A Conversation with Thomas Keller on Baking

Five Questions for Thomas Keller
Keller, the chef at some of the world’s great restaurants, including Napa Valley’s French Laundry and New York’s Per Se, comes to town this weekend for a (sold out) dinner at the Bristol and a book-signing event at Balena for Bouchon Bakery

 

Five Questions for Thomas Keller

Keller, the chef at some of the world’s great restaurants, including Napa Valley’s French Laundry and New York’s Per Se, comes to town this weekend for a (sold out) dinner at the Bristol and a book-signing event at Balena (October 28, 1 p.m.) for Bouchon Bakery (Artisan, $50). The meet and greet includes desserts from the cookbook served with Champagne. Call 773-862-5555 for tickets ($75).

Dish: Who is the other name on the cover?
Thomas Keller: I’m very proud of our pastry chef and giving him the opportunity and the medium to write. I’m not a pastry chef. This is really about Sebastien Rouxel, and that’s why he has his name on the cover.
 
D: Is the book home baker friendly?
TK: Anyone who has some confidence and determination can make almost anything in the book. You have to realize that with any cookbook, your skills increase the more you practice. You will be able to achieve the quality of execution that’s in the picture, but that quality of execution takes years of practice. This book comes from professionals who wrote recipes based on the ability of someone who has patience and persistence to really execute it. You want to start with something really simple. Success plays a major role. If you’re not successful, you probably won’t use the cookbook again.
 
D: So, what’s a good recipe to start with?
TK: Start with the chocolate chip cookie recipe. It’s basic and simple—something you can wrap your arms around.
 
D: Why does the book include metric measurements?
TK: In a métier that is so precise, in our country we have done such a disservice to the consumer by continuing to tell them to use cups and tablespoons and teaspoons. It’s an absurd way to tell them about baking. If you want to be successful, buy a gram scale. Whatever you pay for the gram scale will be repaid in the success of baking.
 
D: What’s next for you?
TK: I’m happy where I am. [Our business has] enough restaurants. We’re really happy with the performance of them and want to stay focused on what we have.

 

Bon Voyage, Bonsoirée

Bonsoirée, the fine-dining spot in Logan Square that grew out of Shin Thompson’s underground supper club, closed October 13, after the new direction from the husband-and-wife chef team Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark fizzled out. “I thought the food was beautiful,” Kim says. “I stand behind the food we did there. It sparked a lot of great conversation about Korean food and high-end cooking, which I am proud to represent.” The only explanations offered are vague. “We just mutually decided to go separate ways,” Kim says. “Better now than later down the road.” Thompson says, “There were just a lot of things that went wrong. No one thing in particular.”

What’s next:
• Kim and Clark plan to announce their next project after the new year. “It’s in the elementary stages. It’s a really exciting, different way to look at restaurants,” she says.
• In addition to his still-developing West Loop project, Thompson plans to turn the Bonsoirée site into Table, Donkey and Stick (2728 W. Armitage Ave., no phone yet), a concept inspired by Alpine inns, and will choose its chef from a series of pop-up auditions in the space, a project we first read about on Grub Street. The name comes from a brothers Grimm fairy tale. Jon Keeley (Bonsoirée, Blackbird) and Scott Manley (El Ideas, Blackbird, Vie) will run the first two pop-ups on November 5 and 8, respectively. Three-course dinners will cost $15, and include bread service with rillettes. Reservations are available here.

 

Quotable

“You wouldn’t believe
On All Hallow Eve
What lots of fun we can make,
With apples to bob,
And nuts on the hob,
And a ring-and-thimble cake.”
Carolyn Wells (1862–1942), American author and poet

 

Ice, Ice, Ice, Baby

Last seen in Dish when its truck launched, the creative-frozen-treats business Ice³ will bring its operations in synch with its tagline (“Ice cream, ice pops, and ice lounge”), its three-faceted logo, and its exponent this winter. Using funds gathered through a Kickstarter campaign, Erika Stone-Miller, Ice³’s owner, will open a storefront (1509 W. Lawrence Ave., no phone yet) with 25 to 30 seats, a patio, and a liquor license. The lounge can do things the truck can’t, such as ice-cream sundaes, Few Spirits whiskey milk shakes, and floats made with espresso ice cream and Half Acre Chocolate Camaro Stout. “I’ve looked all over and haven’t found a place anywhere that does ice cream and cocktails and ice-cream cocktails,” Stone-Miller says. The looming showdown: whiskey burn versus brain freeze.

 

Updated Review: Thai Pastry

New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Thai Pastry maintained its one-star rating in the new review in the November issue, on newsstands now.

Thai Pastry (4925 N. Broadway, 773-784-5399). Thai.
★ (good)
¢ (under $20 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
The menu holds reliable renditions of standards but also offers a few surprises. Delicate steamed dumplings stuffed with chives (kuchai) or chicken and onion (cho mung) are good starters; noodle dishes and salads such as pla koong, a kicky mix of shrimp, vegetables, and hot peppers, also deliver. Curry lovers have many options, including bold kang mus sa mon and a green curry full of bamboo shoots, eggplant, and basil. Thai custard and delicate butter cookies beckon from the pastry case. Servers maintain enviable composure even under pressure.

