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Chef Series: Phillip Foss Interview


[ Music ]>>Hello my name is Kyle Cherek. And this is the Madison College Chef
Demo series presented by Vollrath. And I’m here with she have
Phillip Foss of EL Ideas. Chef. Proprietor. Owner. Creator. And now author of EL, “Life in EL,” your graphic
knowledge that you wrote with your cousin Tim. We’re going to get to that in a minute.>>Sure.>>But before we get to that, I don’t get
to, well, I hang out with a lot of chefs. But I don’t get to hang out with that many chefs
that have a Michelin star back at their place. So how? Why? When? And what’s it like to have
that hanging over your, you know.>>You know.>>Every day you get up, yeah?>>You know, when we first opened EL, I mean, I
definitely had Michelin star aspirations for it. But first let me begin by saying,
thank you very much for having me. It’s an honor to be with
you guys for this series.>>Delighted, Phillip.>>Thank you Vollrath for bringing me here. But what it means, it just, it’s a great honor. And it feels great to be in this
really select group of restaurants in Chicago that have the Michelin star. You know, but at the same point, you know,
like we’ve always just kind of done what we do. And it, you know, really shouldn’t be
about accolades and striving for that. You know, it should just be about.>>Yeah.>>Doing the best you can.>>Yeah, it should be.>>Right.>>But, and it is for your cooking. But it’s, I mean, everybody knows
it’s also about so much more. You, it’s the other side it seems of the star
is like, well, you maybe even never wanted one. But once you have one, you know, it’s.>>Well, I wanted one.>>Yeah.>>But the problem was, is that
once I had one, then I wanted two.>>Right.>>You know. And then all much a sudden it came to be this
thing, is like, what am I striving for really? Am I ever going to be satisfied? And, you know, the answer I came up with was no.>>Yeah.>>You know. So let’s just stick to just doing what we do. And that’s just trying to make fine dining fun. And, you know, take the pretentiousness
out of the situation. And just rep lace it with like
a fun, interactive environment.>>So you fell into fine dining for your
own restaurant in a really unusual way. And we have a mutual friend
through Justin Carlyle. And then we have some other mutual friends
who are both boys from Milwaukee so we’ve.>>Right.>>Got that. And it was a pleasure, just as we were walking
in the room, before we sat down in front of cameras, to be talking about some places. And how they’ve changed. And not have to translate to somebody. Because you’re like, I know that street.>>Milwaukeeans speak their
own language to be sure.>>Yeah, I know that corner. I know that bar. Which there are a bajillion of in Milwaukee.>>Yeah, yeah, yeah.>>Yeah, there’s too many, yeah. My real question was, or
my, I guess not question. But how you got to EL was
really almost happenstance. Because you had this food truck.>>Right.>>Which you had to get the powers
to be in Chicago to change the laws.>>Right.>>You and I forget the other guy.>>Matt Maroney.>>Matt Maroney, yeah, went up against the city.>>We did.>>To change these onerous laws which now
we all take for granted in every city.>>It’s true.>>Yeah.>>It’s true.>>Yeah.>>And Chicago was very restrictive towards it.>>Yeah.>>You know, they had good reasons for it. Because there used to be battles
on the street between food carts. It wasn’t even like gourmet food trucks really.>>Okay.>>And they had to take those
means to protect, stop the fights.>>Yeah.>>But, you know, when it came around for,
time for gourmet food trucks to hit the scene, the restrictions were so prohibitive
that it was very anti-competitive. And, you know, we took it up with
some Aldermen to make some changes. And we actually got a new ordinance put in. Now, doesn’t, hasn’t really taken
away most of the challenges. But it was a step in the right direction.>>Well, it sort of opened up to, I
mean, it was like the, it lit the fire. Then other trucks were saying,
okay, hey, there’s a chance. And we can do this.>>Right.>>You know, if Chicago politics
is known for anything, it’s enforcement is somewhat
conditional based on the situation.>>This is true. I’m not going to sit and
like talk smack about like.>>No, no.>>My city’s politics. But it would be very easy to do that.>>Yeah, yeah.>>You know, I think the one thing, the biggest
argument against food trucks for restaurants was that they take away business from restaurants. But, you know, as somebody who went
from a food truck into a restaurant.>>Right.>>And, you know, now owns a restaurant. I can tell you firsthand that I’d much
rather have a restaurant than a food truck. So if anybody has a hard competitive, a
hard place to compete, it’s the food truck.>>Yeah.>>But everybody has their own, is
entitled to their own feelings on that. And I know people are very
passionate about that subject.>>And people are very passionate
about their food trucks.>>Food in general brings out passion.>>So you get a kitchen,
a commissary kitchen in a, what we would affectionately then
call the bighted neighborhood.>>That’s correct.>>And the inspector says, I
don’t know how to license this. But since there’s room for dining over there,
I’m just going to call it a restaurant.>>That’s.>>And you, Phillip Foss, say,
oh, I now own a restaurant.>>It really, that is exactly how it went down.>>Yeah.>>And it maybe the greatest
thing that ever came out of a health inspection at the end of day. But that is exactly, it was
