Is there such a thing as typical Chicago cuisine?
To tell the truth, Chicago cuisine has two sides to it. The one, that I call "old school" cuisine, is famous for its generous steaks and pizzas which continue to be very popular. However, there is also another more modern type of Chicago cuisine, which has blossomed over the last ten years or so. I'd say that Chicago is becoming home to a new gastronomy. As confirmation of this, I only need mention the James Beard Award, which is like our equivalent of the Michelin stars. The award ceremony is now held in Chicago, rather than in New York, as it was previously.
How would you define your own cuisine?
It should prompt a smile, but also questions. I want my guests to know what they are eating and also ask themselves "But, how do they do that?" My idea is to use ingredients people know, but also try to surprise them by being clever and combining different techniques. In our current menu, for example, my favorite dish is our foie gras au torchon, poached in duck fat, which isn't a traditional way of preparing it, and served with our own home-made cheddar doughnuts, a microwave apricot Savoy sponge cake (that's the only way of obtaining that special texture), apple jam and fried garlic. These are all classic ingredients, but we work them in our own distinctive way and use modern culinary techniques.
You won the starchefs.com Rising Star 2015 award. What is it?
Starchefs is one of the United States' leading online food magazines. Every three years, in Chicago, it awards the Rising Star to eight chefs it considers the best in each of their fields. I think the jury was charmed by the way we produce some of our ingredients and revisit traditional cuisine to create elegant, modern dishes. I'd like to add that two months ago we were also awarded four diamonds by the AAA, the American Automobile Association.
You say "we", so is it a collective achievement?
Yes, I'm lucky to have a fantastic team to develop our recipes with. My twelve cooks hail from very different places, for example Canada, China, the United States, France, and Mexico. This creates diversity in our kitchen and allows me to learn as much as I can, because it's my philosophy to be open to all influences and all techniques. Often, I given them an idea and we start by preparing it to test it, then together we criticize it and improve it until the dish is just right. In that way, I continue to experiment and learn from others. That's what I enjoy about cooking.
What's the best thing we could wish for you?
To continue to learn and, one day, to win a Michelin star!