Chefs

The Menu at Oriole Chicago: Behind the Windy City’s Hottest Tasting Experience

The 13th of 15 courses to arrive at the table of fine-dining West Loop newcomer Oriole is “Gianduja.” Named for a milk chocolate composed of 30% hazelnuts, it is technically a cheese course that’s meant to be picked up and eaten in one or two bites. It vaguely resembles a cheese board — a thin pretzel lavash dolloped with hazelnut chocolate cremeux, Raclette cheese, and black currant sorbet with fragrant nasturtium and dots of lavender gastrique. And in a previous version, it was. But, like everything on the menu at this imaginative restaurant from executive chef/owner Noah Sandoval (of the now-shuttered Senza) and pastry chef-partner Genie Kwon (Boka, Eleven Madison Park), it evolved.

“(The Gianduja) is a pretty big evolution from how we first presented the cheese course, literally, on a wood board,” says Kwon. “But we kind of took that philosophy of taking things with really delicious flavors on their own, making them taste as much like themselves as possible, then combining, re-hashing, and improving them. The guest gets all these flavors in one bite that holds together miraculously.”

oriole chicago

It was a group effort — involving discussions weighing whether to combine the cheese and chocolate courses and how to make the Raclette taste more Raclette-y (salt!), plus plenty of tinkering from sous chef-baker John Gorr (Publican Quality Meats) to create an edible ledge out of flatbread.

But collaboration and constant fine-tuning are the pillars of this intimate, 28-seat restaurant and its $175 tasting menu. For the four friends behind Oriole — Sandoval, Kwon, general manager Cara Sandoval (Sandoval’s wife), and sous chef Tim Flores — it represents the realization of Sandoval’s longtime dream for a restaurant with “as many courses as it takes” to fulfill and stretch the team creatively, while also simply “making guests happy.”

“It’s food we’re excited about, that we would want to eat,” he says.

Like other tasting menus, there are crescendos — like the salty, acidic steelhead trout capped with smoked roe and served with artichoke-marjoram broth. Seasons play a part in what appears on the plate, too, though Sandoval notes, “You’d never see me change the entire menu for spring or fall — that scares me.”

Oriole Chicago

There are also plenty of seeming miscalculations that make total sense in actuality. For instance, the house sourdough arrives smack dab in the middle of the meal — “to bring your palate back down a bit” between a brightly acidic Alaskan king crab course and that smoky, salty trout. Creamy, umami-rich uni is followed by even more decadent foie gras. But for Sandoval, who cut his teeth dazzling diners at Michelin-starred (and undetectable for many) gluten-free Senza, it’s as much about how things flow together as what constitutes them individually.Continue Reading

Like Father, Like Son: For Father and Son Chefs, Cooking Is a Family Affair

Being a great cook might not be a genetically inherited trait, but having a parent who is a gifted chef definitely helps. In honor of Father’s Day, we talked to a trio of father and son chefs, the latter of which credit their dads’ work in kitchens for their own culinary success. These three sons are shining brightly as they carry on the family business.

Father and Son Chefs

Fabio and Luca Trabocchi

Fabio Trabocchi has a James Beard Award and has been named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef. But the chef-owner of Fiola, Fiola Mare, and Casa Luca in Washington, D.C., didn’t want to push either of his children to become chefs. Nonetheless, when his son, Luca, turned four, Fabio put him to work doing small tasks to help make Sunday suppers at home. By age six, Luca was using a dull knife to cut up ingredients. A year later, he asked his father if he could join him in the kitchen at Fiola. “I saw how hard he worked,” says Luca, who is now 12-years-old. “I thought what he was doing was pretty cool.”

The young toque started working the pastry station because his mother, Maria, didn’t want him next to open flames and hot grills in the kitchen. The pastry team taught him how to make a multitude of treats, including macarons, ice cream, chocolates, and bomboloni. The experience proved equally enriching for Fabio but on a different level. “Luca reminds me of the joy of being in the kitchen,” he says. “It’s refreshing and energizing.”

