As chef for Corti Bros. Market, Andrew Cordaro has been the man behind the scenes for 30 years. He and his staff work in the store’s huge kitchen, a sanctum rarely seen by the multigenerational customers who have shopped at the east Sacramento institution since 1970. Most of what they prepare is displayed in the Cucina Pronta cold caseat the deli. “Everything is made in-house, from scratch,” Cordaro said.
The store founders were brothers Frank and Gino Corti, who opened their first store in 1947. Once, there were four Corti Bros. Markets in Sacramento. The sole remaining one is helmed by Frank’s son, Darrell Corti, the internationally recognized food-and-wine expert ✔who describes himself as a “grocer.”
“In France, the Meilleur Ouvrier✔ is an award given to the best craftsmen in the country, including chefs,” Corti said. “That’s what Andrew is.”
Q: You worked in restaurants in Auburn after cooking in the Navy. How did you end up at Corti Bros.?
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A: I was getting ready to enter the Culinary Institute of America, but ended up at El Macero Country Club. After four months, I went to the catering department of Corti’s Courtyard store in 1985, then moved to the kitchen here in 1987. We merged the small menu from 1947 ✔with the more updated catering repertoire.
Q: The Cunina Pronta deli case is known for its classic dishes. What are you still making from 1947?
A: The frittata is a recipe from Darrell’s mother, Rose. The beef and cheese ravioli were done by Gino, and are the oldest continuously produced food products in Sacramento. ✔The meat sauce, meatloaf and rigatoni, and the Greek, macaroni, bean and potato salads are still made from the original recipes.
Q: What are some of the items you’ve brought to the table?
A: We’re always evolving. I’ve added quesadillas, prepared vegetables, salmon cakes, grilled salmon fillets, ginger-hoisin-glazed pork tenderloin, chicken cutlets and three more kinds of ravioli. (Also) soups, the sandwich of the day and the salad of the week. A lot of our dishes are seasonal.
Q: The research and development must be a big part of it.
A: Everything (original) I’ve done is the result of ongoing (R&D). The final judges are Darrell and (his brother-in-law/business partner) Allan Darrah, store director Rick Mindermann and deli manager Linda Wright. But in the end it comes down to the customers. They are the rudder of the ship, steering whether I’m going to be making (an item) again or not.
Q: It looks like you work with massive amounts of ingredients.
A: This is a production kitchen, we don’t do line cooking like in restaurants. It’s just as hectic, though, and still a matter of timing and rhythm, but in larger batches. We source roasts from the meat department and cook them for the deli. We did a 24-pound batch of meatloaf today that will last about two days, and the potato salad is a 70-pound recipe. We’ll make 66 pounds of Greek salad that will sell on a Saturday. I cooked 24 turkey breasts this morning for a day’s worth.
Q: Does cooking the same signature dishes ever stifle your creativity?
A: At times it does, because of the repetition. But most of our customers depend on the tried-and-true, and there’s only so much room in the deli case. On the other hand, four special orders were called in an hour ago.
Q: You’re part of a long heritage.
A: For the generations who have shopped here (and at other Corti stores) for most of their lives, we’re a touchstone to an era when life was magical. I’ve fed children who are now married and have children of their own who come into the store.
Chef for Corti Bros. Market (5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; 916-736-3800; cortibrothers.com).