Interview with Chicago Rising Star Artisan Gregory Laketek of West Loop Salumi

by Caroline Hatchett
May 2015

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Gregory Laketek:
As a child I would spend my summers in Italy. My grandparents had friends who owned farms. They made their own cheese, bread, wine, and salumi. It was beautiful; I miss it. I started my own consulting firm after college, but I burned out. I went on to culinary school even though I knew I didn’t want to be a chef or a restaurateur. I kept seeing the face of Massimo Spigaroli on the salumerias in Italy; he had two Michelin-starred restaurants at his castle. It dawned on me to produce salumi. I had no industry contacts so I went to Italy and just showed up at Spigaroli’s castle. I knew he wouldn’t turn me down. I trained there for a few months, five days a week, 12 hours a day. After my training under Massimo, it just made sense to move to Chicago and open my own salumeria.

CH: Tell me about your team.
GL:
I write and I’m a webmaster so I do all the promoting. A small grocer in Chicago’s North Side was our first account. I employed five staff and a butcher when I first got West Loop Salumi going. Then I pulled people from my parents’ construction company and taught them. They had never used a knife before. Now, I’m able to leave and have accounts taken care of for weeks on end.

CH: What's your style in making salumi?
GL:
Primarily Italian, but I do Spanish styles as well. The lard is cured in an Italian way, but I used Iberico pork from Spain. I make lomo and chorizo. All heritage Berkshire pork that I use is from local Midwest farms, and Wagyu beef comes from the Midwest as well. They are all non-GMO and naturally raised. For spices, I try to source from their original source. Like for 'nduja, fresh Calabrian chile peppers have to come from Calabria, and paprika is from Spain. I try to make sure we’re sticking to the traditions. 'Nduja is usually creamy and fatty, but one-third of our weight is Calabrian chiles.

CH: Why do you self-distribute?
GL:
When a place is getting salumi, it’s sitting in a box. When you wrap up salami, they’re trying to breathe, and they’re getting older and drier. They suffocate and get funky and hard. All the bacteria around them can get them hard. I’d rather that not happen and talk to my customers whenever they need service. When orders are processed, they’re coming straight from the chambers and I get to them within a week.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
GL:
I make friends with everyone from bartenders to chefs. We respect each other. We don’t stomp on anyone; we don’t force our products on anyone. We coexist in a community where everyone does their own thing.

CH: What’s your five year plan?
GL:
Well we’re expanding now. We’re building an off-site drying facility but will still process everything here. In the next few months, I’ll hire 17 new people—someone for marketing, books/accounting, a whole butcher team, a packaging team. After expansion, I plan to sleep.