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Paul Virant
VIE
4471 Lawn Avenue
Western Springs, IL 60558
(708) 246-2082

Biography »

Interview:
Colleen Richardson:
Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Paul Virant: My family was a big inspiration. Food was very important to them. My mom and my grandmother are cooks.

CR: You attended Wesleyan College, West Virginia for a degree in Nutrition and then the CIA for a culinary degree. How do you think this preliminary education helped develop your skills as a chef? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
PV: I started with science and then applied it to food. With a food science background, you have a fundamental understanding of basic cooking techniques. It prepared me to learn more. I recommend culinary education to aspiring chefs, but they must get a good experience first.

CR: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
PV: I’m not a big fan of fusion. I believe in educating customers about seasonality, and I make everything in-house – from pancetta to bread. My food reflects the seasons, local harvests and the world becoming a smaller place. I support local family farms but at the same time, I take advantage of the increased availability of specialty foods from across the globe.

CR: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
PV: Fresh bay leaves make a huge difference. Also Hawaiian hearts of palm for preserving and pickling. I used to work in Hawaii

CR: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
PV: My indoor woodfire grill. It’s custom made.

CR: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
PV: I like to braise things a lower temperatures for longer periods of time, where the oven temperature is 170°-200° F.

CR: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
PV: What is your favorite book?

CR: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
PV: Read a lot. Don’t move ahead too fast. Know what you’re getting into, and be willing to do grunt work.

CR: What are your favorite cookbooks?
PV: The Lutece Cookbook by Andre Soltner; Jacques Pepin’s Complete Technique; Joy of Cooking (for pickles and duck confit); Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking (out of print).

CR: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
PV: Still at Vie, but also involved in another project, most likely a bakery.



Paul Virant
VIE | Chicago

Paul Virant has always been driven by his natural curiosity for food, cooking and the outdoors. As a young boy growing up in Missouri, he foraged for mushrooms with his siblings, preserved fruits and pickled vegetables with his grandmothers and visited local wineries with his parents. All of this instilled a deep-rooted respect for seasonality and tradition, ultimately shaping him as a chef. After graduating from Wesleyan College, Virrant enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America. Culinary degree in hand, he moved to New York and worked under Chefs Wayne Nish and Hilary Gregg at March. Two years later, Virant returned to the heartland to work at Charlie Trotter's and later Ambria. After a brief stint in Honolulu opening Padovani's Bistro and Wine Bar, Virant made his final return to Chicago. There, he joined the culinary team at Everest, followed by the top toque position at Outpost, before joining the kitchen of Blackbird under Paul Kahan. Now as the owner and executive chef of Vie, Virant offers a menu that celebrates artisanal foods and local family farms, but also takes advantage of the increased availability of specialty foods from across the globe.

 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Chestnuts, Fresh Thyme, Honey, Brown Butter, and Ricotta
Chef Paul Virant of Vie Restaurant – Western Springs, IL
Adapted by StarChefs.com

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients:

    Sweet Potato Gnocchi:
  • 1 ½ pounds sweet potato
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 ounces flour
    Chestnuts:
  • 1 ounce butter
  • 8 ounces chestnuts, peeled
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
    To Finish:
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons ricotta cheese
  • Honey for drizzling

Method:

For Gnocchi:
Bake the sweet potatoes at 400° F for about 1 hour or until tender. Peel the sweet potatoes and dry them in the oven for about 15 minutes. Pass the potatoes through a food mill and then mix in the butter and the egg. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and then add in the flour. Shape the dough into long ropes, about ¾-inch diameter, and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cook the pieces in boiling, salted water for 3-4 minutes, drain and reserve.

There will be extra gnocchi which can be frozen and cooked at a later time.

For Chestnuts:
Heat the butter in a wide sauté pan until frothy, add the chestnuts and cook slowly to brown them. Add the honey and thyme, and caramelize for about 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock and cook 3-4 minutes longer or until the chestnuts are tender. Season with salt and pepper and reserve.

To Finish and Serve:
Brown the butter for flavor and cool on a sheet pan until firm and solid again. Add the brown butter, chestnuts, thyme, and 36 pieces of gnocchi to a pan. Heat gently and add in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in four bowls, 9 pieces each, and garnish with a spoonful of ricotta cheese and a drizzle of honey on top.


Wine Pairing:
Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Gris, “Les Princes Abbés,” Alsace, France 2002



   Published: November 2005

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