How Not Eating — and the Food Network — Led Casey Rotert to I Fratellini

by

Casey Robert of I Fratellini. - SARA BANNOURA
  • Sara Bannoura
  • Casey Robert of I Fratellini.

Casey Rotert, the chef de cuisine of I Fratellini (7624 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-727-7901), understands the irony in how he got interested in cooking.

"When I was thirteen years old, I was hospitalized for Crohn's disease and was bedridden for a month," Rotert explains. "I was on an all-liquid diet — I couldn't eat any food. At the time there was nothing to watch on television but cooking shows, so all I could do was sit around all day and watch Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network."

Rotert's experience may have been an exercise in self-torture, but it instilled in him a love for food and cooking that he carried with him throughout his adolescence. When he was in high school, he took an introductory culinary class to see what it was all about, then ended up pursuing advanced studies in pastry and baking and securing a job cooking at the University Club in Columbia, Missouri.

As he realized that he had both a passion and a knack for cooking, Rotert enrolled in an apprenticeship program through a small college in Kansas City that would allow him to stay on full-time at the University Club. The experience immersed him in all aspects of the business — menu planning, food cost analysis, catering, business management — and afforded him the opportunity to spend the summer in Florence, where he immersed himself in Italian food, wine and culture.

Following school, Rotert knew he was ready for a move, and was lucky enough to land an interview with St. Louis restaurant icon Zoe Robinson. "Interviewing with Zoe was like having a conversation with a friend," Rotert recalls. "She was so warm and unassuming and inviting that I knew I needed to work with her."

That conversation turned into a full-time job running the kitchen at I Fratellini, helping out at Bar Les Freres and preparing to take on the kitchen at Robinson's forthcoming Billie-Jean. Though these three gigs keep him busy, Rotert took a break to share his thoughts on the local food scene, his sweet tooth and why dining out in St. Louis is keeping his satisfied.

What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I am lactose intolerant.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
It is more of a nightly ritual, but getting a good night's rest is essential to success.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation.

What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
The influence of immigrant culture and cuisine and the fact that people are eating and shopping locally and buying healthy, local, organic and sustainable products.

What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
I have not found anything missing yet. Anything I am craving I can usually find and be very satisfied with.

Who is your St. Louis food crush?
No food crushes yet, but never say never!

Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Since I am relatively new to the St. Louis dining scene, I am watching everyone and trying as many new restaurants as I can. But I can say to be on the look out for Zoe Robinson and our new restaurant Billie-Jean.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Coffee: complex, with a good balance of bitter and sweet.

If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Something sales related or a stockbroker/trader.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
An abundance of dried herbs. I love fresh herbs.

What is your after work hangout?
Usually just my house to relax and gather my thoughts after a long day.

What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Food: anything chocolate. I have a major sweet tooth. Beverage: good Champagne.

What would be your last meal on earth?
Chicken and waffles.

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.


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