Interview with Chef Graham Elliot Bowles of Graham Elliot - Chicago, IL

May 2008

Antoinette Bruno: Tell me about your new restaurant concept.
Graham Elliot Bowles: What our restaurant is all about is fine dining re-defined: We let the guests customize their dining experience by doing away with a tasting menu-only format and dress codes. There will be one fork, one knife, one 13-inch round flat plate, and one glass for everything. We are doing popcorn instead of bread. There will be no linens and no flowers. And uniforms for front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff are the same: Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, 501 Levis, and brown tee-shirts with a bib apron.

AB: Upscale casual dining is all the rage.
GEB: Yes it is, but I want to force people to think outside of the box. Why can't cooks go out and serve the food? Why can’t servers come back and work a station?

AB: Why no linens? Is it for environmental reasons?
GEB: If you have a gorgeous piece of wood why cover it up? Everything in the dining room is made from natural elements. We have a filtration system, reusable bottles, and we are going to recycle and compost.

AB: The restaurant seems to be about you as a chef.
GEB: If I’m going to put my name on the door, I want it to be what I’m all about. I've recorded my guitar playing to play in the dining room. I’m hand writing the menu – I’ve created a font from my handwriting. And the lights are going to change four times per year – from green to yellow to orange to white for the seasons. We’ll also infuse the dining with aromas to match the seasons, like wood and pine in the winter, and lavender in the summer.

AB: Where did you get the inspiration?
GEB: My inspiration was going to Bouley [in New York City]; coming in the door to restaurant with walls lined with apples. I want to inspire thought-provoking dining but as approachable as possible. You choose – it’s a la carte, everything is under $30, and there’s no dress code.

AB: What do you call what you are doing?
GEB: Bistronomic – the marriage of gastronomic and bistro. It’s four-star cuisine with the approachability of a bistro.

AB: What are some dishes you will be serving that you feel embody the bistronomic concept?
GEB: We’re doing a buffalo chicken thigh that’s brined and served with a homemade buffalo sauce. It will be served with a celery slaw with celery root, stalk, celery leaves, and some celery seeds; a Maytag blue cheese foam; crumbled blue cheese and Budweiser bubbles (made with lecithin and aerated).

We’ll have a halibut BLT – a piece of ciabatta is grilled and brushed with a garlic oil; a salad of frisee with bacon, sherry, tomato seed vinaigrette; seared halibut with a crispy pancetta wafer, and tomato confit.

And Spiced Crispy Treats – like a Rice Crispy Treat – with brown butter, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and spices; pickled strawberries; condensed milk sherbet; rhubarb paint.

The cold and hot menu sections are the apps; the land and sea are the entrees; sweet are sweets. So, the chicken thighs are a hot app, halibut is under sea, and Spiced Crispy Treats are sweet.

AB: Is this a continuation of what you were doing at Avenues or a departure?
GEB: It’s a continuation. It’s the exact same cuisine as at Avenues but we’re getting rid of the pretension that comes with a four-star restaurant. No front-of-the-house stuffiness – the servers are in jeans and sneakers.

AB: Are you doing anything new with your beer, wine, and spirits program?
GEB: We’ll have a half-dozen beers from the Midwest, brewed in Illiniois, Indiana, and Michigan. We’ll have the usual Coke and stuff, but we’re also going to make our own sodas with homemade syrups, like lemon verbena, our own root beer, vanilla coke, and adding carbonated water.

The wine list is a 60 bottle selection, plus by the glass, and it’s broken down into the same categories as the menu. So, you’ll have the dishes and then the wine matches right there to coincide.

We’ll also be featuring edible cocktails – cocktail-inspired dishes served in cocktail glasses. A bloody mary is Tabasco-infused tomato water sorbet, jellied voka, horseradish foam, Worcestershire powder, and celery leaves.

AB: Will you have anyone working with you from Avenues?
GEB: The lead server at Avenues will be the restaurant manager. And the whole Avenues kitchen staff came with me.

AB: What is the deal structure for your restaurant?
GEB: I have a team of five investors from Chicago, and I am chef/owner.

AB: Your kitchen is beautiful. I’m curious, why did you choose Jade?
GEB: I used Jade when I was the chef de cuisine at Tru and just loved the product. It’s gorgeous to work with and gorgeous to look at. And the fact that you can customize and get what you want makes it feel like nobody else can go out and just it buy off the shelf. It is tailor made for my vision of what I want to do in the kitchen. There is as much care going into the building of the product as there is going into my food.

AB: What Jade components do you have in your kitchen?
GEB: 2 salamanders, 24-inch cabinet base griddle, 30-inch oven with French top and two open burners, 24-inch plancha with cabinet base, 36-inch double French top with cabinet base, 36-inch oven with 6 open burners, and 36-inch charbroiler with cabinet base.

AB: What is behind the configuration of your kitchen?
GEB: The menu is broken into five categories: cold, hot, sea, land, and sweet. There is one chef de partie per station, responsible for everything for that station from prep to clean up.

AB: Who was the kitchen architect or consultant?
GEB: Brent Miller from Inspired Concepts. He helped me bring this dream to fruition.