Category Archives: Staff

To the City of Brotherly Love (and back)

Nothing’s better than a good, old-fashioned road trip — especially the kind that’s centered around food. So when our executive sous chef, Ben, and JV hit the road last month to partake in the EPIC Cochon event in Philadelphia (remember that huge, saddle-cut of pork?), they made sure to leave enough time to check out some of the city’s best places to dine. From the classic Philly Cheese Steak to modern Israeli cuisine, Ben and JV didn’t seem to miss a beat … and now, you’ll know exactly where to make reservations the next time you’re headed to the East Coast.

1097999_10152097341127571_1968100847_n

“Philly is awesome. I mean, the whole city is just great,” said JV. “And because they’re so close to New York, they have really high standards and know they gotta put out good food, but it’s also pretty cheap, so it’s accessible to anyone.”

First stop: Zahav. Modern Israeli cuisine that left JV wanting more: “Of all the places we ate, Zahav was just incredible.” Some dishes include: Turkish Hummus with butter and grilled garlic, served warm; Crispy Lamb’s Tongue with snap peas, smoked grapes, pistachio tehina and peaches; Moroccan Chicken with charmoula, freekah and pickled cabbage, and Spiced Peanut Basboosa – a dessert of semolina cake, Turkish coffee ice cream and peanut praline.

1016954_10152097341897571_56284864_n

Next up: Pat’s King of Steaks. If you’re looking for that classic Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, this is the place to go. It’s been family-owned and operated since 1930, they’re the “originators and inventors” of the Philly Cheese Steak, and there’s just one location (that’s open 24/7 to boot) — so, you know it’s gotta be good.

Philly

A new take on chicken and waffles, perhaps? Go to Federal Donuts. Gourmet fried chicken. Donuts. Coffee. Two locations. Enough said. Well, wait … you also get to pick your own seasoning and glaze for the chicken (like chili-garlic), every order is served with Japanese cucumber pickles and a honey donut, and if you don’t want chicken, they have lots of “fancy” flavored donuts like strawberry-ginger and banana cream pie. Okay, now — enough said.

philly2

Also, don’t miss while in Philly:

Osteria – Homemade Italian pastas, thin crust pizzas, wood grilled meats and fish. Standout dish: Swordfish speck with grilled figs, pine nuts and basil. “The swordfish was sliced so thin, it almost looked like Lardo … and the way they overlapped the fish created this stunning contrast in color, almost like stripes.”

Brauhaus Schmitz – Philadelphia’s only authentic German Bierhall & Restaurant.

Serpico – Ingredient-driven, seasonal menu that features global cuisine with a playful touch. “There’s definitely an Asian twist to the menu … super well-refined, light and beautiful.”

philly5

Fante’s Kitchen Shop – Every kitchen gizmo and gadget imaginable can be found here. “This is the store where we get our Chitarra from … we were only there about an hour, but we could’ve stayed all day. It was like being a kid in a candy store. The only reason we left is because I had to go to the bathroom.” – JV

philly7

Visiting Pittsburgh, too?

Spoon – Local, farm-to-table, modern American cuisine.

Meat & Potatoes – Gastropub. Open 7 days a week.

philly6

On their way back to Chicago, they paid a visit to JV’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for a baseball game and some more good eats.

1013189_10152097342217571_1728014087_n

While there, they were blown away by the Duck Mortadella at The Greenhouse Tavern, a dish soon to be featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. They also stopped by Slyman’s Restaurant, home of the biggest and “best” corned beef, and according to JV, it was. “Seriously, the best corned beef on Earth. Hands down.”

philly4

We know how overwhelming it can be when traveling to new cities, trying to find the “best” spots to dine; so hopefully, our list here will help you make some good choices the next time you’re headed to Philly … or Cleveland.

Advertisements

Go Pig or Go Home

This weekend, JV and our sous chef, Ben, are headed to Philadelphia to partake in COCHON EPIC No.2 —  an ‘expression’ of Cochon 555 that showcases a one-time-only event, never to be replicated. Last year’s EPIC was held at the James Beard House in NYC and featured a pork-centric dinner paired with vintage Champagnes for 80 guests. This year, the event will be held on Sunday, July 28, at the Ritz-Carlton in Philly, where 20 local chefs will team up to prepare six whole heritage breed pigs (that’s more than 1500 pounds of pork!) from local farms to create a mouth-watering feast.

And unlike Cochon 555, EPIC is not a competition, but rather “a celebration of all the chefs, farmers and pork-enthusiasts Philly has to offer,” — per their website. Sounds pretty awesome, right? The good news is, if you’re lucky enough to be in the Philly area and are interested in stuffing your face with delicious pork for an evening, tickets are still available here.

