2015 Chicago Rising Star Hotel Chef Greg Biggers of Chestnut Provisions at Sofitel Water Tower
Chestnut Provisions at Sofitel Water Tower
20 East Chestnut Street
Chicago, IL 60611
Alabama native Greg Biggers grew up watching his mother prepare chicken and dumplings, the Saturday ritual linking food, love, and tradition in a way that’s stayed with him throughout his career. Before Biggers left Alabama, he worked under Chef Matthew Wood who jumpstarted his passion for the professional kitchen.
Biggers did a stint at Johnson & Wales University in South Carolina, but found hands-on work in the kitchen more rewarding. While in school, he worked as a pastry cook at Blossom Café. From there, he moved on to McCrady’s, first as private dining chef and eventually becoming sous chef. Then Biggers went to Chicago for a stage at TRU, which turned into a position as chef de partie under Rick Tramonto. He followed that up with the executive sous chef gig at Morimoto in Philadelphia.
Bread, pastry, seafood, Japanese culture, and a generally expanding culinary repertoire under his belt, Biggers returned to Chicago to help open Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood and RT Lounge, where both his expansive skill set and management experience came in handy. High-volume success would follow with Biggers at Fulton’s on the River, before he was picked to oversee all aspects of the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower’s dining operations, including restaurant Café des Architectes and artisanally driven food production concept Chestnut Provisions, which finds Biggers coalescing his wide ranging experience with the food-as-love philosophy he learned as a kid in Alabama.
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Interview with Chicago Rising Star Hotel Chef Greg Biggers of Chestnut Provisions at Sofitel Water Tower
Caroline Hatchett: How did you first get into the industry?
Greg Biggers: I started washing dishes at a place called Quincy's steakhouse when I was 15. I was a line cook when I was flunking out of college for photography and realized I loved it. I started working for [Matthew Wood,] the only "trained" chef in my town making French-creole cuisine. I moved on to McCrady’s and worked as a private dining chef, and eventually I became sous chef. I did an event in Florida and met Rick Tramonto, who I later staged with at TRU. I ended up working there as chef de partie. I left and went to Morimoto in Philadelphia under Makoto [Okuwa]. Then I worked with Rick to open a place in Wheeling, Illinois. You can see all those aspects in my food over the last decade or so.
CH: Who’s your mentor?
GB: I’ve got a few. Michael Kramer over at McCrady’s gave me a foundation of real knowledge in a kitchen. Makoto, he was head sushi chef when I was at Morimoto; he introduced me to Japanese culture, which was something I was never really exposed to. I was just a redneck from Alabama.
CH: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
GB: There are so many great cooks and restaurateurs in Chicago opening restaurants all the time. Staying relevant with 5 new restaurant openings a week can be tough sometimes.
CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
GB: Lots of charity events. We also do different chef collaboration dinners, James Beard Foundation, Chaine des Rotisseurs, and L'Ordre des Canardiers.
CH: How are you working towards sustainability within your restaurant?
GB: It starts with the product we use. We teach the same principles to our staff that smart farmers use.
CH: What’s your five year plan?
GB: Start doing a lot more with Chestnut Provisions. I just went to my team yesterday and asked “What do you want to do?” and they suggested cheese and charcuterie. We need to keep learning and figuring out how to do things we’ve started, like taleggio and brie. For the next cheese, we’re going to try to learn to make morbier. That’s the next in line. We’re going to try to find someone to teach us. It's just a matter of finding time to do it. We also want to do more dry aging. We've been experimenting with dry aging our pork for another 24 hours. At the hotel, we’re going to start doing pop-up brunch. We’re also going to try and introduce a very intimate 30-course, timed meal, with invitations for eight people. It’s going to be a two and a half hour meal of 10 to 40 courses, with whatever we’re working on. No holds barred.