Cook of the Week: Elgin dad hits the sauce
By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent
Growing up around an Italian table, Tony Aiello remembers his dad's homemade sausage, fresh ravioli, gnocchi and his family's special sauce.
Tony thinks it was that sauce that has influenced his fascination in creating the perfect sauce for each dish he puts on his own table.
"Whenever I create recipes, I will deal with simple proteins such as a roasted chicken breast and then create a sauce that elevates the whole dish," he said.
Making sauce, from the simple to the complex, is a lost art, he says.
"From my standpoint, the work that would go into a gravy or a sauce is what was most interesting. Pork is pork. You can dress it up with herbs and spices, but if you want to distinguish it and make it different, it always comes through in a sauce."
At his Elgin home, his children, 16-year-old James and 14-year-old Alexandria are always willing to taste dad's experiments.
He added, "My daughter especially has developed a good palette and will share if there is too much rosemary or too much salt."
Tony said he tries to keep the kids' meals heavy on proteins like chicken and steak, enhancing his recipes with a white wine and garlic sauce or a favorite red wine balsamic sauce that he demonstrates on video today. Even with dessert, he may flambé whiskey to develop the sugars and pour it over fruit.
"I like to baste something in Worcestershire that brings something savory to the palette and bring in a sweetener right behind it so there is an ebb and flow of flavor. I may be throwing something at the wall to see what sticks. I may grate lemon peel into a sugary sauce just to see what it will do."
Tony's creative pursuits began long before he got comfortable in the kitchen. Since age 7, he has done some acting and directing work. He he also has dabbles in music and video production and produces a political video blog Elgin 2030, in his basement studio. He considers it all a hobby, choosing a career as director of information technology.
When it comes to Italian food, Tony focuses his creativity on pasta.
"Instead of focusing on the sauce, I decided to show more creativity with the pasta. ... I wanted to dress up the dough in the process. I did a lot of experimentation throwing in roasted garlic or throwing in fresh herbs just to dress it up a little bit.
"There is enough good sauce in the market. You're going to be OK," he adds with a laugh. "When it comes down to it, sauce is supposed to marry together with the pasta."
Tony has gotten the chance to show off his sauces at a handful of community events. For the Community Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by First United Methodist Church in Elgin, he created a cranberry-red wine reduction and an apple cider reduction.
When a local restaurant owner started planning Elgin's Have a Heart Dinner in 2013, Tony again was asked to create a sauce to accompany the ham. Tony didn't disappoint with his pineapple peppercorn sauce.
"I know I wanted to do something sweet that would marry well with the ham but I wanted to make something more complex and interesting," he said. He's already working on a sauce for this year's Have A Heart Dinner set for Feb. 15 at First United Methodist Church in Elgin.
That first charity dinner brought a new challenge -- making a sauce for 1,900 guests.
"When I prototype a sauce, I'll prototype a sauce for six servings. I had to expand that to 500 to 600 servings," he said.
But the effort was worth it. "The feeling of helping that many people was outstanding."
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