Executive Chef, Caffè Baci

Kraft on Craft—Gimi Hamili Takes the Kraft Challenge

A chef at an Italian café finds inspiration with Kraft.

Nothing is better than a well-crafted sandwich. Nobody knows that better than Gimi Hamili. As corporate chef of six-unit Caffè Baci, he oversees the culinary operation that services Chicago's downtown core. From business folks to tourists and locals, the lunch menu offers its diverse clientele a high-mix menu that includes 20 paninis and 18 composed salads. His breakfast menu boasts 11 choices, including the Baci Bowl, which sees roast potatoes topped with scrambled eggs, cheddar, bacon and salsa. Catering is a lucrative culinary extension for Caffè Baci, providing corporate breakfasts, business luncheons and boardroom boxes to more than 200 people a day. Chef Hamili's goal, as it is with most chefs, is to provide good quality food at a good price while maintaining reasonable food costs. "It's a hard balance to strike," he says. "Working with Kraft has helped us there, and getting rebates on Kraft products we use a lot of really helps us watch the bottom line."

Hearing that Chef Hamili was a big fan of Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise and our line of Kraft Dressings, we asked him to create a recipe that would both offer a real-world menu solution and taste delicious. He came back to us with his Grilled Steak Fusion Panini. Since developing the recipe for us, he's added it to his catering menu. "It fits really well into a business-lunch menu—for those who are looking for something a little heartier and with a bit of a kick, but still want something portable and/or easy to eat," he says.

Grilled Steak Fusion Panini
Chef Hamili complements the flavors of the panini with a jalapeño mayonnaise, blending Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise with jalapeño, lime juice, white pepper, salt and garlic.

A hearty panini

Chef Hamili marinates skirt steak in Kraft Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette and Grey Poupon. "I did it first in just the dressing, which was nice and bright, but I wanted a little kick to it, so I added the Grey Poupon," he says. For the spread, he blends Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise with fresh garlic, lime juice and jalapeño. "I like Kraft's Mayo because it's consistently smooth and has a nice, clean taste," he says. The panini sees ciabatta slathered with the jalapeño mayonnaise, then topped with the marinated, grilled steak and Kraft American Cheese. Once baked off in the oven, he finishes the panini with fresh avocado, lettuce, tomato and cilantro.

See the recipe here.

Did You Know?

Here in North America we have borrowed the Italian word "panini." We use it to label sandwiches, usually made with Italian bread, that are pressed and served crisp, warm and flattened. And our version of "panini" has a loyal fan base. (What's not to love?) But "panini" actually just means small bread in Italian. It's the diminutive form of "pane." So, any small sandwich in Italy can be classified as "panini."

Even more inspiration with Kraft

Chef Hamili shares a few more successful dishes—all boasting the creamy consistency of Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise.

  1. Chicken Salad is diced chicken breast with celery, red onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper, hot sauce and Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise. "It's our top-performing salad," says Chef Hamili.
  2. Monterey Panini is a new panini, selling really well for Chef Hamili. It features applewood smoked ham, sharp provolone, avocado and tomatoes. The spread is a Pesto Mayo, made with Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise and prepared pesto sauce.
  3. Coast Panini is one of the more eclectic sandwiches on the menu board, combining salmon with marinated fennel, romaine, Roma tomato and Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise infused with the bright zing of lemon juice.

Behind the chef

Born in Cairo, but raised in Rome, Chef Hamili's passion for feeding people was born from family tradition. "My mother would send me to the fish market and the vegetable market when I was quite small, and cooking was always a family affair," he says. After a stint as executive chef at the famed La Spiaggia in Rome, he joined the team at Caffè Baci in 1994. Back then, there was only one location. Once the concept expanded, culinary operations moved to a central commissary, which feeds all six downtown units. "This way, I oversee the whole operation and know our dishes will be consistent across the whole field," says Chef Hamili.

Chef Hamili unplugged

"I get tremendous satisfaction from feeding people well," says Chef Hamili. "I never get tired of hearing how much they like it, too!" One of Caffè Baci's regular customers is Harpo Studios, home of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The restaurant provides boxed lunches for the studio audience.

Here are a few highlights from our interview with Chef Hamili:


If you were sent to a desert island, what 3 ingredients would you take with you?


Kraft Mayo, tomatoes and bread


What is your favorite kitchen tool?


My chef's knife—I can cut with my eyes closed!


Who would you most like to cook for?


I would like to cook for Barack Obama. He seems easygoing, and he definitely likes food!


Where was the last place you dined?


Goose Blind Grill & Bar in Green Lake, Wisconsin. I love their fresh, seasonal food. Their fried green beans are wonderful.


What is your favorite Kraft product?


Well, I love Kraft Mayo and use it in a lot of my paninis and salads. But I also really like Philly with Chives and Onion. For catering, we do stuffed cherry tomatoes: We hull the tomatoes, fill them with the cream cheese and garnish with chopped chives. I also really like the Kraft Greek Vinaigrette [with Feta]. We use it here to marinate chicken, and also as a salad dressing.

Wild Mushroom Breakfast Panini with Parmesan-Cream Cheese Spread

Kraft Culinary Centre Recipe

The panini is Caffè Baci's signature sandwich, bringing in a roaring trade. Here's one that our chefs at the Kraft Culinary Centre developed, which answers the all-day breakfast trend beautifully:
Wild Mushroom Breakfast Panini with Parmesan-Cream Cheese Spread

Chef Hamili - Caffè Baci