Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chef Spotlight: Greg Biggers of Cafe des Architectes in Chicago

Chef Biggers
I'm super excited to share our first Chef Spotlight - and equally so because we are featuring culinary genius, Chef Greg Biggers, of Cafe des Architectes in Chicago.

Chef Greg Biggers
Theron and I fell in love with this restaurant a couple years ago - and met the chef not long after discovering it.  How that came about?  We ordered many appetizers and small plates and the chef wanted to know who was doing this crazy ordering - because, he said, that's the same way he likes to order!

For this article, my notes will be written to help explain people and phrases.

Without further adieu, let's meet Chef Biggers!

V: Can you tell us a little about your educational and working background in the food industry?

CG: I started washing dishes in Alabama where I was born and raised at 15. I have been in the kitchen ever since. I started my first cooking job at 18 and met my first real chef, Matthew Wood, who encouraged me to get out of Alabama and go to culinary school.

I went to school at Johnson and Wales in Charleston, South Carolina, where I worked as a baker at Blossom’s Café. While in Charleston I had the opportunity of becoming sous chef at McCrady’s which became one of the great learning points in my career.

I met Chef Rick Tramonto shortly after my third year at McCradys at a food and wine event were he gave me the chance to go stagiere at TRU in Chicago.

(Stagiere is basically an apprenticeship, and Rick Tramonto was then the co-owner and head chef at TRU - where he and TRU both won James Beard awards.)

CG: I left Charleston shortly after that meeting and became chef de partie at TRU for a year.

(Chef de partie is a position in a kitchen where a chef is a 'line cook' of sorts. They have their own station/area of food production they are responsible for. In large kitchens they may have other cooks and helpers to aid them.)

V: What was it about Tramonto that inspired you to head to Chicago so quickly?

CG: At the time TRU was one of the top restaurants in the country. It was the first time I had ever been in a  kitchen with 25+ cooks working service that produced such extravagant foods. TRU had all the luxury touches: an amazing cheese program, Versace plate ware, copper pots, whole lobes of foie gras served prepared at the table. It was over the top!

Foie gras from my trip to TRU in spring 2009
V: Wow! That  does sound exciting for an up and coming chef.  What did you learn from Tramonto?

CG: He taught me a lot about kitchen systems and being organized. He was definitely an idea guy.  After being there a year, I was offered a position at Morimoto in Philadelphia as the Executive sous chef. This would become one of the most eye opening experiences I would have as a cook. After being with Chef Morimoto, I received a call from Rick Tramonto to come back to the Chicago area and open up his new concept: Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood and RT Lounge.  After a few other executive chef positions in the city I found my home here at Café des Architectes.

(A Sous Chef is the Head chef's right-hand man. A larger restaurant, such as Morimoto, has several sous chefs in charge of carrying out the chef's commands, making sure the line is functioning efficiently, that the inventory is correct, etc. Chef Morimoto is best known as being the Iron Chef, but got his start as a chef in Japan, and even worked as a chef at Nobu before opening his namesake restaurant in Philly, and later, NYC.)

Myself, my husband, and our friend outside Cafe des Architectes
V: What was it like working under Chef Masaharu Morimoto?

CG: Simply amazing. That was by far the hardest, yet most rewarding position I have ever had. It was my first time submerged completely in such a different culture. Having been given the executive sous chef position, there were a lot of Japanese cooks that really expected me to know “everything Japanese.”  Needless to say, it was a very tough first 3 months.
Chef Morimoto

After that I really was able to understand and gain the respect of the other Japanese cooks working there. Morimoto was very demanding. He is one of those few “celebrity chefs” that can walk back on the line after being away from the restaurant for months and bang it out with the cooks and have service be flawless. He was able not only to speed up the pace of the cooks but he would work a station and produce the most immaculate plates of fish you have ever seen. I have much respect for him to this day.

V: That's really great to hear! I had the pleasure of dining at his restaurant in New York when he was there, and the food really was exceptional. Do you have any early memories of being interested in cooking or inspired by food at a young age?