Unknown

Credit: Cochon555

JV was invited to participate as a National Chef, along with Matt Jennings of Farmstead in Providence, and Todd Mussman of Muss & Turners and Local Three in Atlanta. They will be preparing a collaborative menu to build enthusiasm for Cochon Heritage BBQ, a new Cochon event designed to feature the utilization of whole heritage breed pigs in BBQ communities across the nation. In preparation for the event, JV decided to spit-roast what’s called a “saddle-cut” of pork, meaning the loin, rib and belly are completely connected. Whoa.

IMG_3966

Though cooking time was a bit of a guessing game, JV’s two main concerns were as follows: don’t burn the place down, and second, don’t break the spit; keep in mind — that’s nearly 100 pounds of pork hanging on for dear life!

IMG_3959

He smothered the pork in a delicious rub of spices, brown sugar and garlic (see recipe below), and let it go for a good three hours, all while feeding and maintaining the fire with a combination of apple and cherry wood (for flavor/smoke) and white oak wood (for heat). The end result? You’ll have to watch the video to find out ;)

EPIC Pork Rub Recipe:

::INGREDIENTS:: 

For every pound of pork use …

  • 1 T. coriander seed
  • 1 T. dill seed
  • 1 T. fennel seed
  • 1 T. whole juniper
  • 1 T. whole allspice
  • 1 T. whole clove
  • 1 T. mustard seed
  • 2 T. black pepper corn
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced

::METHOD::

Crush spices together using a mortar and pestle, and then combine them with the salt, sugar and garlic. Rub this mixture on the pork and let sit for 2 days. Try using this rub on a pork loin that’s roasted in a hot oven, about 450 degrees F.


Thank You

“If you will it, dude, it is no dream.”

Today I was announced as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2013 … holy shit.

This is a moment that I’ve wondered (read: obsessed) about for close to 15 years. I can probably count on one hand the number of days over those 15 years that I haven’t thought about BNC. It is a short, distinct list, compiled by a group that has a bird’s-eye view of the American culinary landscape. And it is, as Mike Sheerin puts it, “good company to be in.”

No part of what got us here has been easy. This past year, starting with the preparation for Cochon 555 (which eventually became our bitch), hasn’t been easy. I haven’t been easy.

First and foremost, thank you to everyone at Nightwood. Thanks for making this possible. You all are the reason that the restaurant works. You guys are the heart and soul of the place. You guys are the brains and the brawn. You guys are amazing.

I can’t imagine any of this coming to be without the amazing men and women in the kitchen that I have the absolute pleasure of working with everyday. Ben, Shae, Ron, Dan, Colin, Danielle, Alex, Pedro, Mollie, Martin, Dweezil, Sarah, Smelly, Coronado, Alemi, and Katie. You guys are true professionals who know how to not take yourself too seriously. I love you guys and owe you so much. Thank you.

Thank you to John, Anna, and all of the front of the house who put up with me obsessing over this for two years … sorry, won’t happen again ;)

To Jason and Lea, Matt and Kevin — thank you for giving our “style” time to work itself out (honestly, I still don’t know what it is). I realize that the growing pains were deep, and your patience didn’t go unnoticed.

I want to say thank you to all of our past and future co-workers, even the complete boneheads (you know who you are). You all contributed to making Nightwood what it is today, and what it will eventually become … all of the stones in a path are important.

Thank you to all of the farmers who make what we do possible. Stop being late.

To the stages who never showed up. Thank you. Without you, we are, thankfully, without you.

Thanks to Rob and Allie, Jenn and David, J.P., Paul, Paul, Steph, Abra, Huston, Mike Motobike, Yoni and Jenny, Dunc, Hunter, Brady and Heather, Pandel, Mike and Pat, Poli, Thai, G.E., Merlin, Korin, Team Sawyer, Steve D., Gregger, Roberto, and all of the Chicago (and beyond) cheffy community for the love, support, and advice … I owe every one of you a lifetime of debt. Thank you.

To all of our regulars and wonderful customers, (well, maybe not the guy who got drunk and screamed at me for his soup being tepid. Danny Devito impersonator, no kidding.) — you guys are the most important part of the restaurant. Without you we have nothing. Thank you and see you soon!

To all of the chefs and business owners that I’ve worked for, and, am still learning from; to all of my friends … thank you. See, I’m not a total fuck-up!

To my parents and my pain-in-the-ass sister … I don’t know where to start. You never gave up on me. You never made me feel like I should give up on myself. I love you.

To my daughter … Daddy did something to make you proud of him.

To my wife. You’re the most wonderful woman in the world. You are absolutely nuts, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’ve had a crazy journey so far, and I think it’s about to get crazier. I can’t picture running toward that without your hand in mine. You’re my best friend, the love of my life, my teammate, my partner. I love you so much.

Sorry for rambling. Lotta love these days. This is crazy!!!!

