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Paul Kahan, Blackbird Chicago
featured chefs paul kahan interview
Name- Chef Paul Kahan

Age - 39

Education - Bachelor's degree in applied math and computer science, Northern Illinois University.

Resume - Metropolis, Erwin Drechsler, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, Rick Bayless

Greatest lesson from Rick Bayless - I learnt a few from Rick; treat people fairly, as you would wish to be treated yourself. I learnt the importance of being even keeled and how to run a business, look after people and they will look after the business. In regard to the food; redefine, improve and turn the screws on what you are doing.

What other chef (that you have not worked with) has influenced you? - Alice Waters, she is product driven, there is simplicity within her food and she cooks with the seasons. From her first book I have found her an inspiration. Then there is Charlie Trotter; his unrelenting quest for excellence, his achievements and for what he has given back to the culinary community.

A piece of advice to another chef who is planning to open their own restaurant - Don't do it! Seriously, write a punch list each day, work through the list, be methodical. There are so many things that require your attention it is easy to become fazed.

What do you think of the Chicago food scene and why do you think some of the restaurants are making it and others not?- The food scene is exploding here. The new high end hotels (Hyatt & Peninsula) are bringing a lot to the city, two of Chicago's restaurants making it to the Food & Wine top ten restaurant lists, the sous chef from the French Laundry taking over the kitchen's of Trio makes it all pretty exciting.
I think there are many reasons that restaurants are not making it, when you run a restaurant you need to pay attention to details and continuity. The guest needs to know what they are going to get, not just the food the whole experience, it needs to come together at the end.

What is more important, local or organic produce? - That is a tough question, probably local overrides organic. A farm can run as a certified organic producer of produce, but the fertilizers that some of them use require a high amount of fossil fuel to process. This pretty much defeats the philosophy of looking after our environment. It is important to work with and support our local growers. Additionally it's important to know where the food came from and who grew it.

What's hot on your menu right now? - Pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, green garlic and aioli... Wood-grilled wild King Salmon with Juliet tomatoes, chanterelles, chives and gribiche .... Sautéed walleye pike and California Spot Prawns with sweet peas, pea shoots, lemon vinaigrette and mint... Roasted Bobwhite Quail breast with crispy sweetbreads, organic spinach, potato puree and natural juices

Any plans for a cook book? - Yes! We are it the early stages, but hopefully within a year we should be ready in about 12 months. I am going to be working with a food artist that I have known for years. He will be painting some of the dishes that will be featured in the book, it will give the book a different edge. There is a lot of work to do!

Is it difficult being married to someone who is not in the business? - We have been together a long time. Our relationship is successful because we make sure we spend time together, an hour in the morning, a couple of hours at night and quality time on our days off. My wife also keeps herself very busy working pretty much two jobs, she works at the University of Illinois four days a week and then teaches yoga in the evening. I think it would be a lot tougher if she worked 9-5 and just sat at home waiting for me.

Do you cook at home? - Sometimes, we kind of share that one.

Favorite Chicago restaurant? -> Not an easy question to answer, right now I like Lula, simple food good product.

Where do you eat breakfast? - Lula does breakfast too! I also often eat breakfast at the restaurant.

When was the last time you crashed your bike? -Three weeks ago I went over the hood of a car that was pulling out of an alley way, the guys look terrified they thought they had killed me!

A word of advice for the chef of tomorrow - Get ready to work you ass off! If you get in to this business you need to realize it is not glamorous, you need to love food and people. Finally you need to be dedicated if you want to succeed.

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