2018 Chicago Rising Star Baker Alexander Roman of Somerset

2018 Chicago Rising Star Baker Alexander Roman of Somerset
May 2018

Somerset
1112 N State Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
somersetchicago.com

Recipe

Photos

As a child, Chicago native Alexander Roman spent time prepping tamales with his parents, both of whom hail from northern Mexico, and he realized early on that he wanted to work with his hands and to make food for a living. 

Roman initially began his career as a savory cook. He followed his wife to New York City and cooked at Rising Stars alum Adam Schop’s Nuela, where a pastry chef first turned him onto baking. Roman spent the next two years as a sous chef at Northern Spy, all the while baking loaves in his small city apartment. He and his wife decided to move back to Chicago, where he began baking fulltime. During his two years at Sandra Holl’s Floriole, Roman was promoted to head baker and was later hired for the same position at Rising Stars alums Art Jackson and Chelsea Jackson’s Pleasant House Bread, known for its pioneering in-house milling program. 

Today, Roman’s bagels, dense loaves of rye, airy baguettes, and burnished miche accompany meals made by Rising Stars alum Lee Wolen at Boka Group’s Somerset. His program puts an emphasis on locally grown, freshly milled flours, and as a founding member of Chicago’s Artisan Grain Collaborative, Roman helps connect area bakers and restaurants to small Midwestern farmers. He also brings his Mexican heritage to the table with specialty breads and an unforgettable mole negro croissant. 



Interview with 2018 Chicago Rising Star Baker Alexander Roman

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?

Alexander Roman: My parents are from Northern Mexico, and my family has always gravitated toward the table. When I was growing up, we would prep tamales together, everyone helping, cooking, and making small talk. I loved using my hands and working with food, so I decided to pursue a culinary degree and went to Le Cordon Bleu Chicago in 2015. I was a savory cook at first—that’s what I paid to learn. After school, I moved with my wife to New York—she was studying at Columbia—and I worked at Nuela in Flatiron with [Chef] Adam Schop. Next, I went to work at Northern Spy, and the Pastry Chef Amy Hess inspired me to start baking bread at home. I was trying to do 100 percent naturally leavened bread, and the first batch came out like pancakes.

CH: When did you transition to baking full-time?

AR: My wife and I were missing Chicago and decided to come home. I staged for two weeks at Floriole before being hired. My first real bread baking experience was there with Sandra [Holl]. I worked my way up to head baker and designed their wholesale program. I raised revenues from $2,000 to $200,000 a year. Then I moved to Pleasant House Bread to work with Art and Chelsea [Jackson]. During my time there, I learned more about freshly milled grains and how to use a wood-fired oven. After Pleasant House changed direction to focus more on pizza, I went to Somerset.

CH: Who’s your mentor?

AR: Rachel Post, who was the baker at Floriole before I took over.

CH: What types of bread are you producing?

AR: I’m making 13 right now: miniature flatbreads, large format loaves, English muffins, bagels, seeded sourdough, baguettes, ciabatta, brioche, Parker House rolls, cinnamon rolls, etc. I’m also doing viennoiserie.

CH: Are you milling your own grains?

AR: We have a Komo professional tabletop mill, and we try to use it as much as we can. Right now, we’re producing 16 to 48 loaves a day. If we were making 100 loaves a day, we wouldn’t be able to use it.

CH: Do you have wholesale ambitions?

 AR: Currently, we’re just producing for Somerset, but the plan is to be able to produce for Boka Group and maybe some friends. We make every piece of bread sold here except the burger bun.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?

AR: I was a founding member of the Artisan Grain Collaborative. It’s a group of 26 businesses—farmers, millers, educators, and bakers—all working together to bring grain mainstream and make it more easily accessible. We have a meeting once a month and communications twice monthly. Sandra, Dave Miller, Greg Wade, and Harold Wilkens are involved. We’re creating a market and educating people.

CH: What’s your five-year plan?

AR: I’m not sure about a five-year goal, but ultimately I want to open my own shop and be able to make bread, pastries, and small savory items. I want to have retail bread and Mexican style pastries. It wouldn’t be a Mexican-themed place, but one that conveys who I am and my heritage.