Chef Mike Sheerin
Blackbird | Chicago
Mike Sheerin is bringing a little bit of New York-style experimentation to Paul Kahan’s refined, seasonal cuisine at Blackbird. Sheerin, a Chicago native, is the restaurant’s first chef de cuisine; he returned to Chicago after 3½ years as a sous chef under Wylie Dufresne at WD~50. Prior to WD~50, Sheerin worked at Lutece, Atlas, and Jean Georges in New York City, and Everest in Chicago. Sheerin attended culinary school at Grand Rapids Community College.
Sheerin’s partnership with Kahan is one in which a chef de cuisine with similar core values, but a very different set of techniques, brings a new style to the table – and it works. Blackbird is first and foremost a seasonally-driven restaurant, and Sheerin’s dishes add clever, flavorful twists to the seasonal equation. Grilled sturgeon with springy English Peas rests on rye and potato gnocchi in a bath of tangy mustard consommé, and veal ribeye comes with cornbread – but that cornbread has been dehydrated, ground, and cooked again, ultimately served as a porridge seasoned with Tabasco sauce.
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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.
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