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posted: 5/29/2012 6:00 AM

Hanover Park man gets creative, competitive about cooking

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  • Chuck Federici takes a break from maintenance duties at Fenton High School to whip up lasanga in the home economics classroom.

       Chuck Federici takes a break from maintenance duties at Fenton High School to whip up lasanga in the home economics classroom.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Chuck Federici cuts an onion for his chicken lasagna.

       Chuck Federici cuts an onion for his chicken lasagna.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Chuck Federici takes a break from maintenance duties at Fenton High School to whip up lasanga in the home economics classroom.

       Chuck Federici takes a break from maintenance duties at Fenton High School to whip up lasanga in the home economics classroom.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
By Abby Scalf

Chuck Federici became inspired to cook by TV chefs in the days before Food Network had round-the-clock programming.

"I'd watch a show at night and then the next day I'd go to the store and find something that caught my eye and buy it and start making it," he said.

Among the chefs who caught his eye back then were Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali, whom Federici says brought him back to his childhood.

"I can relate to a lot of (Mario's) food from growing up, from what my aunts and nanas used to make," the Hanover Park resident said.

He still remembers traveling to his aunt's home and eating the lasagna, eggplant parmesan and the homemade Italian sauce that used simple ingredients such as fresh garlic and whole tomatoes.

"We still make the original sauce for four generations now," Federici said. "There is nothing like that old standard when you use the beef neck bones and let it cook for hours. When you're really serious, that is what you really want."

Federici enjoys spending hours upon hours cooking meals from his arsenal of cooking shows and family recipes. Cooking, he says, allows him to explore his creative side.

"I found through cooking that I have this creative side that I didn't realize I had," he said. "I didn't realize I could take a piece of sirloin and turn it into something special."

Homemade pasta and Italian cusine remain close to his heart, yet he's also developed his own barbecue ribs and he also loves to explore foods from other countries, like burritos, sushi and stir-fry.

Within his desire to cook, Federici also has a competitive side. He participated in the Chop Simmer Saute competition at the Schaumburg Hyatt in 2011 and was hoping for a spot in the Daily Herald's Cook of the Week Challenge.

"I never had a competitive spirit," he said. "I just followed a hunch and tried it because it sounded like fun. There are a lot of people out there, foodies that would like a place every now and then to have a competition."

Federici can also be his toughest critic.

"It's something I really feel so passionate about that it may never be perfect," he said. "Creative people are never happy with what they put out. That's what I think it is."

Federici reserves his cooking sessions for the weekends since he devotes his weeknights to Fenton High School in Bensenville, where he's worked building maintenance for the past 16 years. On Sundays, the family allows him to let loose and do what he wants in the kitchen.

Federici looks forward to the day he can spend more time in the kitchen and is eager to pass favorite recipes down to his grandson.

"I want to be able to teach cooking skills to him," he said, adding with a laugh, "He's going to have a Blackhawks T-shirt and a chef hat."

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