As Luca grew up, he helped his father with more complex cooking, such as grilling fish at the end of service when the kitchen calmed down or coming in early to help him make pasta from scratch. As they worked together side by side, his father has taught him culinary skills and imprinted his overriding philosophy of never giving up. “Cooking is an art,” says Luca. “There are mistakes you have to make in order to learn how to do it right.”

Luca still isn’t sure if he wants to pursue a career as a chef, but Fabio is content knowing his son will know how to cook a meal – and a good one, at that – after his training. “I just want him to be happy,” says Fabio. “I found ‘my voice’ through what I do. If he feels the same way, he’s more than welcome to have a career in the kitchen. If he doesn’t, that’s okay, too.”

Father and Son Chefs

Martial and Mathieu Noguier

Growing up, Mathieu Noguier spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his father, three-time James Beard Award nominee Martial Noguier and chef-owner of Chicago’s bistronomic. His dad would place him up on the pass, so Mathieu could watch the action unfold. When he was six-years-old, his father gave him a more active role by moving him to the pastry kitchen, where Mathieu would be charged with making macarons, madeleines, and soufflés. Occasionally, when he was bored with baking, Mathieu would be placed on salad duty. He helped out in this capacity until he was a teenager, but it didn’t inspire any desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I didn’t want to work in the industry,” he says. “I saw how hard it was and I knew the hours he was working. I wanted to stay away from all that. Plus, everybody who was doing it told me not to do it, so I figured they knew what they were talking about.”

When it came time to think about a career, he enrolled at King’s College in New York City and began working toward getting a degree in economics. However, the coursework didn’t ignite his interest. Mathieu began cooking at home to relax after class and finally decided to take a break from school to try his hand at cooking professionally. Back at his father’s restaurant, he began helping out with the morning prep work and doing the dishes. “My father is an old school guy, so he wanted me to start at the bottom,” he says.

He didn’t want his first full-time culinary job to be with his dad, though, so he pulled some strings to score at job at Melisse in Santa Monica, California. After that, he began a two-year stint working under his father at bistronomic.

His father likes to dole out lessons to the now 22-year-old chef, who recently took a break from the family business to do stages at In de Wulf in Heuvelland, Belgium, and Pottoka in Paris. “He’s entered his sage era,” says Mathieu. “The one piece of advice he’s given me that has made the biggest difference is that people who are successful are the people who are on time. He’s also always told me that cooking is easy; managing is the hard part.”Continue Reading

Pim Techamuanvivit on Kin Khao, Starting with What You Don’t Know + Breaking the Mold for Thai Cuisine

Pim Techamuanvivit grew up in Bangkok and has been an internationally renowned tastemaker with stints as a food blogger, author, and jam maker. But her greatest achievement to date may be as an award-winning restaurateur in San Francisco at Kin Khao. Opening its doors in 2014, Kin Khao (which literally means “eat rice”) quickly earned a well-deserved Michelin star. Here, she speaks with contributor Amy Sherman about her journey into the hospitality industry, her much-lauded, flavorful fare, and future plans for her acclaimed eatery. 

Pim Techamuanvivit

What prepared you most for being a restaurateur?

Everything prepared me! I’m not self taught; I learned from everybody and stole from everybody. Cooking Thai food is just cooking. What gave me the confidence was jam making. I was cooking for friends and family, and they loved it. And then when I made jam, it was so well received. So I thought, “Maybe I can try this.” It gave me the confidence to go professional. I’m a much better Thai cook than I am a jam maker. Also, I have something to contribute. I really feel like I have something to contribute to the conversation. It’s not just me; I’m a link in a very long chain. I don’t want the flavors I grew up on to disappear.

When I decided to get serious about it, I sat down and started a list of things I didn’t know — that was probably the smartest thing. There were things I knew nothing about, like running a professional kitchen, then I just worked my way through it. So it became like my road map.

It’s easy to look at a restaurant and think it’s so easy. People think it’s like having a dinner party every day when really it’s about putting trash bags into cans into every day.

Was finding the food you want to eat the motivation behind the restaurant?

Yes! You know, a lot of chefs, they are motivated by wanting to feed people. I like cooking for friends, but it’s more about wanting to feed me! I want the food to be available to me and others. I’m from Bangkok so I was exposed to food from everywhere. The menu is not really all Eastern or Southern Thai. I don’t understand why people aren’t making the food I want to eat.

