New Friends

Talk about good company! I just wanted to give you guys a link to some websites and Twitter feeds for now. I’m planning on getting all of these guys really drunk in Aspen, and then I’ll have some real dirt to spill (especially on Gaudet, I’m betting he gets something pierced). For now, I hope you enjoy geeking out over their menus and websites as much as I have. They are all incredibly kind and talented, and I’m honored to be associated with them. – JV

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:: DANNY BOWIEN ::

Restaurant: Mission Chinese Food

Whereabouts: New York City, NY

“Famous” Dish: Ma po tofu with pork shoulder and Sichuan pepper

Follow Him: @dannybowien

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 :: CHRIS SHEPHERD ::

Restaurant: Underbelly

Whereabouts: Houston, TX

“Famous” Dish: Korean braised goat and dumplings

Follow Him: @cshepherd13

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:: ALEX STUPAK ::

Restaurant: Empellón CocinaEmpellón Taqueria

Whereabouts: New York City, NY

“Famous” Dish: Tacos of beer-braised tongue with árbol chile salsa

Follow Him: @alexstupak

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:: JAMIE MALONE ::

Restaurant: Sea Change

Whereabouts: Minneapolis, MN

“Famous” Dish: Scallops with chicken “crumble” (fried chicken skin) and carrots three ways: blackened, as a confit and as a foam

Follow Her: @jamiemone

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:: MATTHEW GAUDET ::

Restaurant: West Bridge

Whereabouts: Cambridge, MA

“Famous” Dish: “Egg in a jar”: slow-cooked duck eggs, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, potato puree and crispy duck skin

Follow Him: @GaudetMatthew

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:: ANDY TICER & MICHAEL HUDMAN ::

Restaurant: Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen

Whereabouts: Memphis, TN

“Famous” Dish: Corn tortellini with duck confit and chanterelle mushrooms

Follow Them: @amitaliancooks

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:: MICHAEL VOLTAGGIO ::

Restaurant: ink

Whereabouts: Los Angeles, CA

“Famous” Dish: Baby turnips and radishes in a coffee-cardamom “soil”

Follow Him: @MVoltaggio

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:: JUSTIN COGLEY ::

Restaurant: Aubergine

Whereabouts: Carmel, CA

“Famous” Dish: Abalone and oyster with pickled sea beans and wild sea lettuce on a braised pig’s tail cake

Follow Him: @JustinCogley

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:: JOSE ENRIQUE ::

Restaurant: Jose Enrique

Whereabouts: San Juan, Puerto Rico

“Famous” Dish: Crispy fried yellowtail snapper with mashed batata (sweet potato) and papaya-avocado salsa

Follow Him: @ChefJoseEnrique

Not to mention, it’s been exactly two months since JV was in New York where he met this amazing group of chefs. With video camera in hand, he was able to capture some candid, behind-the-scenes footage at the photo shoot for the July issue of Food & Wine, in which they will all be featured. Take a look, and be sure to pick up the July issue when it hits newsstands!

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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

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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.

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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.”

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 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.

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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.”

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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!

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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.


Chicago Chef Week 2013

While you may have spent the weekend drinking green beer and eating corned beef sandwiches in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week is all about celebrating great Chicago chefs. We hope you’ll join us for our 3-course dinner menu at $44/person.

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Chicago Chef Week 2013 begins today, March 18, and ends Friday, March 22. Please call the restaurant at (312) 526.3385 or make your online reservation here.

We look forward to seeing you soon!


A Closer Look: Cured Foie Gras Appetizer

The weekend is nearly here, and if you’ve got plans to dine at Nightwood, keep an eye out for our new foie gras appetizer.

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We start out by curing the foie gras and then pass it through a tamis (fine-meshed sieve):

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The foie is then whipped, rolled tightly in cheese cloth and hung for a week. When it comes time to plate, the roll is sliced into smaller pieces and our housemade fish sauce caramel is melted over the top of each piece. The dish is completed with several components, including almonds, baguette crisps, an apple puree and freshly cut pea tendrils.

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Almost looks too good to eat …

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If foie gras isn’t exactly your cup of tea, don’t fret — the menu is full of new, mouth-watering dishes that are sure to please any palette. Think fresh prawns, chicken-fried sweetbreads, hand-rolled fregola sarda and more. So if you don’t have dinner plans yet, we suggest coming in and checking out the menu for yourself … there’s a lot of delicious food waiting for you!


