What does a French-trained chef from Wilmette do once he’s opened and run three acclaimed restaurants in Paris, a Michelin-starred bistro in New York City, and is on the verge of launching his first spot in downtown Los Angeles? He returns to Chicago to bring his refined take on French fare to the city. Daniel Rose will make his Chicago debut with Le Select, a French brasserie in River North (504 N. Wells St.) in partnership with Boka Restaurant Group, the group behind restaurants like Alla Vita and Girl and the Goat.

“I’m not trying to recreate Paris in Chicago; I’m taking what the French do best in their tradition and do it in Chicago,” says Rose, 45, about the under-construction, 200-plus-seat brasserie currently estimated to open in early December. “It’s hard to define Chicago, but for me, it’s been shaped by this history of commodities. In my mind, where cuisine and commodities meet is in a brasserie. One of the signatures of the brasserie is this idea that you don’t look at the menu before you go. You know the menu is going to be fairly large and you’ll find something you want to eat. ‘Select’ is a word in English and in French. It suggests a certain kind of luxury, but it doesn’t necessarily mean fancy.” 

While the menu is still evolving — often on hand-written notes Rose keeps in his pockets — his ideas will coalesce in dishes like grilled lobster with beurre blanc sauce; seafood choucroute, a traditional dish from Alsace; beef tartare; deboned roast chicken; and calf’s liver and sweetbreads.

Making his way back home

Opening Le Select is, in many ways, Rose coming full circle in his culinary life. The chef says the menu he’d created for the restaurant that eventually became Le Coucou in New York (which won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2017) was originally designed for a spot in Chicago he planned to call The French House. But “it just seemed the restaurant I imagined was more a New York restaurant than a Chicago restaurant,” Rose says. “It starts with the destination. And then, we say, ‘What kind of French cuisine for this place?’”

Because he’s currently running two restaurants in Paris and New York and prefers spending his energy in the kitchen, Rose needed a collaborator with a track record of managing great restaurants to help bring Le Select to life. “The key is finding a great operating partner, letting them do what they do best and learning from them,” he says. He’s leading the creative process for Le Select; Boka will hire the Chicago culinary team and manage its operations.

In 2015, Rose reached out to the Boka group about potentially working together. His wife, Marie-Aude, who Rose met when she was a chef at Spring, had wanted to work outside France (she’s now the executive chef at La Mercerie Café in Manhattan’s SoHo), but the timing wasn’t right. Conversations started again in 2019, and now, three years and a pandemic later, it was the right time to open his first place in Chicago. The way Rose looks at it is — if not now, when?

“I’m not trying to recreate Paris in Chicago; I’m taking what the French do best in their tradition and do it in Chicago.”

“We initially spoke with Daniel quite a few years ago and were instantly struck by his intellect, passion, and unique viewpoint on restaurants and hospitality,” says Rob Katz, Boka co-CEO and co-founder. “After dining at Le Coucou, we then became enamored with his cooking, as well. He’s one of those talents you dream about getting to collaborate with.”

Le Select is actually the second of Rose’s Boka projects. The first, Café Basque – inspired by the flavors and ingredients found in both Southern California and the Basque region of France – is tentatively scheduled to open in mid-October inside The Hoxton hotel in downtown L.A. (which also houses a second location of fellow Boka chef Stephanie Izard’s Cabra).

A French American in… Chicago

Rose has now lived in France for a quarter century — more than half his life. “I’m coming at [Chicago] as a foreigner in some ways, even though I’m from here,” he says. “It feels at once very familiar and very, very different from the city I knew before. It does feel like home – but that’s one of the great qualities of Chicago. There are many cities that will forget you, but Chicago is not one of them.” 

After graduating from Winnetka’s New Trier High School in 1995, Rose left for St. John’s College in Santa Fe. But he longed to move to France, transferring to the American University of Paris in 1998. Once he finished his European cultural studies and philosophy degree, his culinary education began. He learned classical French cooking and an unyielding respect for locality, heritage, and seasonality at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. A host of restaurant gigs followed, from Brittany to a small Provençal village near Avignon to a head chef job in Panajachel, Guatemala, in 2003. The following year, Rose returned to Paris to join the hotel restaurant team at the five-star Le Meurice. 

In 2006, the young chef brought his own culinary vision to life with Spring, a 16-seat spot in Paris, where his daily prix-fixe menu of locally sourced French cuisine won him international kudos. In 2010, he moved Spring to a space a few blocks from the Louvre. With fewer than a dozen tables and an open kitchen, the seasonally driven spot earned a spot on Bon Appétit’s 2012 list “The New Standards: Nine of Our Favorite Restaurants in Paris.” 

Before Spring closed in 2017, Rose opened La Bourse et La Vie, a cozy, classic bistro in 2015. Up next in 2016 was Chez La Vieille, just steps away from Spring. It closed its doors in March 2020 when restaurants had to shutter once COVID-19 hit – leaving La Bourse as his only current spot in Paris. The restaurant’s chef Audrey Renninger will move to Chicago to work at Le Select, while Rose, his wife, and his two young kids remain based in Paris. But Rose comes to town multiple times each year to visit relatives who live in Evanston and Wilmette, and has started spending more time here to work on Le Select. When in town, he makes pilgrimages to Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast, as well as Devil Dawgs, The Wiener’s Circle, and Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston.

“He’s one of those talents you dream about getting to collaborate with,” says Rob Katz, Boka co-CEO and co-founder.

Exporting French cuisine his way

French cuisine has had its rise and fall on the Chicagoland food scene over the decades. While classics like Everest and Kiki’s Bistro have closed in the past few years, newcomers like River North’s Obelix from Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey, of the family behind Bucktown bistro Le Bouchon, are shaking up local French cuisine. 

“You try to create a concept that we feel will resonate, that there will be an audience for,” Rose says. “That’s the puzzle within that sketch of a restaurant, and it’s in filling in the details that’s the creative process. What does it look like; what does it feel like? And that creative space is very much in my brain, and it’s nourished by living in France these 25 years. The one great thing – you can feel French and be American.” That cultural dexterity is what Rose hopes will help make Le Select a hit with a Chicago audience.

“The things I’ve done that have been the most well-received have always come from first from an instinct about what I like and what I think is an expression of Frenchness,” he says. “Chicago is a first-class international city – and it has its own character. I’m looking forward to both participating in that character and learning more about it. The process of opening a restaurant is what I really like. To be able to do it in a city like Chicago is a real privilege.”