Are there particular things that you find to be the most frustrating about being a restaurateur?

Having people think of it as not valued. For instance, why is my rabbit curry $32? It is because it’s almost an entire rabbit in a bowl; where else can you get that? At Saison, maybe. It feeds several people. There’s a lot of work going into it. The quality compares to any of the best restaurants. So, it’s disheartening. There are 29 ingredients in the Massaman curry paste — made from scratch. That’s the part that I struggle with. At the same time, I am sticking to my guns. This is how I’m going to do it. Our average check average is $40 or so per person. That includes drinks and food! Because we’re Thai, people don’t value it. I have to make peace with that.

Pim Techamuanvivit

What dishes are you most proud of on your menu?

It changes, but right now, all of the curries, because it’s so hard to get them right. I remember before we opened, I talked to distributors for things like fish sauce with lists with curry pastes. I told them I was making my curry pastes from scratch. They were shocked because it’s difficult and hard to get consistent. Thai ingredients are not standardized, such as chiles and lemongrass. If you ask my kitchen, they will say the curry station is the beast. It’s hard to get right. Everything we do is something we want to get right.

Why do you think so many Thai restaurants follow a formula of serving the same dishes?

A lot of Thai restaurants are not opened by people with culinary training in the cuisine; they are immigrants who want to open businesses. They are constrained by what they think people want. They think the “American taste” is going to keep them in business. Another constraint is what people value in ethnic cuisine. People think ethnic food has to be cheap. So they are constrained by that. You can’t do things from scratch, you can’t buy good ingredients if you are trying to be cheap. So they buy cheap prepped food. But you see it changing with some restaurants using good ingredients and better techniques. We are breaking the mold. I wanted to see if I could make it economically viable.Continue Reading

Talking Shop with Stephanie Izard: On Goat, Being Recognized at the Airport + ‘Reasonably Authentic’ Chinese Food

Talking Shop with Stephanie Izard: On Goat, Being Recognized at the Airport & “Reasonably Authentic” Chinese Food

Chef Stephanie Izard is not short on accolades. In addition to being named winner of Bravo’s Top Chef — along with being named fan favorite (she had my vote) — she earned James Beard’s Best Chef: Great Lakes award in 2013 and Food & Wine’s Best New Chef title in 2010.

The awards are well deserved. Izard is the Executive Chef/Partner of three beloved Chicago restaurants: Girl & the Goat, Little Goat (a diner and bakery), and her latest, Duck Duck Goat, an ode to what she calls “reasonably authentic” Chinese food. The menu boasts a menu of delights including Duck Eggrolls Nom‎ Wah style; Sichuan Eggplant & Goat Sausage; Sanbeiji (Taiwanese 3-cup chicken); and Slap Noodles with shrimp, goat sausage, eggplant, and mushroom. Bring it.

Andrea Strong spoke to Izard, who was very pregnant with her first baby due in late May, about becoming famous, naming her restaurant after a goat, and what to eat when you’re expecting.

Talking Shop with Stephanie Izard: On Goat, Being Recognized at the Airport & “Reasonably Authentic” Chinese Food

Growing up in Connecticut, how did you get into food?

I always think that chefs either grew up eating really good food or really bad food and had to learn to cook in order to eat. In my case, luckily, my mom was a great cook. She was always making things from all over the world. She was really into Asian food and would make tempura, moo shu pork, even sushi, alongside things like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. We would make a menu for the week and hang it on the fridge. My friends could look at it and decide what looked good and when they wanted to come over.

When did you know food would be your life?

I was the kid who was always watching Julia Child, but back in the early ’90s being a chef was not what people think it is today. It was not really a career. So my plan was to go to college and get a business degree.

And I guess looking back on it, I found a roundabout way to get into business. I went to the University of Michigan, and let’s just say it was a lot of fun (maybe a little too much fun for me) and I didn’t get into business school. I graduated and I felt lost. My dad actually suggested cooking school. He was the one who said, ‘You’ve always loved to cook, why not try it?’

Did you have an ‘Aha!’ moment where you knew it was the right decision? Continue Reading