Spaghetti alla Chitarra

For those who have been to Nightwood, you know that handmade pasta is an important part of our menu. While the shapes and styles change every week or two, our spaghetti alla chitarra remains pretty constant. I asked JV how this particular type of pasta came to be at the restaurant, and he explained that when his parents moved to Italy for a brief period of time, he asked them to send him some authentic pasta equipment … instead, they went online and found a Chitarra from a company in Pennsylvania and sent it to the restaurant. Authentic? Yes. Directly from Italy? Not quite.

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Regardless of how it got here, we’re thankful for it: this type of pasta has been a steady customer favorite over the years and lends itself well to an array of ingredients and flavor combinations. The rich, all-purpose egg yolk dough is perfect when it comes to crafting hand-cut shapes like ravioli, pappardelle — and of course the spaghetti alla chitarra.

In Italian, “chitarra” (KEY-tarra) translates to guitar, and you can see from the photo above how this piece equipment resembles a small guitar — strings and all. The origins of the spaghetti alla chitarra appear to come from the center and southern regions of Italy, particularly the region of Abruzzo. There, they like to serve the spaghetti with a simple meat ragu. Though the chitarra may look slightly intimidating at first glance, it’s actually quite simple to use: sheets of handmade pasta are placed directly on top of the strings and pushed through with a rolling pin. Easy, right? Be sure to check out the video below, as JV makes the pasta and shows how to use the Chitarra.

:: INGREDIENTS ::

(yields approx. 4 servings)

  • 1/2 lb. all-purpose flour (~2 cups)
  • 7 egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt
  • Warm water (~1/3 cup, give or take)

:: METHOD ::

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt and create a well in the center. Add the egg yolks and some of the warm water to the well. Begin to mix with fingers, slowly pulling the flour into the center of the well. Add more water as needed until dough begins to come together. Start to knead the dough in the bowl (it’s okay if there’s extra flour left in the bottom of the bowl). Once you get a good chunk of dough, remove it from the bowl and knead it by hand for about 30 minutes to develop the gluten. Now that your arm feels like it’s ready to fall off, tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes so the gluten can relax.

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When the dough is done resting, take a rolling pin and begin to roll the dough out on a floured surface until you’ve achieved a smooth, almost leathery consistency without any cracks or crumbles. Finally, cut the pasta into desired shapes and briefly cook in salted boiling water (time depends on thickness/shape) — the spaghetti alla chitarra should take less than 1 minute to cook.

Watch the video to see JV make the dough from start to finish, plus how to use the chitarra:

A few final thoughts … this pasta dough also freezes great, so you can easily double or triple the recipe and keep it frozen until ready for use. Kitchen Tip: we suggest freezing the dough in thin discs rather than large chunks — it’ll thaw much faster when you’re ready to use it. Also consider using good quality eggs when making this dough; fresh, deep orange yolks will result in a beautiful looking pasta. If you’re interested in purchasing your own Chitarra, check out the Fante’s Kitchen Shop here.


Chai Bitters

A few weeks ago, two of our front-of-the-house staff members — Georgina and Eric — were busy at the bar making house-made chai bitters. I was intrigued by what I imagined would be a heavenly smelling concoction, so I decided to stick around and snap a few shots to document the process … just in case I ever wanted to try this at home.

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While bitters used to be marketed as medicines, today they’re used as flavorings in cocktails, as well as aperitifs and digestifs. The bitters are prepared through infusion or distillation, using aromatic herbs, barks, roots and/or fruits, which are not only used to provide that bitter/bittersweet flavor but also for their natural stomach-soothing qualities. So even though we’ve come a long way from this … its general medicinal qualities have remained constant.

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Though there are numerous types of bitters, it seems nothing could be more comforting and warming during these cold winter months than chai bitters. To start, Eric and Georgina used a mortar and pestle to grind several different types of spices, including: grains of paradise, Jamaican allspice and cardamom pods.

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Here’s Georgina grinding the spices and then adding them to a jar already filled with some star anise, cloves, a few cinnamon sticks cracked in half and wormwood herb.

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After that, Eric added a sliced vanilla bean, fresh orange peel and candied ginger. The vanilla provides a hint of sweetness while the orange peel gives it that natural bitterness.

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While the candied ginger also adds a certain level of sweetness (primarily because it’s candied!), it has always been known for its soothing properties — particularly calming an upset stomach.

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Eric finished it off by adding a high strength rum; he said it would sit and infuse for a few weeks … and well … it’s definitely been a few weeks.

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So whether or not you need a “cure” for jaundice, a loss of appetite, sour stomach, body aches, fever, sores, liver trouble or just general debility — bitters might just be your new best friend. Who knew drinking could be so good for you …

Now, who’s thirsty?