Interview with Chef Kristine Subido of Wave in the W Hotel Lakeshore – Chicago, IL
Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Kristine Subido: I went to Kendall College and I come from a family of cooks in the Philippines.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
KS: To get a foundation if you’ve never cooked before, yes. If you’re already a food lover, no.
AB: Where have you worked?
KS: I worked with Stephen Ciapetti who started [a number of] chef-driven restaurants in Chicago – I worked at Costa d’Oro, Mango, Rhapsody, and Mossant, and served as his assistant in his attempts to win the Bocuse D’Or. I also worked at Spiaggia with Paul Bartolotta and with Paul Bocuse at Le Sud in Lyon.
AB: Describe the extent of your F&B Operation.
KS: I'm in charge of all food and beverage whether banquets, room service, or restaurants. We're open 24/7 for breakfast lunch & dinner, and the bar is always open.
I manage the banquet chef and help her create seasonal menus. The bulk of my concentration goes to the restaurant. I have a lot of Bliss clients come down from the spa so I have a menu that caters to them too. We're always working on new marketing initiatives and I also do global cooking classes in the kitchen once a month where we go all over the place. Our last class was Saturday and we did my interpretation on Spanish tapas. We've done Morocco, Thailand, India, and the Philippines. We're working on expanding it, doing a spice field trip.
AB: Where do most of your sales come from?
KS: The restaurant. But it is my duty to oversee it all.
AB: What is dining concept of the restaurant? How many seats?
KS: It’s 98 seats. We don't have a traditional starch, vegetable and meat structure. Our dishes are more about sharing, and we plan that out as we build the dish. We are a small-plates restaurant designed for sharing, with a focus on spice and seafood, but it also changes with the seasons. We make sure all the dishes are easy to share. A couple would share 3 small plates and maybe 1 large plate. It's kind of a take on the steakhouse mentality where you can mix and match. We have a lot of variety on the menu.
I try to apply that idea to my breakfast and my brunch too. We have the traditional breakfast, because you'll always have clients who want that, but we have a non-traditional too, like our take on a traditional Israeli dish with eggs and harissa. We can't mix lunch around all that much because people don't want to share at lunch.
AB: What is the relationship between the hotel and dining rooms?
KS: Breakfast is definitely hotel guests on the weekdays. On the weekend we have a good neighborhood brunch business. Lunch is usually business lunch. For weeknight dinners we have about a 5-10% capture rate for hotel guests and the rest are local. A lot of neighbors come in, and we work really hard to market the restaurant to the neighborhood. We're trying to attract a late 20s and 30s crowd, and there are lots of single diners on the weekdays, and always lots of women. On Fridays and Saturdays we have lots of big groups – like girl's-night-out type stuff. It's all-inclusive: you're dining, you have cocktails, then you walk over to the lobby lounge and there's a DJ and more cocktails.
AB: How do you deal with such a varied customer base?
KS: Because of where we are, and how many people we're trying to feed and satisfy, we have a lot of different things like cold plates, hot plates and different flavors, plus a spa menu. As much as I'd like to bring in higher end meats, things like sweetbreads aren't going to sell here. My crowd on Friday is different than my crowd on Saturdays, which is different from the crowd on the weekday. So I wear a lot of different hats.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
KS: I ask them: what do you like to eat? What do you like to cook at home?
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KS: Don’t get wrapped up in the whole TV food culture.
AB: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or underutilized? Why?
KS: Onion. It makes a great base for sauces like soubise and adds a certain sweetness.
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
KS: The Chinese cleaver – it’s versatile because it can chop anything.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
KS: Culinaria of Greece and the French Laundry Cookbook
AB: What languages do you speak?
KS: Philippino, Spanish, English, a little French
AB: What are your favorite restaurants off the beaten path in Chicago?
KS: Triple 7 on Argyle and Broadway for pho. Tango Sur in Southport, which is a BYOB with traditional Argentine cooking on a parilla (grill).
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
KS: I’d be a dancer – and I’d be doing modern dance.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
KS: Fruit with fish and fruit with meat. I use a lot of spices, but I'm not heavy handed.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you employ in an unusual or different way?
KS: I'm pretty classical. I am using sous vide, but not with a thermal circulator. I marinate, then poach, and then sear. When I confit chicken or fish it gives it really nice flavor.
AB: Where would you like to go for culinary travel?
KS: I would go to South Thailand and Vietnam. I just came back from the Philippines where I went to regions to try the different regional food. Since I grew up here, I didn't get to taste the food except through my mom's cooking, so I want to get back and see more. I love the salty-sweet-spicy, balanced flavors they have.
AB: Who would you like to cook for? To cook for you?
KS: I would love to cook for my grandfather. He and my mother taught me how to cook. I would love for Pierre Gagnaire to cook for me.
AB: How are you involved in your local/global culinary community?
KS: I'm working on joining WCR. I want to find a charity for women and kids that promotes education. I've hosted a few parties here for the Step It Up, a women's network that helps women in the community and does mentoring for women that are trying to get into this business. I've connected with a bunch of people from the Philippines, like Xroads [sea salt producers] and I'm working on a new project with Cornerstone which is going to have more of a Philippine focus. Hopefully we'll get it together in 2009.
AB: What does success mean to you?
KS: In 5 years I see myself opening my own place perhaps here or in the Philippines. I also want to promote some Philippine products here, because we do have a lot of really great ingredients.