BRIDGEPORT — A Bridgeport teenager who spent years cooking and working at local eateries has earned his first big break: a book signing and cooking demonstration at this weekend's Sunday City Market.
Bob Pickert Jr., 18, has been cooking as a hobby for a decade and has had experience cooking for Tria Sorelle, the catering arm of Fabulous Freddies. But it's his recent trips to Europe that inspired him to release a cookbook titled "The Adolescent Chef."
The self-published cookbook is full of recipes Pickert said are Mediterranean influenced, but with a youthful take, Pickert said. It also features his take on classic Italian dishes the Bridgeport area is famous for.
He will be demonstrating some of those recipes at the Sunday City Market, the hybrid farmers market held at Bridgeport's Antique Taco every Sunday through the summer.
"I think that really inspired and influenced the kind of cooking I do," Pickert said of his two jaunts through Europe while a student at Mount Carmel High School. "It's the creativity and using of fresh ingredients that I love."
Pickert said his fascination with cooking began around third grade, when his grandmother would watch him after school and would frequently be cooking in the kitchen.
"I just one day asked if I could help and that was it," he said.
He has since enrolled in seminars and cooking programs, including an advanced culinary session at Kendall College while he was in sixth grade, Pickert said. The recent high-school grad has also worked at Freddies, where he was a cashier, and now works at Tria Sorelle, where Pickert does food preparation and serving.
Pickert will now have his biggest moment as a young chef when he visits the chef's booth at the Sunday City Market around 10 a.m. Sunday at Antique Taco, 1000 W. 35th St.
In previous weeks, the booth has been manned by the chefs behind some of Chicago's most buzzworthy restaurants, including Furious Spoon and Bang Bang Pie. Though Pickert admitted to having some butterflies, he said he's excited to take his hobby to the next step.
"I am extremely excited," he said. "I want to see what it will be like in front of all those people. I've never done that before."
Despite the relatively high-profile demonstration and book signing this weekend, Pickert is not focused on where his cooking career might go. In fact, the Dominican University enrollee thinks he'd prefer to keep cooking as the beloved hobby it has been for years.
"I'd prefer to keep it as a side project," he said. "I love to cook, but if I did it professionally every day, I think I wouldn't love it as much."