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Cinderella Paleo

Chef to prepare and sample healthy Latin American dishes during Santori Library program

Bernie Laskowski was working as a security guard at the Mayfair Hotel in Chicago when he noticed how happy the cooks were as they came in and out of the building.

“I wanted to do something I loved and cared about, and they were good examples of that,” he said. “One thing led to another, and I got a job in the kitchen at the hotel.

“My first job was overnight cook because they needed someone to prep fruit and vegetables for the next day and to cook the late night food service orders. The overnight room service attendant taught me how to make the dishes.”

Thousands of chopped fruits and veggies later, Laskowski is a chef who has fulfilled several dreams, one of which was to name a business for his wife.

He and his wife Cynthia own “Cinderella Paleo.” (Her girlfriends gave her the nickname “Cinderella,” Laskowski says.)

Laskowski will present a free program at the Santori Public Library of Aurora at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 25 called “Healthy Cooking Latin American Style.” He will give a cooking demonstration which will include samples and printed recipes for those who register in advance. Call 630-264-4101 or go to to sign up.

“I grew up on the south side of Chicago with a Polish dad and Guatemalan mother,” he said. After high school, he served in the Marine Corps for four years, from 1988 to 1992.

Next, he went to culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago.

He then embarked on a multi-year learning experience in a number of different restaurants in the city.

When the Mayfair Hotel closed and was converted into condominiums, Laskowski went to work for Lettuce Entertain You at its Greek restaurant, Papagus Greek Taverna. “I was with the company a little over a year,” he said. “Then I worked at The Everest Room and did pastries. Then I took some time off, because a chef I was working with suggested I do some traveling to get to know the origins of different cuisines.”

Laskowski and Cynthia, also a chef, traveled throughout Europe to expose themselves to artisan food-making techniques and to seek out locally-sourced and fresh foods.

“The trip was more about learning because in cooking you don’t graduate from college and you’re a chef. It doesn’t work that way,” Laskowski said. “You have to spend time ‘learning the language’ so to speak, so you have to spend as much time as you can cooking and working in new kitchens.”

Laskowski next worked for Marche’ on Randolph Street, a zone he described as the hip new restaurant area in Chicago.

“I worked for that company for about three years, and then I was given the opportunity to open their Asian restaurant, also on Randolph Street, called Red Light. It was great to be able to learn a new style of cooking and the origins of that cuisine. Next I was given the opportunity to work at Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. All of the chefs I had worked under had worked for Four Seasons and that was their background; it was their step into the American food passion that included sourcing out local ingredients and fresh, quality, in-season seafood, so it only made sense to go there. “I worked for them a little over three years and then I left there to open a restaurant as the executive chef because I was ready to tell a story with food.”

That experience was with Bin 36 Wine Bar. “I was able to use all my past experiences and interpret what the owner was looking for as far as food, and then create a story,” he said.

Next, Laskowski went to work as a corporate chef. “It was fun, but the economy crashed with 9-11 and we found ourselves on the outside looking in,” he said.

His next opportunity presented itself when he got a call about a new restaurant opening in Chicago called “Park Grill.”

“Contrary to what newspapers say about the project, it was a food service program that not many restaurants knew how to build. I represented Chicago and I was given the task and opportunity to create the food service program that would be Park Grill. I did that for almost 10 years.

“Then, my neighbor, Joe Miranda, was starting this workout trend called Crossfit. He was opening a gym and said, ‘I want you to figure out how to do food for members.’

“I figured it was a nice, easy side job,” Laskowski said with a chuckle. “It started with cooking for six people, and then it took off from there and grew through word of mouth. It turned into this nice little underground business that was operating outside of the constructs of a restaurant. We were advertising through social media that we were preparing meals under paleo guidelines: local, and sustainable. The Crossfit workout movement emphasized community, nutrition and family, which was very unique from a business sense.

Laskowski said since his family has always worked out and been active in sports, it made sense to use their passion, which is food, and partner it with another passion, fitness.

“As chefs, we were taught to know your farmers, get the best quality ingredients, and don’t mess with them too much,” Laskowski said. “To be as unprocessed as you can be. So it all made sense. Things fell into place and people started reaching out to us to help them with their food goals”

Four years later, Bernie and Cynthia have a storefront in Naperville with a commercial kitchen that services more than 20 locations including Crossfit clients, personal training clients and private clients. They have partnered with Crossfit trainer Michele Fumagalli, who quit her corporate job 2-1/2 years ago to go back to school for nutrition. “She is on the path to be a registered dietitian, so she helps us keep our food healthy,” Laskowski said. “We do 10 new menu items every week based on market availability and customer feedback.”

“It’s always been our philosophy to push the boundaries and work hard. We think the easy way is not the right way.”

For the cooking demonstration at the Santori Library, Laskowski will prepare Slow Roasted Pork Lechon, which was inspired by his travels in Puerto Rico.

“Latin American cuisine is really simple,” he said. “Lots of flavor is derived from natural sources. This dish is a beautifully roasted pork with a little garlic and oregano and sea salt.”

A sample of Crisp Kale Salad with homemade pickles, red onions and marinated tomatoes with a spicy orange vinegar dressing also will be included for those who preregister.

For more information about Cinderella Paleo, go to The storefront, which will sell meals on the go, will open Aug. 1 at 1931 S. Washington St. in Naperville.

Editor’s Note: This program is part of the Latino Americans, 500 Years of History initiative produced by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association. It is part of an NEH initiative, The Common Good, The Humanities in the Public Square. You must preregister to receive a sample.

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