Also, if you feel the need to make fun of me for this post, whiskey would be appreciated  ;)

JV

NWphoto


Meet Our New Pastry Chef: Sarah Mispagel

Last month, we welcomed a new member to the Nightwood family — executive pastry chef, Sarah Mispagel. And now, we’d like to tell you a little bit about her, her desserts … and her tattoos.

Sarah_2

Background:

Sarah, 27, was born in San Diego and raised in a nearby suburb (Oceanside) by her “California hippie” parents, who encouraged a very organic, vegetarian lifestyle. She later attended culinary school at the Art Institute in Orange County, and after graduation, she took a job at a local vegan, gluten-free bakery. After a year there, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and worked at Delphina’s Bakery (which is considered Portland’s oldest artisanal bakery), where she worked extensively with breads, and croissant and Danish doughs. Then, it was on to Cincinnati; she not only baked for a restaurant group, primarily doing bread production, but she also made wedding cakes part-time at a bakery called SugarPlums.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Sarah and her husband decided to move to Chicago. “We were visiting some of my husband’s family on the North Shore, and I totally fell in love with the city. My husband always knew he wanted to move here at some point, and we needed a change from Cincinnati, so we packed up the U-Haul and drove to Chicago on July 5th.”

r_seaman@hotmail.com

 Life in the Windy City:

Though Sarah didn’t immediately jump into the restaurant scene, her husband, who is also a chef, encouraged her to submit her resume to mk, which led to her first stage ever. “Honestly, I had no desire to work at a restaurant, and just never thought about trying it since all of my experience had been in bakeries. The idea of fine dining was just really weird to me!” Needless to say, Sarah staged a second time and was offered a pastry assistant position two months later. “I worked closely with Tony Galzin, the head pastry chef at the time, and he was a wonderful mentor. It was the first place that I had experienced the camaraderie of a kitchen; it was like a second family for me.”

After a year and a half of working with Galzin, learning how to conceive a menu and transition her knowledge as a baker to that of a pastry chef, Galzin left for Nashville, so Sarah applied for — and immediately landed — the pastry sous chef position at Sofitel in September 2012. “I did things there that I never thought I could do, like learning how to properly temper chocolate and make beautiful truffles and macaroons, but it was definitely a different environment; more corporate and sterile.”

Next stop … Nightwood:

Missing that feeling of “family” in the kitchen, Sarah soon began seeking out new opportunities; so when the executive pastry chef position became available at Nightwood, she jumped on it. “Whenever I had a night or Sunday off, I’d come in to Nightwood for dinner or brunch. It had always been one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, so I applied for the job right away.”

After a tasting and extensive interview process, Sarah was officially offered the job. “I was a little worried at first because JV told me there had been a lot of chefs in and out (applying for the position), who obviously weren’t making the cut. I kept saying to myself during my tasting: “Please don’t let this be a pastry one-night-stand!’.” And lucky for her, it wasn’t.

Sarah

Her Desserts:

“I like that the menu at Nightwood is focused on seasonality, because it keeps my job really interesting. I’ve been used to menus that only change every few months, so it’ll be fun not having months of preparing the same things.”

IMG_3023

Sarah also likes to play with savory elements, as long as they’re thoughtful. “I cook by flavor, not color, so everything on the plate has its purpose.”

Chocolate Bombe - Mast Brothers 73% Chocolate, Cherries, Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream

Chocolate Bombe – Mast Brothers 73% Chocolate, Cherries, Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream

And now that she’s landed her first position as a head pastry chef, she knows she’s 100% accountable. “I’ve always held myself to a very high standard, but now it’s really just me. I think the biggest difference is that my name is now attached to every single dish I put out there, and even though I have to be prepared to take any criticisms that come my way, it also makes me really happy, as any successes will be mine, too.”

Apple Upside Down Cake - rhubarb, oat streusel, buttermilk rhubarb ice cream

Apple Upside Down Cake – Rhubarb, Oat Streusel, Buttermilk Rhubarb Ice Cream

Fun Facts about Sarah:

  • An Elvis impersonator married her and her husband in Las Vegas.
  • She has two dogs – a pug named Mochi, and an English bulldog named Bacon Samwiches.
  • Speaking of bacon, the first time she ate bacon was while living in Cincinnati: “We had been out drinking all night, and on our way home from the bar, I told my husband I was ‘bacon curious’ … so he ordered me a BLT. It was great.”
  • She ate her FIRST burger (ever) at Kuma’s Corner when she moved to Chicago in 2010.
  • She has countless tattoos, many of which are food and cooking-inspired. Check out her Kitchen-Aid stand mixer!

tattoos

Sarah often plates desserts on Friday and Saturday nights, so if you happen to stroll past the counter and see her, be sure to say hello! We are thrilled to have Sarah as a part of the team and can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.