“I thought I would always be cooking French food until one day I ended up in Japan and changed course,” says Mark Hellyar, executive chef and partner of Momotaro in Chicago.
Hellyar began his culinary journey like many—in French cuisine.
He studied French cookbooks and began his career by working under Chef Michel Richard at Citronelle in Washington, D.C. He worked his way up the ladder with each new role after that. Hellyar became chef de cuisine at the country’s first certified-organic eatery, Restaurant Nora before moving to England to work under renowned chef and molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck.
Before he got recruited by the interior designer Tony Chi to work as the head chef in one his Tokyo establishments, Hellyar had returned to Washington, D.C. from England to become the founding chef de cuisine at Blue Duck Tavern. Under Hellyar’s leadership, the restaurant made Gayot’s list of Top 10 New Restaurants in America.
While in Tokyo, Hellyar worked at Oak Door, Keyekazaka, and Shunbou. Through his experiences, he gained a deep appreciation of Japanese dining, culture, and way of life.
“I just saw like the difference in quality in all the ingredients around me. All the fruit, vegetables, things like that… it’s treated completely different, a whole different respect for ingredients,” said Chef Hellyar about the way the Japanese approach food. “Where we simmer stocks, there they boil them. The way you break down a fish, it’s completely different… you really have to train yourself... retrain yourself.”
Now, as the executive chef of the West Loop Chicago restaurant, Momotaro, Hellyar prides himself in his minimalistic style of cooking. For him it’s about “really focusing and honing in on the one core ingredient.”
The concept for Momotaro originated from Hellyar’s desire to showcase the food of the modern Japanese culture. This desire coincided with the plans of Boka Restaurant Group’s Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz which ultimately lead to today’s partnership and the first modern Japanese restaurant, according to the restaurant’s website.
Learn more about Chef Mark Hellyar and how Momotaro remains unique by watching the video above!