CG: Not really. Let’s not forget I am from po-dunk Alabama... food was a necessity, not an art form. My mother always cooked for us but it was never very inventive. I remember making chicken & dumplin's’ with her on Saturdays but that was the extent of our mother-son cooking rituals.

V: My mom's from Alabama too, but I grew up loving her food.  Then again, it was pretty inventive, and delicious, so I count myself as being very lucky. Do you find yourself leaning toward any type of food, or any of the food movements happening right now? If so, what and why?

CG: I despise the “bone marrow and toast trend.”  I love the fact there are a bunch of chefs opening up fast food chicken shacks… that would be on my list of places I would like to own.

V: That's so funny that you say you're from po-dunk Alabama and want to open a fast food chicken  shack!  But I'm kinda glad to hear you aren't a fan of the "bone marrow and toast" fad, because I don't care much for it either.

Moving on, when you feel like experimenting, what inspires you?

CG: Food… Seriously, the products inspire me. When I develop menu items the first thing I do is go stand in the produce walk-in or begin to break down a fish or some meat. Getting my hands in there starts the ideas coming.

V: Wow that's really interesting!  Kind of like an artist looking at a pallet of paints or getting his hands in clay to see what he can come up with.

Now onto a question none of my at-home chefs have liked much: How do you feel about the term 'foodie'?

CG: Ehhhh. Everyone’s a foodie… if you have access to yelp these days you’re a foodie…….. “Hi Chef! I’m a foodie, but I’ll have my steak well done, nothing raw, sauce on side, with a side of ketchup.” Gotcha, foodie…

V: Hahah!! Ouch! But I can definitely see where you're coming from. While I would never mess with your truly inspired cooking, I do miss your oysters with creme fraiche and caviar! I love them so much, I even put them in my blog's banner! (By the way, my quaint yelp review of Cafe des Architectes is here;))

I am now going to insert a couple pix of your food to make some mouths water at home.

watermelon and tomato with balsamic-infused caviar
Beloved creme fraiche and caviar covered oyster
V: Do you have any blogs you read, chefs you follow, etc?

CG: Thomas Keller is the man. Ideas in food is always good. As far as the “days of our lives” chef-centric blogs, I get my gossip from eater, 312dining diva, and grub street.

(Thomas Keller is of course the superstar who gave us The French Laundry, Per Se, and Bouchon. Per Se is still on my to-do list!)  

CG:I follow mostly my friends who are doing exciting things these days:  Bobby Truitt, who is the pastry chef for Michael White in NYC. Seth Musler is doing some really cool, casual places in Savannah, Georgia.  And my friends here locally who are on the path to owning Chicago: Jared Van Camp and Chris Pandel.

V: When you're not busy cooking, reading blogs, or swapping ideas with chef-friends, what are some of the local restaurants you might frequent?

GC: Spacca Napoli for pizza, Eleven City Diner for Sunday Brunch, Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf for the best roasted chicken on the planet, Hollywood Diner for a shake and a burger, Marge’s Candies for banana split, San Soo Gab San for late night Korean, Slurping Turtle for ramen.

V: Wow that's quite a varied selection!  Thanks for sharing.  I feel somewhat bummed I didn't interview you a couple years ago - a few of those places are in my old neighborhood!  If you guys reading this live in or near Chicago and would like to try some of Chef Biggers' fave places, I made a map for you!
Chef Greg, how do you feel about where you are now in your career?

CG: Every chef worth his salt always wants more. I am happy for where I am and what I have accomplished, but I always feel I can do better food than what I did yesterday. The day I lose that feeling is the day I’ll take up accounting…

V: Well-stated! What do you look for in the future?

CG: Just learning to cook better…

V: Hard to imagine! Your cooking is exceptional.

How we feel after a meal at Cafe des Architectes
V: Would you like to share a recipe with us today?

CG: Sure!  The recipe is for a Trio of Veal.

(I am going to post this the way Chef Biggers sent it to me. And believe you me, it does not sound simple! But any ambitious chefs out there should give it a try, and let me know how it turns out!)

