Fathers breaking bread

The Rev. Michael J. Alello may be “Father Michael” to his parishioners, but he’s “son” to Jeffrey L. and Diane Laquerre Alello, of Baton Rouge.

The cheerful Catholic priest is also the cook for family celebrations and holiday dinners, such as Father’s Day. His parents and older brother, David, recently gathered at the St. Philomena Catholic Church rectory for an early Father’s Day meal when they realized their schedules would keep them from getting together on Sunday.

As Michael Alello, 33, chopped, mixed and stirred ingredients for his mostly Italian-inspired dinner, he and his brother kept up a lively banter about how much cheese to add to the Rustic Tomato Basil Pasta, how to present the family’s favorite treat, Fudgie Scotch Squares, and whether the Smoked Salmon Dip needed more salt.

“That’s my one fault in cooking; I tend to be heavy-handed on salt,” Michael Alello admitted.

They also exchanged wisecracks about which one is in better physical condition.

“I try to watch my weight,” Michael Alello said. “I lost 60 pounds. I’ve run three marathons, the last one, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington on Oct. 27. I came back from that and had surgery for thyroid cancer. I regained 10 pounds after that.”

The brothers grew up in restaurants, he said. David Alello worked in the kitchen of Juban’s Restaurant. Michael Alello was a cook and manager at the former Mortorano’s Italian Deli on Third Street.

They come by their interest in restaurants and cooking naturally. They are the grandsons of the late Ruth Collet Alello, who once owned Little Italy Restaurant on Alello Drive in Baton Rouge with chef Francesco “Frank” Sardella.

Jeff Alello waited tables in his mother’s restaurant, but never worked in the kitchen.

“The cooking abilities skipped Jeff,” Diane Alello said.

“Cooking would not be one of his strengths,” Michael Alello agreed. “But the beauty of cooking for family is you cook, and they do the things you don’t like. He is very good at washing dishes.”

Father and son do share an interest in antiques, some of which decorate the church rectory where Michael Alello lives. The house, built in 1853, sits behind the church, which dates from 1888.

All the herbs for his Father’s Day dinner came from his garden, the priest said.

“This city boy come to the country, tried gardening for the first time three years ago, and it was a dismal failure,” he said. “I learned a garden needs water and fertilizer. This year, I over-planted the tomatoes.”

His garden, nestled near above-ground tombs in the church cemetery, includes squash, cucumber, zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, cantaloup, honey dew melon, pole beans, lima beans, sugar snap peas and cucuzza or “cucuzzi,” a long, green Italian squash with a snow-white flesh.

“My dad loves cucuzzi,” he said. “Grandma used to grow them.”

After the visit to his garden, Alello headed back to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on his dinner. He found David Alello grated lots of Romano cheese over the pasta dish. “Our grandma bought Romano cheese by the 5-pound bag, and it had to be from Schwegmann’s,” he said.

What are his favorite choices for adding flavor to foods?

“Chunky blue cheese imparts a great flavor, olives and vanilla beans in anything, well, any desserts,” he said.

Soon Alello gathered his family in the old house’s large dining room where they offered a prayer of thanks and shared their Father’s Day dinner.