Students at Canisius filter in and out of the dining hall every day looking for a warm meal to enjoy with friends. The options vary by station, but one station that has grabbed more attention in the last few years has been Pitchforks, the vegan station. Glenn Szymanski, the chef at Pitchforks, puts his heart and soul into the dishes he serves to students every day.
Szymanski started as the head chef of Canisius’ first ever fully vegan food station in 2016, bringing with him the skills and dishes that he has been acquiring for the last 20-25 years. Szymanski first became vegetarian when he was 18 and he went fully vegan just a year later in 1993.
His reasons for the change had to do with environmental sustainability and the ethics behind animal agriculture. “I don’t believe the meat industry is sustainable. I don’t believe animals should be killed on a conveyor belt,” he said.
All of his training in vegan food preparation stemmed from his initial diet change, a change that his parents didn’t initially want to accommodate. Szymanski began preparing food for himself and he experimented with vegan recipes he learned from cookbooks.
He has since introduced those recipes to Canisius students, who have taken quite a liking to his station. Szymanski noted that he likes to make dishes from different parts of the world every day. Different cultures and cuisine inspire his weekly dishes, and he usually makes Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Latin/Mexican and Italian food, all while also sticking to American classic comfort food.
Some of his favorite dishes to make include pad thai, falafel and battered tofu with mashed potatoes and vegetables on the side. These meals are also extremely popular among students, and Szymanski mentioned that he likes seeing what types of students eat at his station. Surprising to him is that many athletes and ROTC students frequently visit his station, and he loves seeing students branch out of their comfort zone and try something new.
Before working at Canisius, Szymanski had many other chef positions and experiences that shaped the skills and dishes that he has now perfected. He lived in New York City for much of his life, and his first job there was at a newly formed vegan comfort food restaurant from 2006-2007. The restaurant was called Food Swing, and Szymanski noted that it was one of the first vegan restaurants of its kind.
“Food Swing was an inspiration to other vegan restaurants that have popped up all over the United States, being one of the first to make ‘normal’ food vegan,” he said. The restaurant served some of his favorite dishes including the Philly cheesesteak, Buffalo style chicken wings and classic burgers — all vegan. Szymanski still makes many of these dishes to this day.
After Food Swing Szymanski worked at an upscale yoga studio in Manhattan, where he managed the vegan cafe inside. The yoga school, Jivamukti, was known for its modern forms of yoga as well as many celebrity students including Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records (although Simmons recently stepped down due to multiple sexual assault and rape allegations) and the Olson twins, most known for their role in Full House (though at the time, the twins were being investigated in the death of Heath Ledger). Szymanski served these celebrities in addition to many others every day during his time at Jivamukti.
A huge scandal broke out at the yoga school after Szymanski left when multiple subordinate yoga instructors came out against other, higher-up instructors for sexual harassment. The school was sued for $1.6 million, and multiple instructors were fired, including Dechen Thurman, Uma Thurman’s brother.
Szymanski was happy to get a change of scenery after some chaotic times in his chef positions in New York City, and he has enjoyed the setting of a college campus and being able to introduce different cuisines and cultures through his dishes at the dining hall.
Most Canisius students do not realize this, but beyond his work at Pitchforks, Szymanski also created and is part of the band Tines. His band is a mixture of ‘70s music — his favorite era — and they work to incorporate hard rock, progressive rock, latin and funk in their music. Before the coronavirus, Tines would play at areas around Buffalo like The Tralf and Mr. Goodbar, as well as house parties around the area.
Tines just came out with their first vinyl record, which can be found at both locations of Revolver Records in Buffalo. Their music is also available on streaming service Bandcamp, and the link can be found on the band’s instagram (@tinesbflo) or their Facebook page (“Tines Band”).
With the experiences he has had, whether it was the start of his career at home at 18, his many years of complex practice in New York, or even his years of consistent, delectable meals at Canisius, Szymanski is happy to be part of the vegan food movement. When asked what he wants more people to know about vegan culture, Szymanski hopes more people become open to his food. He stated, “My hope is that people will give vegan food a chance. I feel like so many people are afraid of it, or they have misconceptions that it is bland or scary when, in reality, most of the food I make is very flavorful and enjoyed by many students on campus.”