Israeli finds passion for traditional Italian cuisine


I first met Ben Poremba at his stall at the Clayton Farmer’s Market. He was explaining to a potential customer, in his lovely Israeli accent, the lengthy process that goes into seasoning and curing meats to make salumi, Italian cured sausages.

Poremba, and his partner, head salumist Mark Sanfilippo, own Salume Beddu, a business dedicated to producing authentic salume, fresh salisiccia, and seasonal products such as crackers, spreads and relishes. They are committed to using only the finest, local meats and to making the sausages the same way they were made for generations in Italy.

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“Our salumi are made from locally, humanely raised animals that are hormone and antibiotic free,” Poremba explained. “We also use some heritage animals and are collaborating with a local farmer to raise our own animals. It’s a craft that requires a lot of patience. All of our salumi are uncooked, salted, seasoned, and dried.”

Poremba’s passion for cooking, and cooking cultures, began early on. He credits his mother, who had some culinary training in France and later worked as a chef and caterer in Israel, for inspiring him. She currently teaches cooking through the Women’s International Zionist Organization.

“She is a great resource for me even today,” Poremba said, “especially with her extensive knowledge of spices and wild herbs.”

Poremba’s family moved to St. Louis in 1996 for his father’s job. After finishing high school here, he began taking classes toward his B.A. in philosophy from UMSL. Interspersed with his studies were head-chef gigs at Brennan’s Maryland House in the Central West End, Portobello Restaurant in Israel, 609 in the University City Loop, and, most recently, Winslow’s Home in University City.

Over the years, Poremba also established himself as a top-notch caterer, preparing meals for kosher and non-kosher events for parties as large as 400. He credits his catering success to Bud and Judy Levin of St. Louis. After talking with him about his varied culinary experiences, they hired him to cater a charity event they were hosting in their home.

“His food is spectacular,” Judy Levin said. “He uses only the freshest local ingredients. His dishes are creative and his presentation beautiful. One year he catered a Moroccan kosher-for-Passover Seder for 40 people in our home. Everything he served was delicious, especially the Moroccan chicken, which was prepared with an assortment of dried fruits and unique spices. The chicken was so tender it literally fell off the bones.”

The Levins continued to use Poremba’s catering services for all of their private and charitable functions. And when the food is that good, word spreads. Neiman Marcus in Plaza Frontenac even granted Poremba permission to cater a kosher event in the store for the Jewish National Fund. For that event, he prepared the food in the kosher kitchen at Traditional Congregation and delivered it to the store in a van.

So how does a nice Jewish boy from Israel get involved in the craft of creating heritage Italian sausages?

“I spent some time in Northern Italy, Parma to be exact,” Poremba explained. “The culinary landscape was rich and differed from one village to the next. I was struck by their powerful commitment to preserve ancient cooking traditions. I learned from many of the local artisans, cooked in restaurants there, and was enrolled in a program at the local university in Taste Analysis and Food Culture.” “Much like the philosophy behind the Slow Food Movement,” Poremba continued, “the artisans I met were committed to sustainable and organic methods of food production. Their emphasis was on local foods. There was a genuine respect for that food. People got together with friends and family and made the time to enjoy their food and each others’ company.”

After returning from Northern Italy in 2005, Poremba was excited to put into practice his new cooking skills and the Italian cooking culture he had come to embrace.

He heard about Ann Sheehan Lipton’s project, Winslow’s Home. He was impressed with Ann’s commitment to organic farming and local ingredients. He also liked the idea of cooking comfort food that was healthy and affordable. The two clicked, and Ann hired him as head chef.

While Poremba was at Winslow’s, one of his former philosophy professors introduced him to another one of his students, Mark Sanfilippo. In addition to Sanfilippo’s varied cooking experiences, he had been a sous chef at Pizzeria Mozza, Mario Batali’s restaurant in Los Angeles. There he honed his salume-making skills by working alongside Armando Batali, Mario’s father and a renowned master of cured Italian sausages.

When Poremba met him, Sanfilippo had recently started his own salume business in St. Louis, Salume Beddu, which in Sicilian means “beautiful cured meat.” Sanfilippo invited Poremba to become a partner, and now the two are proud to create salumi that are, in their words, “artisanly spiced, hand tied, and perfectly cured to produce traditional style with a New-World twist.”

In addition to assorted salumi and fresh Salsiccia (Italian sausages), Salume Beddu offers a line of seasonal Italian specialty items that include Mostarda, which can be likened to Italian chutney; Cannelini alla Toscana, a spiced white bean puree; Insalata de Ceci, a chickpea salad; Caponata, a cooked eggplant and vegetable salad; Sott’ Aceto, an Italian relish; and Croccantine, a crisp Italian flatbread cracker.

Salume Beddu’s products are currently available only at farmers’ markets in Maplewood, Tower Grove Park, and Clayton.

“We want to let people try our products, get the message out to the media, and then expand,” says Poremba. “Eventually we’d like to have a storefront and perhaps even a wine bar, where our salumi could be paired with wines that compliment our uniquely seasoned meats.”

Their Web site,, has detailed descriptions of all their products. In addition to their food sales, Poremba and Sanfilippo continue to do private catering. For more information contact Ben Poremba at (314) 662-0525.

Ben Poremba’s Baba Ganoush:

1-large elongated eggplant, blemish-free

4 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1/2 of a lemon

2 tbsp. Salume Beddu’s Sott’ Aceto

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4-6 slices peasant or country bread, toasted or lightly grilled

Directly on a gas burner or an outdoor grill set to medium (for 5-7 minutes), or in a shallow pan in a preheated 450- degree oven (for 15-20 minutes), roast the eggplant, rotating it to all sides, until the flesh is soft when pierced with a fork.

Slice the eggplant in half, horizontally, and scoop out the pulp. Mash the pulp in a bowl with salt and pepper, to taste, and 2-3 tbsp. of olive oil. Squeeze the juice of one half lemon over the mixture and stir.

Add Sott’ Aceto and mix together until combined. Taste and add more salt and pepper, as desired.

To serve, top bread with baba ganoush and drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Market Information:

*Maplewood (Wednesdays, 4 to 7 p.m. on Schlafly Bottleworks parking lot)

* Tower Grove Park (Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon)

* Clayton (Saturdays, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Straub’s parking lot)

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of one. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]