Chris Roelli in Shullsburg, Wisconsin
Chad Perkins. It opened my eyes to whole animal butchery
and inspired me to assimilate it into my process
Prairie Apiary where we harvest
Food Fight for Scleroderma
Cooking Up A Cure: Chicago
In 1991 I lost my father to Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that effects the skin. In 2008, I started Cooking Up a Cure as a way of utilizing my network to help raise money and awareness to the cause. At the same time – and unbeknownst to me, Stephanie Somers was starting the Food Fight for Scleroderma. Now, we work together to bring two events a year to Chicago that benefit the Scleroderma Foundation.
In 2010, Chef Rick Gresh and I were hanging out talking about smoking cigars and how there needed to be a place where we can do so. A couple of beers later, we were talking about gathering our chef friends to cook, have drinks, and smoke cigars. The idea of CigarBQue was born in that conversation. Today, we have a national event raising money for the Cigar Families of Nicaragua.
A bit about me:
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and introduced to the kitchen at an early age by the women in my family – my mother and grandmother. They taught me not only to love cooking, but also of the emotional impact food can have on those who enjoy it. My official journey into the food & beverage world began with bussing tables at The Mount Washington Tavern. I kept badgering the chef to let me into the kitchen and eventually he (gave up?) allowed me the opportunity. I was immediately hooked. Throughout high school & college, I continued to work my way through the Baltimore food scene, from short order kitchens to fine dining restaurants. I am particularly fond of my time spent at the Silver Diner while a student at the University of Maryland.
In 1995, I moved to Chicago and went to work developing catering programs for Spoonful, Caffè Baci, and Heaven on Seven. It was during this time that my eyes were opened to a whole new perspective on food sourcing. Strolling between the farm stands at Chicago’s Green City Market, I noticed the stark difference in quality, assortment, and freshness of the produce available from these farmers versus what I was being offered by conventional suppliers. I began asking these farmers and producers questions, learned their stories, and was inspired by their dedication to grow and produce things the right way instead of the easy way. My interest quickly grew into passion. My passion turned into an obligation to share these ingredients, processes, and stories through my own work.
In 2008, I opened City Provisions, a catering company dedicated to using locally and sustainably sourced ingredients. Two years later, City Provisions grew into a full-service delicatessen which gave me a direct platform to connect our neighborhood community with food. At any time, our customers could expect to come in and meet a rancher dropping off a Berkshire hog, a brewer sampling his latest ale with my staff, or a farmer showing off an heirloom breed of tomato. City Provisions’ spirit lives on through many of the small farmers and producers that entered the market during that time that now provide products for some of Chicago’s most acclaimed restaurants.
My next step was to serve as Executive Chef of Fountainhead, The Bar on Buena, and Fountainhead Market where I was able to incorporate thoughtfully-sourced ingredients into the menus. Being a premier craft beer and whiskey bar, Fountainhead provided me with the opportunity to delve deeper into something I had started at City Provisions – beer collaborations. I have, and continue to be, partnered with breweries from Chicago and across the country to brew unique and experimental beers, typically with a culinary influence.
When I’m not working, I can usually be found cheering on my son’s hockey team or having my monthly “try a new cuisine” dinner date with my daughter. I’m a fan of most things creative – music (particularly old school hip hop), comedy (think Lenny Bruce), and film (any and all).
I work hard to keep myself at the forefront of all local and sustainable food initiatives in Chicago and beyond. I strive to be a constant advocate for small farmers, producers, and brewers/distillers.
I am happy to have the opportunity to bring some of my most popular sauces your home table through Crafted by Cleetus.
Questions for Cleetus
First food that you remember loving?
My mom’s shrimp scampi
First kitchen you worked in?
Mt. Washington Tavern
“I can’t believe I’m here, cooking this” memory?
Plating during a stage with Chef Grant Achatz at Alinea, Chicago
You’re on a deserted island and you can only take 1 kitchen tool?
6” Utility Knife
Hobby you think you’re interested in, but have zero time for…
Being a drummer
Kitchen theme song?
Welcome to the Terrordome – Public Enemy
Three words that describe why you do what you do?
Passion. Art. Reward.
Something cooking-related on your bucket list?
To cook for one of my musical idols
Something that has nothing to do with cooking on your bucket list?
Travel to Japan
Yeast + Malt + Water + Hops + ?
Sundays you will find me…
With kids or my lady. Football or Bike. It depends on the week and season.
Words or pictures?
I don’t always eat snacks, but when I do it’s usually…
Food something that needs to be a trend/movement…
Cooking locally and seasonally