For decades, I have enjoyed the highly addictive salt and pepper shrimp at Chicago’s Moon Palace. For the uninitiated, salt and pepper is a style of Chinese cooking where the food is crispily fried, tossed in a spice mixture, then combined with sauteed garlic, onion, ginger, and hot peppers. It’s a preparation I long and crave for like some people do sweets. There’s something absolutely magical about the combination of sharp, pungent, and salty flavors with crunchy textures. And if you are into that, then Moon Palace is the place to be. Their menu boasts of at least ten different salt and pepper preparations to choose ranging from tofu, squid to my second all-time favorite, salt and pepper pork chops. …
Fear? I am not sure if fear is the right word. I do have a certain nervousness with butterflies that usually accompanies anything exciting and worthwhile in life. The nervousness of when you push off from familiar shores losing sight of land with the full expectation that what I am searching for is only a horizon away. Fear implies being scared, and that just isn’t what I mean. From the first moment I saw the ad I knew fate once again had landed me where I belonged.
The ad started with ” Authentic and Diverse Mediterranean Culinary Vision… Progressive with Authentic Traditional Roots… French, Spanish, Italian, Sicilian, Greek, Middle Eastern and Moroccan Culinary components. Premium Ingredients. Period. Food — Fresh Authentic, Bright, Clean Simplicity, Flavors Typical of Food and Life in the Mediterranean. ” How could I not respond, the ad had almost seemed like a challenge written personally for me. All that lacked was my name being mentioned.
Zinc Bar Top just installed today
View across the Bar and out to the Dining Area
My Universo Tuscany 180 Wood Burning Rotisserie and Grill
Reclaimed Wood and Onyx Wall in rear of restaurant
If you have ever lived through a restaurant opening you know it is fraught with roller coaster ups and and fantastic free falls down. One moment you are putting in 20 hour days expecting to open next week, than a moment later some unforeseen delay has delayed that for a month. Every single time I have gone through this there is that aspect of hurry up and wait. Pili Pili was scheduled to open in August of 2002 and it was April 1st, 2003 when the doors finally opened. Figue is no different in that aspect. The huge difference is myself and my approach to the job at hand.
A lot of why I am here is because of a scratch left unitched in Chicago back in 2004. Pili Pili in a lot of ways was my dream job where that 15 minutes the world seemed to be listening to my heart existed. A place where for a while it seemed all my dreams of authoring cook books, food histories, possible travel programs and most importantly cooking the food I was made to cook was possible. The creation and concept flowed from my heart. Pili Pili, as Pat Bruno so kindly wrote in his review for the Chicago Sun Times, “is also all about the Mediterranean, literally. The menu roams up and down the coastline like a luxury yacht. France, Italy and Spain are the main ports of call, but even that is not enough for this ship of cools.” For whatever reason it just wasn’t meant to be. I would say the main problem was a lack of the proper chemistry between the principles. In retrospect, I had some more living to do and life experiences to learn. It is amazing what ten years, an incredibly happy life with my wife Lisa and a young son to care for can do for your thinking.
Let me be clear Figue is not Pili part deux. I have a newer wider approach encompassing far more than I even knew existed back then. I am super excited to pair up with Lee Morcus and our new director of operations, Phil Roberson. There is a chemistry there that I haven’t experienced with other owners and managers I have worked with in the past. Two weeks and we begin kitchen training. The butterflies and nervousness is here, in a good way. I wake up at two am thinking about how menu items will play out or the missing drain under the pasta cooker and how we can work around it rather than fearing some demon lurking in the dark recesses of my mind.
Lee’s final words in his ad read “No Compromise of Excellence”… Words that inspire me to achieve what I am capable of and to push me to my destiny!
Artichoke Tarte Tatin is perhaps my all time favorite recipe to make and eat. I actually owe my marriage and consequently my son to the merits of this dish. I originally developed it while Chef at Pili Pili restaurant in River North, Chicago for an article appearing in Chef Magazine. They were writing a feature on goat cheese and I wanted to do something a little different. After the shoot, I kept refining and updating it and eventually it became our biggest seller, I started serving about 72 tarts a night in a 120 seat restaurant. …