, and went straight to culinary school.” 

Dominello’s love for the culinary arts was catalyzed in culinary school, but even more importantly, higher education cemented Dominello’s calling for cooking.

“When I got into the Culinary Institute of America, once classes started, I knew that it was the right place for me. Everything connected, everything clicked, [and] it was a wonderful experience,” Dominello reminisced. “It’s a degree school, so back when I went, you’d get a two-year bachelor degree in culinary arts. It was one specific chef and it would be three weeks in a block, they called it. Every three weeks, they would focus on specific skills such as meat cutting, baking, soups, etc.”

The Culinary Institute of America allowed Dominello to continue pursuing his aspirations and helped him hone his skills in the culinary field.

Dominello always had a passion for cooking. Growing up around cooking and catering helped shape his young mind into a passionate cook, and The Culinary Institute of America helped further refine his skills as a chef.

Transitioning from a student’s life to pursuing his entrepreneurial career, Dominello continued to carry his ambition with him.  

“I always aspired to own my own business because I thought I could do it better, or I would go into a restaurant and get really good food and service and say, ‘Wow this is how I want to run my own business,’” Dominello said.

So that’s exactly what Dominello did. 

Watching his father run his own small business, paired with what he learned from culinary school, prepared Dominello for a successful career in running his own business.

John Dominello, third from left, and fellow faculty member Conor Gereg, right, pose for a photo with Nonnewaug 2016 graduates. Throughout Dominello’s 15 years of teaching, students have noted the lifelong relationships he builds with students. (contributed)

“I was working as a general manager for a country club and I met someone a lot younger than myself who actually graduated from Nonnewaug,” said Dominello. “He worked for me for his internship and he was very talented, so I had written a business plan and I approached the building and managed to get a lease, so I asked him if he wanted to be my partner and the rest is history.”

However, not everything goes perfectly. Owning his restaurant came with both struggles and successes. After years of running a successful restaurant, Dominello wanted to spend more time with his family.

“Everything is kind of a struggle when you own your own business because there’s just so much to it,” said Dominello. “It’s very tough on your personal life. I missed so much of my kids growing up because the restaurant was always so busy.” 

He already had a passion for cooking and also loved to teach other people cooking. He went back to school to get his teaching degree.

Dominello began working at Nonnewaug 15 years ago and has since been involved in multiple activities outside of his regular educator duties, such as the Harbor Program and Unified Sports. 

“He’s a first-rate guy,” said Nonnewaug alumnus John Paul Cuccia, who had Dominello for multiple years in culinary arts. “He tries to take stress off of students when they walk into class and encourages students to do what they love.”

Dominello imprints a little piece of himself with all of his students as they leave his class. It’s clear that he cares about his students and his work. 

“It’s a culinary class’ so there’s lots of dangers like food poisoning, knives, or stoves, so it makes sense why he has to keep it a tight ship,” said Nonnewaug senior Aurora Francisco, who took Dominello’s Culinary I and Culinary II courses. “I took his class in my freshman year and have since then kept respect as a big part of my life both inside and outside of school.”

Among faculty, Marisa Christoff, a psychology instructor at Nonnewaug who works alongside Dominello in the Harbor Program, notes some of Dominello’s most remarkable qualities, calling him both “dedicated and giving.”

“Working with Mr. Dominello has been a very rewarding experience as an educator,” said Christoff. “I quickly learned that Mr. Dominello is someone you can count on for help with anything. He is dedicated to his students, the school, and the community as a whole. He guides students through the Harbor Program to help build a more positive school climate, he fosters relationships with his students in his culinary classes that last past their graduation, and he teaches students the importance of giving back to their community.”

Dominello continues to serve the students of Region 14, from changing recipes and suiting student needs to leading the Unified program, he consistently shows his leadership abilities, to not only Nonnewaug but to the entire community. 

During Dominello’s coaching tenure, he guided the program to a second consecutive Unified National Champion School status, a distinction held by only a handful of schools in the state. 

While Dominello’s successes as a coach hang on the gym wall, community members know him as “chef,” heading the senior citizen drive-thru meals that distribute hundreds of meals to community seniors. It’s during these opportunities that Dominello showcases his ability to guide his students through the entire process of preparing meals, from making the food all the way to finally serving it. 

Dave Green, a wellness instructor at Nonnewaug and longtime colleague, has had a front-row seat to Dominello’s dedication over his decade and a half at NHS. 

“Dom jumps into everything,” Green said. “The Unified program is awesome, but he’s much more than that. From a faculty standpoint, he’s constantly involved in anything he can be.”

Regardless of the course, the sport, or activity, it’s evident that Dominello is unwavering in his commitment to his students. To put it simply, he’s all in. 

“It’s clear that he’s here and wants to be here,” Green said.

About the Contributor
Dayton Griffin '24
Dayton Griffin '24, Reporter
Dayton Griffin is a senior at Nonnewaug High School and a first-year writer for Nonnewaug Chief Advocate. He is from Bethlehem. He is an avid athlete and hockey player. As a writer, he enjoys writing about camp activities and sports.
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