For the dishes we liked best, click here.

 

Pastrami on Samurai

Serendipity drives the story of Hamachi Sushi Bar (2801 W. Howard St., 773-293-6904), a new kosher sushi restaurant open a month on the northern boundary of Chicago. First, faced with a vacancy, the building’s owners naturally thought of raw fish. “There was extra space, so they decided to open a sushi bar,” says Alisa Ungar-Sargon, an assistant to the owners. Then, one of the owners knew the sushi chef, Tee Shakya, from selling him a car and then eating his food at Blu Sushi in Evanston. Hamachi’s kosher menu, certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council, covers standard maki, nigiri, and sashimi but replaces trayf ingredients such as crab and shrimp with fish-based kosher alternatives. Ungar-Sargon recommends the Rising Hamachi maki, with imitation shrimp katsu, salmon, white tuna, mango, avocado, and asparagus, topped with seared spicy yellowtail, pickled jalapeño, fish roe, and spicy ginger sauce ($19). The really happy twist of fate is that there’s no kosher law limiting the number of ingredients in a roll.

 

He Said It

“I wanted [the name] Black Cat, and I wanted to have discounted coffee the 13th of every month. I was advised that what might work downtown might not work here. So we named it Blue Cat.” —Jack Borys, the owner of Blue Cat Café (600 Central Ave., Highland Park, no phone yet), a coffee shop hoping to serve Intelligentsia coffee, toasted sandwiches, and cheesecake, set to open in mid-November.

 

On Twitter

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Things to Do

  1. Check out tonight’s installment of Chicago Public Media’s Off-Air Event Series at Salvage One (1840 W. Hubbard St., 312-733-0098). Beginning at 6:30 p.m., five chefs will duke it out in the Chef Battle Royale, each representing a restaurant from a different Chicago neighborhood: Humboldt Park’s Borinquen, Oak Park’s Munch, Uptown’s Pho Xe Tang, Edgewater’s Ras Dashen, and Logan Square’s Staropolska. The $15 tickets ($12 for WBEZ members and $10 for students) buy a signature dish from each chef featuring Goose Island beer. Goose Island root beer and beer floats—a promising innovation made with Goose Island’s beer Matilda and gelato from Black Dog Gelato—will also be available.
  2. Observe thirsty Thursday at Mon Ami Gabi Oak Brook (260 Oak Brook Ctr., 630-472-1900), which hosts its weekly Martinis and Music night tomorrow. Martinis—such as the Gabitini with Grey Goose and blue cheese-stuffed olives (regularly $12.95)—will be half-priced all day, and live acoustic guitar music will play from 6 to 9 p.m.
  3. Fill your trick-or-treat bag (or plate) with goodies from the likes of Patrick Fahy (Sixteen), John Manion (La Sirena Clandestina), and Jennifer Jones (Topolobampo) at Green City Market Junior Board’s second annual Halloween Harvest Ball, Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Ravenswood Event Center (4011 N. Ravenswood Ave., 773-388-2170). Tickets cost $75 ($80 at the door), and proceeds support the Green City Market’s LINK Card Matching Program, which enables families on assistance to purchase wholesome, local, and seasonal food. If you can’t make it to the party, check out the online auction

 

Openings

  • The Big Black Dog Tavern & Grill (1141 Central Ave., Wilmette, 847-929-5681), a casual spot that smokes its own brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, and St. Louis–style ribs, debuts today.
  • Arami Go! (203 E. Ohio St., 312-245-3003), the Arami crew’s quick-serve bento counter, has passed inspections and aims to open either October 29 or 30.

 

Dot Dot Dot . . .

A major expansion has begun at The Smoke Daddy (1804 W. Division St., 773-772-6656), which will more than double its seating capacity and add Southern-style brunch fare by the time work is completed in January. The restaurant remains open during renovations. . . . 312 Dining Diva reports that a veteran from Schwa and New York’s Momofuku Ko plans to open Bad Wolf Coffee near the Lake View/Roscoe Village border next month. . . . The ten-month-old food truck business Beavers Coffee + Donuts will open a kiosk at Chicago French Market (131 N. Clinton St., 312-575-0306) in early November. . . . The pro wrestler (and former owner of a Kentucky pizzeria) Lisa Marie Varonplans to open an artisanal pizza spot at 2418 North Ashland Avenue by February 2013, per the Tribune. . . . Michael Lathrop has been named the executive chef at Acre Restaurant (5308 N. Clark St., 773-334-7600). Lathrop, who was in the Erwin kitchen when it shuttered, began working under Carlos Ysaguirre at Acre last summer. When Ysaguirre departed for a new project in Austin, Texas, this month, Lathrop filled his role. . . . Brendan Sodikoff texts that he plans to visit Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto in January and open Kotsu Ramen shortly after returning.

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