Sometimes the cure for hunger can be found in the comforts of your own home. Chef Chris Tong talks to us about his private chef service and some of his latest creations. If you are a food lover like us, then you will surely enjoy this feature…if nothing else, it will force you to make something good for dinner tonight.
F: Can you describe Chicago cuisine? What are the major influences to the food we eat?
C: Chicago does not really have one cuisine. The flavors are as diverse as the ethnic neighborhoods. Chicago cuisine is influenced by its multicultural landscape, seasonal ingredients, and the latest culinary trends.
F: Chicago has a lot of great chefs and good food. How are your creations uniquely yours, what are some key differences between you and the local talent?
C: Every chef develops his or her own style based on background and training. I was born and trained in Europe and I think that all my experiences have influenced my dishes. After 25 years in kitchens at fine restaurants and hotels in Chicago, Los Angeles and Florida, I have adapted my skills to the world of private entertaining. With my service, I have the flexibility and luxury of customizing menus for my clients – allowing me to prepare an elegant dinner in the comfort of our clients’ homes leaving them free to relax and enjoy the meal!
F: Any ingredient you can’t live without? Why?
C: Butter, fresh herbs, and extra virgin olive oil are my staples. They give my dishes great flavor. If possible, I like to use an olive oil from the country associated with the dish I am preparing.
F: Do you still do much experimenting with different ingredients? Has there been anything you’ve created and never did again?
C: I experiment all of the time. First, I visualize the dish and then develop the appropriate ingredients. I always keep in mind what is in season.
One ingredient that I probably won’t cook again is calf’s liver. It’s not my favorite.
F: How has your food evolved? What was the first meal you ever cooked? Knowing what you know now, how would you do it today?
C: I never stop learning and trying new ingredients and combinations. That is the excitement of gourmet cuisine. The more familiar I am with tastes, the more I am able to create interesting and delicious dishes. I don’t recall the very first meal that I cooked but I am sure it was simple like grilling a chicken breast. I was a teenager at the time. So today, I might stuff the chicken breast with baby arugula, colorful peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and Brie cheese.
F: What does your own kitchen look like?
C: It is very modern and very efficient. I have a marvelous pantry that I custom designed myself.
F: Let’s say you showed up on the Iron Chef, and the special ingredient was Wisconsin Cheese Curds, what would you create with it?
C: Roasted red and yellow vine ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese curds, balsamic syrup and crispy basil leaves.
F: Where do you usually shop for your ingredients?
C: I have developed excellent relationships with vendors that I worked with over the years at the hotels and restaurants. This allows us to create special menu items such as foie gras, exotic wild game, seasonal seafood or different varieties of caviar. We feature ingredients the public can’t buy on their own. I also visit the Farmer’s markets for fresh seasonal ingredients.
F: Best place to sit down and eat one of your creations?
C: Right in your own home!
F: What local Chicago neighborhood has the best food? Why?
C: There are so many great restaurants in this city. Some of my favorite neighborhood restaurants are in Lincoln Square, Bucktown and Andersonville.
F: What are your favorite things to do in Chicago that do not involve food?
C: I love to ride my bike along the lakefront and up to the Chicago Botanic Gardens.
F: Where’s the best place for us to learn how to make meals as good as yours?
C: Why not arrange for some private lessons in your own kitchen with My Private Chef? Or, you can attend one of my cooking demonstrations and get helpful tips on shopping, preparing and storing ingredients. For upcoming events and appearances, see our calendar.