When Trends Rule, Chicago Chefs Go Against The Grain

Friendly competition continues to drive forward the Chicago food scene. On this episode of “Chef’s Alliance Round Table,” Paul Barron sits down with the Windy City’s top culinary movers and shakers to have a discussion about the food artisan movement, along other topics. 

Abraham Conlon, chef/owner of Fat Rice, believes chefs have a larger role when it comes to the future of the industry. “Chefs are always looking for the next thing… the next thing to impress and delight their guests,” said Conlon. He says his guest would respond positively after being introduced to a new ingredient from Southeast Asia, that he had incorporated to his menu after coming back from his travels.

When it comes to trends, most of the roundtable participants agreed that the ultimate goal is not to be trendy.

“I think everybody here wants to kind of go against the grain and kind of do your own thing, because everybody wants something unique,” said Jimmy Bannos Jr., chef and partner at The Purple Pig.

Proving this very point, Sarah Grueneberg, chef and partner at Monteverde, affirmed that authenticity is more important than being "trendy." “I think that the diner wants to come into your restaurant and feel like you’re cooking for them. And feel like you are in their home, in their place… If that can be successful long term then I would be very happy to not have to create a trendy concept,” added Grueneberg.

So is authenticity and diversity perhaps what makes Chicago such a culinary hub, then?

Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco, also jumped in the conversation, “It’s authenticity, but not in the old way of describing it. It’s authentic meaning you’re doing what you love, what’s right for you and that you are authentically putting that food on the table,” said Bayless. “Wherever you go in this town, you can find small restaurants doing something that’s very unique vision…”

To finalize the round table discussion, Barron touched on the subject of local ingredients and the ability to keep up with the current demand.

Bayless gave the example of his supplier, Nichols Farm & Orchard, located about one hour away from the city, and how they have grown tremendously in size in order to keep up with high demands for local produce.

When it come to localized farm-to-fork menu, Mike Sherin, executive chef at Billy Dec’s Rockit Bar and Grill, clarified “It’s about seasonality, it’s about purity with food… and really letting the actual fruit or vegetable or meat shine as it’s own..”