Dish Flash: Ten Questions for Graham Elliot
Dish: What has changed at Graham Elliot under Brochu?
Graham Elliot: He has completely revamped the menu as well as hired on new staff in the kitchen. He has reworked where the stations are in the kitchen. I’ve really given him a lot of freedom to let him make the kitchen his own. I am not cooking and putting out all the food. There is also one point I would like to get across. With the exception of six weeks when I film MasterChef in L.A., I am in Chicago the other 46 weeks a year. There seems to be an idea that if you are on TV or if you have an increased presence in the media that you are all over the country and doing different things. The fact is that I have one restaurant and one sandwich shop located four blocks from each other.
D: Has Grahamwich been doing what you wanted it to?
GE: It’s done great. While the prices may be higher than other places, we are using products from the farmers’ markets, wagyu beef, and Berkshire pork. We trusted that people taste the difference and understand. It’s not like we are making a trillion dollars and are going to retire next year off of Grahamwich. The idea was more of a side project, [like] if you were in a rock band, but you really love electronic music and want to play in that vein.
D: Any plans to expand Grahamwich?
GE: We’re looking to branch out into retail for sodas initially. We’ve also looked at opportunities at the airport and having items there that are premade and reloaded throughout the day. Popcorn and sodas there as well. [And] this summer we will launch the Grahamobile [with] a little basket with bottles of soda and bags of popcorn and sandwiches and drive around the city and offer them at different spots. Kind of the green-friendly version of your food trucks.
D: What makes it green?
GE: The fact that it’s a bicycle.
D: What’s G.E.B. going to be like?
GE: The idea was to take what Graham Elliot the restaurant was and flip it on its head. As Graham Elliot focuses on multicourse tasting menus and refinement and artistry, G.E.B. will be doing no more than three ingredients on a plate with fundamental techniques and seasonally driven cuisine that highlight the craft of cooking as opposed to the artistry. We are looking at appetizers between $6 and $10 and all entrées at $20 or below.
D: What’s my dream meal at G.E.B.?
GE: Fresh homemade ricotta with salt-roasted beets and olive oil. Crispy chicken thigh that‘s been perfectly roasted with chanterelles and a green-garlic chicken jus. For dessert, a little paper sack full of hot beignets filled with a little molten gianduja and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
D: How many seats at G.E.B.?
GE: Looking at around 60 in the restaurant and another 60 outdoors. And the courtyard we will be sharing with Nellcôte and [Brendan] Sodikoff’s new restaurant [tentatively called Pizzeria Cella].
D: What will the décor look like?
GE: Our restaurant will almost have a church theme. Church meets rock-and-roll. You are going to have reclaimed church pews as the banquettes. You are going to have the confessional screen wrapping around the kitchen, which exposes halfway into the dining room. My brother who is an artist in Colorado makes those traditional Catholic saint candles, where you [normally] have different saints and the Virgin Mary and stuff on them, but we will have Michael Jordan, Mayor Emanuel, Grant Achatz, the rock star Chicagoans. And other chefs and people that we admire. We’re doing it as an homage to them.
D: What will the cocktails be like at G.E.B.?
GE: Similar to the new place that the Melman boys are doing [under the upcoming Bub City on Clark Street in River North]. We will have a lot of Hawaiian- and tiki-inspired drinks. And we will also be serving wine by the pitcher. Pitchers for wines and beer in cans only. We are done with Ball jars and Edison light bulbs and small plates.
D: Will you have retro cocktails?
GE: No. There is not going to be anyone with Civil War–era mustaches or ironic bowties or button-up vests.