Chef Don Young is frank about how Temporis (933 N. Ashland Ave.), the high-end tasting menu spot in West Town, was faring back in September 2018. “It was a little dicey before the [Michelin] star showed up,” he says. “We were skipping by, but barely.”
Local critics liked the spot (Tribune critic Phil Vettel gave it three stars), but its young team faced constant challenges, like working in a tiny kitchen. Fast-forward to today, though, and Temporis is doing well, working on new projects and expanding the kitchen as 2019 takes off.
Young joined Temporis to replace its first co-chef, Evan Fullerton, but he had actually been involved in the restaurant since its inception. While working on the line at Les Nomades, he would stop by Temporis when possible to help in any way he could. He eventually joined as its executive chef — his first chef position — at the ripe old age of 27. He prepared every dish on the 11-course tasting menu by himself, with some help from co-chef Sam Plotnick.
While Young’s dishes won acclaim, he was still figuring out what his culinary approach would be. “I didn’t really know who I was,” he says. “I didn’t know my style yet.”
Within the first few months, he developed an obsession with fermentation, playing with every ingredient that came through the kitchen. His aha moment came when he tried to make almond milk interesting.
“I caught an article online where someone soured it, just like you’d do with crème fraiche,” he says. “I got a case of bad apricots, so I just fermented them. I took some of the fermentation liquid and added the culture into my almond milk. It went crazy, I couldn’t keep it under control.” From that moment, every dish at Temporis would have some preserved element.
Despite the accolades, things were tough at Temporis. “Most Tuesdays we’d close because we had no reservations,” says Young. On weekdays, the restaurant would be lucky to serve eight to 12 dinners.
Fortunately, it had a supportive investor, but things needed to pick up. The food was a joy to eat (when I visited in late 2017, I left impressed with the high level of technique), but Temporis needed a shot in the arm.
Young had a sense that his Michelin star might be coming; Michelin sent the restaurant an email to confirm the correct phone number. Then the call came on a Wednesday last fall.
Before that big moment, the restaurant had a total of zero reservations booked for the next day. After the news broke, Temporis locked in 362 reservations in 12 hours — enough for it to break even for at least three months. “We were here 16 to 20 hours a day,” says Young.
Visit Temporis today, and you’ll find that things have settled into a rhythm, with a dining room that’s generally full. Young has hired additional kitchen staff, which allows him to focus on new projects like overhauling the menu, building out a larger kitchen, and upsizing the indoor garden.
Young has big plans for that garden. Now, each diner gets a tiny “living salad” of microgreens, served straight from soil to table, but he dreams of one day serving individual strawberry plants, complete with fresh strawberries, in the middle of winter.
He’s still learning new things every day (for example, he tried to grow watermelon greens in the garden, which turned out “awful”), but now he has time to get a full night’s sleep. “Things are finally balancing out,” he says.