like lightning striking me. And I was like, my god, why didn’t
I not think about this before but.>>Yeah.>>But, you know, that’s
just the way things happen.>>So how long had you been in the space, in and
out, day to day just, you know, cleaning it up? Or cooking in there before, how many times
before this health inspector said, oh, by the way, that’s Excaliber right there? That’s not just any old sword.>>Yeah, pretty much it was, I mean, we were
working in if for nine months, you know.>>Wow.>>I would wake up and then, you
know, get ready for the food truck. At three o’clock in the morning.>>Yeah.>>I’d wake up. And, you know, there were nights
where I’d sleep on the floor on a cardboard table propped on the floor. And, you know, it was a labor of love. And, you know, the weird thing is, is that I
don’t think EL would have ever materialized in the way it did had I not
gone through that like.>>Edifying kind of, yeah. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Yeah. You know, it was throwing it all,
you know, abandoned to the wind, you know.>>Yeah.>>Because, you know, I was pretty much,
I had two little babies at that time. And it was, you know, making ends meet because
I had just come out of a great paying hotel job.>>Yeah.>>You know, it was really, it was the
challenge of my life in a lot of ways.>>And it, to get personal,
it cost you your marriage.>>Yes.>>And.>>Well, it helped to cause, it
helped to break down my marriage. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Sure.>>You can’t blame it all on that.>>It wasn’t just that your first
wife didn’t like meat balls.>>No.>>Yeah.>>She was actually involved with the business.>>Right, right, yeah. So, but it’s, so it’s sort of the
sauce that broke the camel’s back.>>Yeah, there you go.>>Yeah. Which plays into
your much greater story. But I want to talk, I want to like pivot back
to sort of equipment and technical stuff.>>Sure.>>You’ve worked in some of the
finest restaurants in America. Le Cirque being the name
that everyone would know.>>Right.>>And five years there. Not like some people say,
oh, well, I spent a summer. I [inaudible] something. Five years.>>Right.>>Longer than a presidential term. You saw a lot of people come and go. You worked for great chefs.>>Right.>>I think you were there when I was there
as a customer who had to borrow a sport coat.>>I thought you looked familiar.>>Yeah, yeah. Just to get in. We’ll talk about that later. And, anyway, so you worked for, and then
Lockwood in Chicago and things like that. But you also took this path where you basically
just went into large amounts of food put out through big institutions like better hotels. And when food writers fill their byline,
they love to say, oh, chef worked here and worked here and worked here and worked here. You didn’t exactly work at
sexy places for a while there. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>That’s true.>>But what did that do for your soul? What did that teach you?>>Right.>>What equipment did that turn you on
to where you’re like, oh, you know what, it’s a hell of a lot easier to
make these delicate amuse-bouches when I have this massive mixer? Or, you know, whatever that
translation might be. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Right. Well, I’ll tell you as far as
the Vollrath product that really did help out in the beginning of opening up
the Meatyballs Mobile were their big.>>Can you say, sorry, Meatyballs Mobile.>>The Meatyballs Mobile was
the name of the food truck. Our mission statement was to get our
balls in the mouth of everyone Chicagoan. We didn’t fail, we didn’t succeed at that. But one, our balls might see
the light of day again one.>>Sure.>>Someday.>>Sure.>>Anyhow, what we did, what we
used was like these Swiss army pans. Like the, they’re like square. They come with a cover. They’re very heavy duty. And we used to put, we used
to like smoke pork shoulders. And then we’d put them in these pans. And we’d braise them overnight.>>Okay.>>And then the next day we would take the
pork shoulders, smoked pork shoulder out. And we would actually cook our
meatballs in the broth that.>>Oh, yeah.>>So ti was like this constant revolution
of these Vollrath pans being in constant use. And, you know, the amount of production that
they kind of constantly, they fit perfectly on our six, two of them fit
perfectly on our six-burner stove.>>So you have like the chef hack. But you had to have the right equipment
otherwise you would have been done.>>I kind of resent the term hack but.>>Okay, okay. I apologize.>>An artist of chaos.>>Okay, you had this chef
inventive moment of creativity.>>There you go.>>And.>>It’s the same thing.>>Yeah. But it’s, I mean,
like you’re a mountain climber. You don’t have the right
crampon, like you’re done. You can’t, you just can’t execute that move
or whatever would be a comparable metaphor.>>You got make it happen, you know.>>Yeah.>>It’s like a basketball
player going to the hole. It’s just.>>Right.>>Can’t see failure.>>Yeah.>>Just have to make it happen.>>Yeah. And I never had your meaty balls. But several friends told me that the Schweddy
ball was kind of legendary and worth standing in line for 20 minutes when it was really cold.>>Yeah.>>Yeah, just for that. I mean, you had a major following.>>People came from all over the
places for my Schweddy balls.>>So moving onto EL Ideas, and I’ve never
