West Loop Salumi

Not Your Father’s Cold Cuts

Tying up old-world, globally sourced and delicious masterpieces
By Kelly Villasuso

DSC_0754The trendy West Loop neighborhood of Chicago is home to just what you might expect: hundreds of the city’s hippest, hottest restaurants, bars and shops. It is also home to something very unique – West Loop Salumi, an old-school salumeria and a very young salumiere. Salumeria? Salumiere? Indeed!

In Italy, there is a salumeria (a delicatessen serving cured meats) with a corresponding salumiere (the proprietor) on practically every corner. You might say a salumiere is to gourmet cured meats what a sommelier is to
fine wine.

Greg Laketek

Greg Laketek

In the Windy City, not only is West Loop
Salumi the first U.S.D.A. salumeria in Illinois, it also seems to be producing the hottest commodity in the country. That’s because 31-year-old owner and Salumiere Greg Laketek is serving up his dream in each bite of his hand-tied, old-world, globally sourced capolavori di salumi (salumi masterpieces).

Since its launch in 2013, culinary artisans at West Loop Salumi have been tying up high praise from an enviable list of clients, chefs, and critics alike, including Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Moët Hennessey, The Alinea Group, Sydell Group (NoMad), Tom Douglas’ Home Remedy, Eataly in New York and Chicago, and Boca Raton Resort & Club, to name just a few. In fact, although technically still in the initial-growth phase as a small business, this little salumi-engine-that-could has already garnered a “best soppressata” from Food & Wine Magazine (August 2015) and made it into Mimi Sheraton’s 2015 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List for its ciauscolo.

DSC_0356So why are the air-cured, preserved meats of this tiny — less than 1,500 square feet to be precise — West Loop salumeria on the tip of the gastronomy world’s tongues to the tune of 2,600 pounds per week? “I believe it is our unwavering dedication to the old-world methods I learned in Italy and to our passion for sourcing the finest ingredients, regardless of locale,” shared Laketek.

He’s Bringing Old World Back (Yah)…
Though raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Laketek spent his summers in Le Marche, Italy, with his grandparents where he first learned how to make cured meats, as well as such vital accoutrements as bread, cheese and wine. It was this hands-on exposure to the heritage of preserving commodities that stayed with him long after the summer visits to his grandparents’ farm ended and served as his inspiration when he became burnt-out with his consulting business.

Laketek recounts, ”I remember thinking ‘I am young. I am single. What do I want to do for the rest of my life if I could choose anything?’ And then it hit me. Salumi. I missed salumi. So I set out to create the best salumi in the United States.”

Young Laketek was flying by the seat of his pants when he booked a one-way ticket to Parma, Italy, to learn the art of this Italian mainstay. No friends. No connections. No language proficiency. Just a deep-seeded passion to make authentic, old-world salumi back home in Chicago.

The Italian salumi gods definitely took kindly to Laketek, guiding him directly into the path of Master Salumiere and owner of famed Antica Corte Pallavicina, Massimo Spigaroli.

“As I was exploring Parma,” Laketek recalled, “I kept seeing his [Massimo’s] photo and I thought ‘he seems to be the man around here.’ So I booked a dinner reservation and arrived early in hopes of meeting him personally.” It was this brass that led to him becoming the first to ever apprentice under Spigaroli. Over the course of five months, he learned the art of old-world salumi making from the Master and his team, particularly how to make culatello — the prized salumi of Parma.

Wine, no dextrose or sugar. Natural casings, no collagen casings. Hand-tied, no netting. These are just a few of the fundamentals Laketek was schooled on in Italy and to which he remains vehemently true in his production today at West Loop Salumi.

And It’s Not Your Father’s Cold Cuts
In today’s culinary industry, local is the new black. Everywhere you turn, you see locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, farm-to-table, house-made, and so on, which is certainly a good trend. To Laketek, however, local is in the eye of the beholder, particularly when seeking the best-of-the-best-of-the-best ingredients for West Loop Salumi.

Laketek shares, “We, of course, get the highest-quality pork right here in the Chicago suburbs. Meat cutters prepare the cuts on Monday and we are making salumi with it by Wednesday. To me, that makes absolute sense. We wouldn’t want to go out of the area because it wouldn’t be the freshest, finest product.” But for all of the other ingredients he uses in his salumi and soppressata, the world is his “local.”

“We use Kashmir Curry from Canada, salt from Trapani, Italy, fennel pollen from India, fresh lardo from Spain, and fresh Calabrian chile peppers. Why?” Laketek said. “Because in order to create the very best product, I need the very best ingredients. So I source globally to get the best.”

If West Loop Salumi’s enviable following is any indicator, his “no borders” approach clearly is a good one. And when his salumi board touts Winter Black Truffle Salami with Veuve Clicquot Rose, it’s equally clear Laketek is not making your father’s cold cuts.

West Loop Salumi is located at 1111 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60607. 312-255-7004, www.westloopsalumi.com

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RAUL VILLASUSO
West Loop Salumi