Interview with Chef Mike Sheerin of Blackbird – Chicago, IL

May 19

Antoinette Bruno: What year did you start your culinary career? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Michael Sheerin: I always wanted to be a chef. I’m from Chicago; I started cooking for Jean Joho during high school to make money.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
MS: I had a great time at Grand Rapids Community College, but I don’t recommend culinary school – it’s too expensive.

AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
MS: I’ve worked at wd~50, Atlas, Jean-Georges and Lutece.

AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
MS: Wylie Dufresne taught me to use my brain when cooking.

AB: In which kitchens have you staged? Do you accept stages at Blackbird?
MS: I spent one week at Le Manoir with Raymond Blanc. We do accept stages here.

AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
MS: I look at their resume and how many years of experience they have. Then I have them come in and I put them to work. There is always an onion or a carrot to be peeled or chopped.

AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
MS: To not become a chef too fast, to read a lot, and to not get in it for the money.

AB: Is there an ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or underutilized?
MS: Nasturtiums. They are beautiful but very spicy.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you employ in an unusual or different way?
MS: I make tuiles with tapioca. I start by cooking the tapioca until tender and then I puree it with a pronounced flavor, like kimchee. Then I dry it and fry it.

AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
MS: I like Pernod, wasabi and chocolate. I also like tarragon and chocolate, and nasturtiums with plantains and coffee.

AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
MS: A spoon, because that is what I cook and taste with.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MS: Fergus Henderson’s Head to Tail.

AB: If you could go anywhere in the world for culinary travel, where would you go?
MS: Japan, because I love ramen!

AB: What languages do you speak?
MS: Some Spanish – more than kitchen Spanish.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants off the beaten path in your city?
MS: I like Hot Doug’s and Avec (next door).

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
MS: [Food is] more minimal, and cleaner. Foams are dying down.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MS: Eat, drink and enjoy!

AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? What would you serve?
MS: The author Paul Coelho. I would serve him hamburgers, French fries and beer.

AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
MS: I’d be painting. That’s what I did throughout high school.

AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
MS: Hopefully someday I’ll be a chef/owner in a restaurant with my brother Pat. We’d collaborate in the kitchen – he’d cook the fish, and I’d cook the meat.