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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Andrew Zimmerman realized his creativity was best served in the kitchen rather than on the road as a guitarist, despite tasting early musical success.
As the executive chef of Sepia in Chicago, he has garnered praise for his contemporary, Mediterranean-inspired dishes that feature local, seasonal ingredients.
The 38-year-old spoke to Reuters about heading the kitchen of an established restaurant, the Chicago dining scene and his music career:
Q: You became the head chef of an already successful restaurant. What kind of changes have you made to the menu?
A: "All the dishes have been changed. The basic sentiment is still the same. Emmanuel (Nony, the owner) and Kendal (Duque), the previous chef have an American restaurant that uses a lot of local farm ingredients. Kendal's food has an inflection of the Mediterranean also. His background is kind of similar (as mine). We just interpret that differently."
Q: What is that difference?
A: "The primary difference is that Kendal's approach is a little more rustic and mine is a little more refined in technique and approach."
Q: Sepia's menu is seasonally driven. How quickly do you and your team compose dishes?
A: "At least with the produce, I go to the Green City Market and ask what's coming out and what I should be looking for. Then some of the big seasonal changes, they are more obvious and easier to anticipate. Sometimes inspirations take place really easily. Other times it takes a lot more before you can get it to work."
Q: How do you rate Chicago's dining scene?
A: "Personally I think it's really great. Maybe it's a little bit biased on my part. It's undeniable that Chicago has more progressive restaurants."
Q: You were a professional guitarist before you decided to dedicate yourself to cooking. Was it a tough to make that choice?
A: "I could play at a club and beg my friends to come. When I was in the kitchen cooking, people told me it's good. I'm still making something, whether I'm making music or composing a song. I was ultimately more successful in cooking than making music."
Sweet Corn Chowder with Goat Cheese Croutons
(Serves 8-10 portions)
12 ears sweet corn, shucked
2 leeks, white part only, diced
4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
6 stalks celery, peeled and diced
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
2 lbs young potatoes (fingerling, German butterball), cut
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive oil
3 cups heavy cream
4 oz goat cheese
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1. First, cut the kernels off the corn cobs. Reserve 2/3 of the corn kernels for garnishing the soup. In an 8-quart stock pot combine the 1/3 of kernels that are left with 10 of the corn cobs, 1/2 of the diced leek, 1/2 of the onion, 1/2 the celery, and 1/2 of the carrots, as well as 2 sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf. Cover with water by about 2 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes. Strain the corn stock and discard the solids.
2. Wash out the stock pot and add the olive oil. Over medium heat add the reserved leeks, onions, carrots, celery and corn kernels. Add a pinch of salt and sweat until beginning to get tender. Add the corn stock and the remaining thyme. Add the potatoes and the cream. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. Add the chopped parsley and taste the soup. Add salt and pepper as needed.
3. Toast slices of baguette. Spread some goat cheese on them and warm the goat cheese in the oven or under a broiler. Serve the goat cheese crouton on the side or float on top of the soup.
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney