Hany Khalil was 23 when he came from Egypt to America in 1979 to meet his brother — who had already gone home.
So when Hany landed in New York, “He was young, alone and lost,” says his wife, Betsy.
But he was lucky, too. He met a guy in Jersey City who sent him to the Forked River House, in Ocean County, because other Egyptians worked there. And Hany, who had his college degree in economics, got his first job in America — washing dishes.
He quickly moved up to cooking at the restaurant, where he met his future wife. And in 1981, when the Playboy casino joined the gold rush into Atlantic City, Hany moved down to help open its kitchens. Later that year, Hany got another job at another new casino — a second full-time job, cooking at the Tropicana. In 1990, he moved again, helping open the new Trump Taj Mahal.
He became a chef, and his career kept going that way — new jobs in new places — almost until he died last month, at 56.
Hany, of Mays Landing, died of the same chronic disease that killed his identical twin, Hesham, in 2005. Hesham had been food and beverage director at Caesars Atlantic City.
“They were literally one person in two bodies,” Betsy says. “They were never separated for any length of time. Whether it was pain or joy, each one always knew what was going on with the other — without having to communicate it.”
So Hesham’s illness and death were devastating for Hany, who would work long days in his kitchen, then drive to Philadelphia to stay up late with his brother.
By then, Hany was at yet another new job — he helped open Borgata in 2003.
“He never sought a promotion, but he was always promoted,” says Betsy, adding Hany — who also never had formal culinary training — moved up through “his experience, skill, knowledge and personality.”
At the Taj, Hany met Robert Irvine, who’s now a certified food-world star — the host of “Restaurant: Impossible,” and other Food Network hits.
Irvine was Hany’s boss at the Taj and then Caesars — but he says Hany was a mentor to him. Hany was an expert in the cook-chill system that his casino kitchens used to put out as many as “20,000 meals a day, between banquets and buffets and coffee shops,” Irvine says. “Just crazy numbers.”
But Hany was unflappable — always cool, professional and productive. And he wasn’t nice just to people above him.
Tim Purelli, of Egg Harbor Township, was a warehouse manager who met Hany at Caesars. Purelli admired how the chef dealt with people who worked for him.
“When he wanted something done, he wanted it done,” Purelli says. “But he told you in a way that made you want to do it. He was a small guy, but he carried himself like he was 6-feet-10.”
Contact Martin DeAngelis: