“What originally turned you on to cooking?”


And so answered Chef Roger Urso, owner of the company Food and Logic, chef for multiple organizations on campus including fraternity Sigma Chi, where his kitchen is based, and Lamda Chi. And what’s more, he’ll cook for you. Banquets, luncheons, individual meals — Urso is the cook for hundreds of students across campus, and he’s only one man with a sous-chef.

“I used to wash dishes at Ernesto’s in Plymouth … you see (the cooks) hitting the shit with whiskey and wine and fire. I was like ‘I want to do that!’ So I spent my lunch hour, every day, learning how to cook.”

So he learned. At the age of 14, Urso started to cook. Pre-internet and pre-tidily packaged Tasty Facebook videos, Urso learned by watching and repeating. Years after that, he ended up in the hotel business, catering banquets and events. And after that, he ended up in Ann Arbor by way of a Craigslist ad.

Ten years later, after moving from one business to starting his own, Urso has cooked for countless fraternities and other organizations on campus, making name for himself because of his company’s defining tenets — affordability and efficiency.

“We’re abou $40,000 more reasonably priced than anywhere else on campus,” Urso said. “It’s about seventeen to eighteen hundred dollars per semester to eat at dining halls, and I’m seventeen hundred for two semesters. And you get scratch cooked food.”

Because after ten years, Urso has seen what other kitchens on campus offer and has decided what he can change. As a man dedicated to food and the communities he serves, he trades a little less money for a little more love. As he puts it: “We’re not greedy.”

The “we” he’s talking about is him and his sous-chef Eddie, who was chopping, cooking and moving chicken during my entire time in the kitchen, located at the back of Sigma Chi’s house on State Street. The lunch he was was preparing? Chicken and waffles, with fresh fruit — watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple — on the side.

“We focus heavy on meat, and for vegetarians we’ll focus on ruffage, vegetables, fruits … we’ll always have a complex carbohydrate, nothing saturated in butters and fats, and we’ll always have lean proteins,” Urso added. “We always try to stay more towards not flour tortilla, but more corn.”

Urso is cognizant of dietary needs as well as varying diets. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan — all considered, respected and taken care of by handy hot boxes. He doesn’t buy from massive companies or multi-purpose facilities. He gets up every morning and makes trips to Meijer, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Gordon, gets to the kitchen at eight, and leaves at six.

“We buy our food daily, and we don’t do trucks. I had someone deliver 700 pounds of bad chicken and it was frozen,” Urso said. “Any time you get that type of food in, you still have to look at it, you have to chop into it and smell it because could you imagine getting stuck with 700 pounds of bad chicken?”

But it goes further than that. When tending to dietary needs, it could be as simple as making pesto that substitutes sunflower seeds for nuts. And then even making sure the sunflower seeds weren’t processed in a facility that processes nuts, and so on, and so on.

Even then, healthy eating can go so far. In his drastically and noticeably cheaper meal plans for students, Urso offers two choices: organic or not. Most of the time, the answer is not.

“You give the house an option … do you want to go GMO, do you want everything to be organic, do you want your beef and your chicken grassfed, free-ranged?” Urso said. “Then you show them the price difference and none of them really want to go organic. It’s expensive.”

As a result, Urso focuses on the positives and the potential — the healthy eating that can emerge even when GMO’s are in play and grass-fed is traded for facility-fed, and the savings that can still occur in that compromise.

“It’s the parent’s money, and you have social budgets,” Urso said. “If we can save you 35 to 40 thousands dollars in eight months, what can you do with that money?”

Urso’s ability to balance affordability and quality is valuable when it comes to cost-cutting techniques. Although he loves Greek life, the people he cooks for and the vast community he’s created that stretches across campus, he repeatedly emphasizes the need to remain “separate,” but also in the know when it comes to money and finance security.

“We go through about five thousand pounds of meat a month. But you have to know how to buy it, and you have to buy it in bulk. So you have to have a good relationship with your treasurer, and you have to know that the money’s there, and when the money’s going to be running out,” Urso said. “We have to set the right expectations like ‘Hey for seven months you guys are going to eat like kings, and then we’re going to dip off in the last month.’”

Overall, the people he cooks for do eat like kings because despite being aware of dietary and health concerns, Urso isn’t ever limited in trying out dishes — as long as they’re not too out there. Russian, Korean, Italian, Greek to stuffed chicken parmesan and goat cheese mashed potatoes, nothing is a little too out there, except vegetable stir fry — the clients weren’t a fan.

All in all, Urso goes through about five thousand pounds of meat, one thousand eggs and 15 pounds of coffee all in a month. And this isn’t a mere estimate — each summer break he spends running and planning. Running, so he can “workout, get healthy … when I come back I can get fat again and off we go.” Planning, because he can write eight months of menus during the summer; each meal needs to be planned down to the spice.

Urso said one word he would use to describe his kitchen is “efficient” but in comparison to other kitchens on campus, including dining halls, his stands out as more than efficient. They seem better, healthier. So I told him this.

“This is better eating than most of the University offers,” I said.

“Yeah because what causes cancer? Food,” Urso responded.

“Look at agriculture, right, how does it start? … Monsanto, they genetically modify seeds … they go to other plants that have natural pesticides and herbicides in them already and then they splice it and they take the DNA and they marry it with another seed,” Urso explained. “They grow a whole crop of that … Every third stage, they treat the soil with roundup, then they plant the seed, and that seed can (now) resist the poison, so it starts to grow. Soon as it sprouts, they spray the field with roundup. Three months later, they spray it, with roundup. Twenty days later they spray it, with roundup. Ten days later they harvest it.”

“Then they take it and feed it to pigs and cows and chickens, and now where’s the poison, it’s in them,” Urso continued. “And then where’s the poison? You buy it at the store. And then where is it? It’s in your body.”

So how do you avoid consuming pesticides and other harmful, over-processed goods?

“You can’t,” Urso said. Despite doing his best to ensure the meals he serves are low in sodium and full of the appropriate nutrients, when it comes down to us, he can only do his best for the people he serves, as well as for his own health and family.

“It’s (the poison) not going anywhere; it’s never going anywhere.”

But that doesn’t stop him from trying his best. He has a monopoly on loyalty at the University; this can be plainly seen in the wall that decorates his storage closet in his kitchen. It is covered in selfies and snapshots of meals he has served and people he has met. After ten years he knows that if any other company were to come knocking on the houses he serves, promising better prices, better meals, that they would be sent away.

It’s because of this loyalty that he doesn’t knock on other people’s doors, he just waits for them to come to him. But that doesn’t mean Urso isn’t expanding: not physically, but digitally.

“We have 32 shows in edit right now,” Urso explained. “We have a cooking show that we’re going to let rip soon. It’s called ‘Let’s Fucking Cook.’”

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