Miami alumnus Roger Sherman ’01 has a special connection to his family’s Christmas dinner
By Jesus F. Jimenez, assistant director of editorial services
Roger Sherman ’01 was born on Christmas Day.
After his mother, Vivica, went into labor while she was cooking Christmas dinner, the family rushed to the hospital. On the way there, Roger’s father, Roger Sherman Sr., realized the turkey was still in the oven and had no choice but to call a neighbor to break into the house and shut it off.
“The long-running joke is that I owed everybody Christmas dinner,” Sherman said.
“Years later, I had my own house and hosted Christmas dinner, and this was my chance to make it happen. I ended up smoking the turkey and my mother tried it for the first time.”
That good-natured family joking motivated Roger to learn how to cook. Several other life experiences have pushed him to be the man he is today, from serving as the president of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at Miami University to having a child during his junior year.
Roger, a product director for Asurion insurance during the week and owner of District Pit Catering in Washington, D.C., looks back on his journey while sharing his recipe for that savory smoked turkey.
“My enjoyment of cooking goes all the way back to my mom picking on me about being able to cook because I had ruined Christmas dinner,” Roger said.
“My drive for running my business goes back to that collegiate experience that shaped my life.”
‘A hodgepodge of other ethnicities’
Roger’s journey to Miami was unique. His time at Miami was life changing.
Growing up in a predominantly Black town in inner-city Washington, D.C., Roger started expanding his horizons when he attended a boarding school in Milwaukee. By the time he got to Miami, he saw a whole new world.
“My school in Washington, D.C., was about 99.5% Black, and my boarding school in Milwaukee gave me a glimpse of what the real world looked like: 40% white, 30% Hispanic and the remaining 30% was a hodgepodge of ethnicities including Black and Asian, etc.,” Roger said.
“When I got to Miami, it took me on a path where it weaned me off of what I knew being an inner-city kid.”
Roger learned about Miami University through the “I Am Miami” initiative to increase diversity.
Once he was at Miami, Roger saw a world he had never seen before.
“My Miami Experience put me in a very different situation, but those were things that I was able to navigate,” he said.
“It showed me, ‘Hey, you’re going to find yourself in some situations where you’re going to be the only Black person in the room,’ and that basically describes the first five years of my corporate career.”
Roger initially planned on studying athletic training but switched to a psychology major. During his junior year, he experienced the life-changing milestone of becoming a father to his daughter Katiri.
‘The defining moment in my life’
Roger was balancing fatherhood with 16-18 credit hours a semester, 30 hours of work a week selling treadmills and returning to campus to put his baby to bed.
“You are 19 years old and all of a sudden you find out you are going to be somebody‘s father, you are going to be responsible for somebody’s well-being, you are going to have to make sacrifices that you’re not necessarily prepared to make at this time,” Roger said.
He considered various scenarios: Drop out and get a job; drop out and join the military; or transfer closer to home where he may have a better support system.
“That was probably the defining moment, not only in my collegiate experience but probably also in my life, because I have responsibilities that other people my age don’t have,” he said.
“At that time, I was 20 years old and had a child who I had to provide for, and none of my other friends had that. Now that I’m 40, I have a daughter whose college tuition I’m paying, and all of my other friends have elementary age children.”
Roger now has two daughters, and a they got older, he started thinking about how to pay for their education.
“I decided that I’m going to make a run at catering, and that’s what I did,” he said.
‘… the way it was meant to taste …’
The District Pit was born in 2016. Roger and family cater events for anywhere between 10 and 400 people, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the business switched over to selling platters. A specific wood is used for each type of meat, and Roger is very specific on the amount of time he brines each meat. Ribs are his specialty, but he’ll smoke anything you can imagine. Pizza. Chilli. Pulled pork. Salmon. Turkey. Venison. Alligator. Mac and cheese.
All of the money from District Pit goes into a college savings account for his two daughters.
“Whatever you eat, somebody has eaten that before – there aren’t a whole bunch of new animals running around,” Roger said. “The appliances in our kitchen are what, maybe 100 years old? Fire is hundreds of thousands of years old. Whatever it is, it was supposed to be cooked over fire, and if you cook it over fire, it’s going to taste the way that it was meant to taste.”
From the day he was born, Roger was meant to cook. There’s no getting away from the smoker – even if he paid his dues by cooking the holiday dinner.
“I thought that took me off the hook,” he said, “but no, now I’m just responsible for cooking the turkey forever.”
Miami University has a wide range of alumni working in the food industry. As we near the holiday season, we are highlighting a few of those alumni and asking them to share their favorite holiday dishes so that you can make them at home. This is the third and final story in the series. In case you missed them, check out our story on Sarah Black ’76, who has made a career out of breadmaking, and on Leigh Barnhart Ochs ’83, the director of the cooking school at Jungle Jim’s.
Savory smoked turkeyBrine
- One cup salt
- One cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- One liter cold water
- Mix until salt and sugar dissolve
- Place thawed turkey in the mixture and refrigerate overnight.
- Wash brine mixture off of turkey in the morning.
- Cover the turkey with olive oil.
- Season the turkey with salt, pepper and garlic.
- Set up the grill for indirect heating (all of the coals on one side of the grill).
- Bring the grill temperature up to 275.
- Place turkey on the opposite side of the grill.
- Cover grill and walk away.
- Monitor internal temperature of the turkey until it hits 165 degrees.
- Pull turkey and cover in foil for 30 minutes before carving.