Chef Brian Rogers’ cooks big, cooks small and cooks well. And that’s just the kind of chef the owners of Fratello’s Cafe and Deli in Homewood had in mind.
Rogers, who joined the staff in January, brings to the Italian deli experience cooking for groups ranging from small family gatherings to several thousand at banquets. For Fratello’s, with the high volume of its thriving catering business and specialties for its increasingly popular Homewood deli, that’s a good balance, according to co-owner Marco Caso.
Rogers is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the American Culinary Federation. He came to the profession relatively late in life, but he came to cooking early.
“For 30-some years I had my own businesses,” he said, noting that did a variety of things, from bowling professionally to running contracting and printing services. “I was never in love with any one business. I would just move on to something else.”
The constant for him through the years was cooking.
“That entire time I just had a passion for cooking,” he said. “Sunday dinners at my house were 20 to 30 people at a crack — friends, family, my kids, their friends. I took that experience and made it a late-life career.”
His first step into the world of cooking professionally happened six or seven years ago, he said, when it did a several-month stint at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. There he learned how his skills creating great meals for family and friends could be translated into making great meals for thousands.
Caso said Rogers comes to Fratello’s at a good time. The deli, which opened at 18201 Dixie Highway in Homewood in May 2015, is hitting its stride. He said lunch and dinner crowds have been steadily increasing the past few months, and evenings are especially busy.
One of Rogers’ goals is to bring the same crowds to the deli for breakfast. He’s been trying out some stratas and frittatas. Both are egg-based dishes that can be customized with any combination of meats and vegetables as filler.
Caso said he and his partner, Adrian Martino, have been listening to customers and have added a number of new menu items based on requests, including three-foot submarine sandwiches, soups. salads and antipasta trays. Salads are one of the deli’s most popular items, and Caso said when the antipastra trays were announced on Facebook “it kind of went crazy.”
The next project for Rogers is to offer cooking classes. The plan is to hold the next class from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 2.
Rogers said the specifics still need to be ironed out, but he was thinking about teaching how to make a popular dessert, possibly bread pudding, along with some instruction on kitchen safety and knife techniques.