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WATCH NOW: Patio Pitmasters: Perfecting flavor with Joe Trama
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WATCH NOW: Patio Pitmasters: Perfecting flavor with Joe Trama

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Patio Pitmaster: Joe Trama

Title: Executive chef and owner of Trama Catering

Location: Trama Catering operates at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster.

Age: 63

What Makes Him Sizzle:

Joe Trama has been helping to feed Region food fans for three decades.

Trama, executive chef and owner of Trama Catering, opened his company 31 years ago at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster. At the center, Trama and his staff cater special events and produce the popular Sunday brunch, which is currently on hiatus due to the coronavirus.

Food preparation and kitchen exploration have long been of interest to the chef.

"I started working in 1972 in a kitchen in Florida," Trama said. He worked in different roles in restaurants at the beginning, including as a bus boy and a broiler, among other jobs.

One restaurant that made a big impact while working in Florida was an eatery named Lord Chumley's.

"I started there as a bus boy," Trama said, adding the restaurant had an atmosphere and menu that was akin to what people would have seen in supper clubs.

Trama still keeps a menu from Lord Chumley's  from the 1970s in his office, which stars everything from prime cuts of steak, ribs, various seafood and more at extremely low prices reflective of the time period.

While Trama cooks in a full kitchen while operating his business, he also enjoys grilling outdoors, and makes it a point to work with fresh ingredients. For the Patio Pitmaster series, Trama created grilled picanha and steaks on a 58-year old grill that still works perfectly. He also made roasted vegetables and a garden salad.

"It's important to use quality ingredients," the chef said.

In addition to Trama's experience as a chef, he's also been a culinary instructor, which he said has been very rewarding.

"I taught at Ivy Tech for 10 years," Trama said. Though his role as a teacher at the school has ended, he said, as a chef, he's always teaching.

"We do Culinary Nights here and that's about education and having fun," Trama said. The center's occasional Culinary Nights feature themed menus and chef demos.

"With teaching, there's that satisfaction of putting that spark in people," he said. Teaching is also something chefs automatically do, in a sense, he added.

When it comes to making a successful dish, such as the fresh garden salad he made as an accompaniment for the steaks, Trama said it's all about balancing "color, texture and flavor."

Fast Facts: Joe Trama was born in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood. Resides in St. John. Executive chef and owner of Trama Catering. Married to Nancy. Father of four children.

Q & A with the Chef:

My cooking philosophy is: I have a respect for quality products and ingredients. I also like to use fresh ingredients and what's in season at the time. I use ingredients from my garden whenever I can.

About having a garden: If anything, people ought to start a garden, especially the way things are these days. It's nice when you can go outside and pick your dinner.

About cooking outdoors: Cooking outdoors is a natural thing. It's back to nature. I've spent all my life over a hot stove and it's nice to be out in the fresh air.

Advice on grilling: You have to manage your fire. It just takes a little practice and it's trial and error. You can play with different types of wood. I don't like lighter fluid. It's a chemical that you don't need.

The importance of using your senses to cook: As a chef, you want to use all your senses...you cook with your sense of sight, taste and also your ears.

The following recipes are from Joe Trama.

Grilled Picanha

For skewered meat preparation:

1 2.5 pound top sirloin cap/Coulotte

Coarse sea salt

Skewer

Lump charcoal

DIRECTIONS: Trim away third vein if present. Cut against the grain into 3 pieces, skewer meat, fat side out, folding in a “C” shape. Apply sea salt liberally.

Bank lump charcoal on each side to have at all cooking zones. Cook on hot grill until medium rare. Slice and place back on the fire and continue cooking.

For steak preparation:

1 2.5 pound top sirloin cap/Coulotte

DIRECTIONS: Cut into 4 steaks, cut with the grain. Wrap each steak with pepper bacon and season with coffee rub. Grill hot to desired doneness.

Garden Tomato Salad

1 cup garbanzo beans

6 medium diced tomatoes

1/2 seedless cucumber (slice lengthwise, thin sliced)

1/2 red onion, diced

1 roasted Poblano pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons fresh basil

5 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Roast Poblano pepper on grill, cover, then peel.

Make a vinaigrette out of the vinegar, oil, and honey and pour over garden vegetables. Marinate a couple of hours.

Roasted Vegetables

6 small Yukon Gold potatoes

1 carrot

1 parsnip

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow squash

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh herbs (oregano ,basil, rosemary)

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS: Use a perforated grill pan or wrap in foil. Cut all the vegetables and potatoes in similar sizes. Add salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Cook until tender and has a nice char. Finish with balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.

Chimichurri Sauce

1/4 cup red onion

2 cloves fresh garlic

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Juice of one lemon

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 cups fresh parsley

1 cup fresh basil

1/2 cup fresh oregano

1/2 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Combine all ingredients and pulse in food processor. Serve on top of meat.

Coffee Spice Rub

2 tablespoons ancho chili powder

2 tablespoons ground dark coffee

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon kosher salt

DIRECTIONS: Blend all spices and coffee together. Use liberally on meat.

Gallery: Regionites mask up amid coronavirus pandemic

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Entertainment Editor/Features Reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.

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