Effective immediately, Aaron Deal is out as executive chef at Custom House Tavern (500 S. Dearborn St.; 312-523-0200). Deal’s replacement will be Perry Hendrix, who currently helms the kitchen at Brasserie by Niche in St. Louis.
“The major issue we had with Aaron is that we couldn’t get Aaron to deliver a menu that matched our concept,” says Peter Drohomyrecky, a partner at Custom House Tavern along with his wife, Susan. Peter Drohomyrecky says the restaurant has lost sight of its objective of simple, well-executed tavern food—Deal’s menu had ten-ingredient dishes where the Drohomyreckys imagined four. “I think [Deal] is very talented and his ability to cook is at the highest level,” Drohomyrecky says. “He has a great future, but he’s not there in being able to produce a menu that honors what we want.”
“We just had different visions of what Custom House Tavern was,” says Deal, who also was featured as one of Chicago’s most eligible singles in the July issue. He hopes to remain in Chicago. “I love this city. My stay here, even though it’s been brief, it’s been wonderful. I look forward to pursuing my career—I don’t know where that will lie, but hopefully here in Chicago,” he says.
Prior to St. Louis, the incoming executive chef, Perry Hendrix, did stints in Utah and in Asheville, North Carolina. Before that, he remembers hearing a culinary calling when marinating beef bourguignon in garbage cans for an end-of-semester party for a 100-person wine class at Miami of Ohio. “That was one of my first aha moments,” he says. “I saw the immediate reaction of people after eating good food. The experience of good wine, good food, and good company held onto me.”
Hendrix plans a menu of traditional dishes using modern fine-dining techniques for Custom House Tavern. He hints at a Southern or Appalachian slant, owing to his time in Asheville. “[For example,] a traditional picnic with a barbecue pork, watermelon, beans, and slaw that you would find at a Southern picnic table, turning that into a new treatment of a roasted pork loin with grilled watermelon, black-eyed pea purée, and a pickled fennel slaw,” he says.
Hendrix plans to start work at Custom House Tavern in early August. In the interim, the kitchen will be run by Eric Aubriot, an alumnus of Le Français, Fuse, and his namesake restaurant, Aubriot. As a guest chef, he’ll introduce a few new summer dishes and work with Hendrix from afar to ease the transition.