But first, a picture of the finished product to inspire you:

Veal Trio
For the tenderloin:
1-3oz portion of cleaned and tied mother’s milk fed veal tenderloin
1 oz of lardo butter

Season tenderloin with kosher salt and black pepper. Sear on high heat in medium sauté pan on all sides until golden brown. Place in 350 degree oven and cook until medium rare (about 6 minutes). Remove from oven and place on paper towel to drain excess fats. Remove from towel and place on metal surface. Place sliced lardo butter on top of tenderloin and brulee with butane torch.

For lardo Butter:
2# softened lardo (this is what lardo is!)
#.25 softened butter

Leave both out at room temperature until very soft. Cut into small pieces and place in food processor. Blend on high until thoroughly incorporated. Remove and roll in plastic wrap to create a 1 inch tube. Place in freezer. When ready to prepare veal, remove and slice in .25 inch thick slices.

For Veal breast rillette:
1 bone in large veal breast
1 qrt rub
1 gallon chicken stock
2 qrts mirepoix (combination celery, carrots, and shallots)
3 sprigs thyme and rosemary

Clean excess fat off of veal breast. Rub with seasoning and store on sheet tray over night. Sear and reserve.

Roast mirepoix in same pan and deglaze with white wine and herbs. Reduce by half then add chicken stock.  Place veal breast in roasting plaque and place in 300 degree oven for 6 hours or until meat is very tender and falling off the bone. Cool in the liquid then remove from pan.

Remove all bones and shred meat.

Dice 1 cup of each (baby carrots, shallots, celery,) and sauté lightly. Add meat, sautéed vegetables, 1 cup fine herbs, 1 cup lemon confit, 1 whole egg, 1 cup liquefied duck fat, and 1 cup reduce braising liquid to large mixer attached with paddle. Mix until well incorporated and shredded. Remove and taste for seasoning. Form into square pieces and sear on high heat. Place in 350 degree oven until heated through.

Veal Brain Pate:
1# soaked in milk and cleaned veal brain
1.5# small diced veal tenderloin
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1T chopped fine herbs
2T chopped shallots
1T lemon confit
¼ cup roasted chopped pistachios

Place veal tenderloin in food processor and blend until paste. Slowly add the veal brain and blend until fully incorporated. Remove from food processor and place in large metal bowl. Fold in eggs and other ingredients. Place mixture in piping bag and fill small jars. Place jars in small hotel pan and fill with warm water ¾ of the way up the jars. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in 350 degree non convection oven for 15 minutes. Remove from water bath and cool.

For apricot sauce:
6 fresh apricots
1 T brown sugar
1tsp Cayenne Pepper
1T rice wine vinegar
¼ Virgin olive oïl

Peel apricots and place in cold smoker for 20 minutes. Remove and pit adding fruit to blender. Puree with remaining ingredients except for olive oil. Blend on high until completely smooth. Drizzle in olive oil slowly and season with salt and white pepper.

Beet reduction:
Peel and cut 2 large beets. Place in juicer. Place juice in small sauce pot with 1/cp sugar and 2 T balsamic vinegar and 2T red wine vinegar. Reduce until nappe consistency and cool. Place in squeeze bottle.

For Pistachio tuile: (tuile = thin, crispy, sweet or savory wafer)
½cp chick pea flour
½cp ap flour
½cp pistachio paste
½cp butter
1 cp Egg whites
1:1:1 ratio

Combine flours, melt butter and add to pistachio paste until smooth.  Add mixture slowly to flours.  Add egg whites until incorporated and mixture is smooth and shiny.  Press 1/3 of mix in between 2 silpats and roll with a rolling pin.  Freeze, pull off top silpat and cover with crumbled pistachios.  Bake at 280 degrees for 14 min.  Let cool and break to desired size.  Repeat with the remaining 2/3.



Good luck guys!

Now you know why we love his cooking so!

Thanks a lot Chef Greg! Can't wait to visit your restaurant again.  Keep us guessin'!

Bon Appetit!


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