met a chef steeped in puns, by the way.>>Thank you very, I think. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>[inaudible], yeah. That loves it for his enterprises. Not as a joke later that night over drinks. But like, no, you actually do it. It’s on the T-shirt.>>Yeah.>>It’s on the name. It’s on the side of the van. Or truck as it would be. So EL Ideas, your under now.>>Right.>>But there’s so much more to it than that.>>Well, yeah. The name itself is an acronym
for elevated ideas in dining. And it really, when I conceived it, before
I even thought about what else it could be, I always felt like it was going to be this
like kind of beacon for the community. You know, for artists of all kinds
to be able to showcase their stuff. And, you know, even the way we
developed at EL is, as a restaurant, we, it’s a very collaborative spirit. We don’t have any walls IN the restaurant. So guests are allowed to get up out of
their chairs and come back to the kitchen. Hang out with us. My chefs interact with them quite a bit. And they, as a result, you know, because
I saw that they’ve got this investment. And I felt it would be a good place
for them to show off their own skills. So chefs actually come up with
their own dishes at the restaurant. And they tell the dining room about them. So they really get interaction, not
just within developing their cuisine. But they learn how to interact with guests.>>Yeah.>>Which is something that so
many chefs take for granted.>>Right.>>You know, it’s the people skills. You know, most of us go into
kitchens to hide and.>>Oh, no question. Yeah, you’re, I mean, as another chef
said, I don’t play well with others.>>Right. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>And that’s were I went into cooking.>>And I learned that I didn’t
play well with others either. So I think through working with, you know, with
the chefs at the restaurant and collaborating with them, it kind of helped me to be in a good
place to be able to collaborate with my cousin.>>Yeah.>>Tim Foss, I’m working on our comic book. And so much about happiness, I think,
is about your collaboration with others. Whether it’s relationships. Or, you know, as a restaurateur we collaborate
with our guests to make an evening successful. But, you know, people love the idea of
connecting and, you know, through food. And dining is, you know,
certainly the best way to do that. And to kind of get back to your question about,
you know, what those travels and, you know, like there’s a period of my time
where I stepped away from fine dining and went, and I worked around hotels. And it was, you know, I felt like I went through
this five year, seven year phase of learning how to become a chef in New York City. And working at Le Cirque. And then after that I really kind of
disappeared and just was willing to take kind of any job I could get for the idea of
being able to travel and see other cultures.>>So a bit of a quest in a way.>>It became that.>>Yeah.>>You know, I wanted to, it became
about escapism and running away.>>Yeah.>>And, you know, and what I learned later,
you know, later in my life, I was running away from a lot of things I didn’t want to look at.>>Sure, sure.>>You know, at the end of day but.>>Yeah, I feel that. But you ran far. I mean, you went to the King David in Israel. You went to Brazil, you know. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Brazil.>>Yeah. You went to Hawaii. I mean, you didn’t go to like the Hilton
and, you know, down the street in Chicago and just sort of disappear off of social media. You actually went far.>>One of the great things about being a
chef is, you know, no matter where you go, if you know how to cook, you’re going to be
able to find a job and somebody to cook for. And it might not always be the
job that you’re looking for and.>>Yeah.>>A lot of times it’s not. But, you know, as long as you kind
of have your priorities in order. Which for me at the time was to live life. And not be so chained to a kitchen. And chained to fine dining. And chained to the career.>>Yeah.>>You know, because we only
have our youth once. And it’s important to go out and
experience the world if you can.>>Yeah. So did you bring skills
and actual practical application from those jobs back into the food truck or EL? Or was it more an ethos and a
way of thinking about kitchens and how things can be done per
the example that you just gave with the braised shoulder and things like that?>>It is a lot about an ethos towards being,
you know, very risk adverse towards living life.>>Yeah.>>And that in itself I think
translates into, well, the food truck. Having the courage really to
launch a food truck [inaudible]. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>When no one else was doing that.>>Right.>>When it was illegal.>>Yeah.>>Basically.>>And even EL, like, if anybody were to
give me a business plan for what EL Ideas is and ask me if I want to invest it. I’d say you’re out of your mind. This isn’t going to work.>>And yet.>>And yet.>>And yet Eater, which was, well, and yet
Eater called you, well, basically the quote was. Said, no one else in America is cooking
food like Phillip Foss in EL Ideas.>>It was, it blew me away. I almost dropped my iPad when.>>Yeah.>>I saw it.>>Yeah.>>Because, you know, it’s like oh, my gosh.>>Yeah.>>Like did they really just say that?>>But it’s true. And my old late friend Josh Ozersky thought
you were the most meaningful thing happening in Chicago.>>I remember Josh. He was a good guy.>>Dear, dear friend and.>>I remember him, yeah.>>He, you know, I mean, for someone
like that who had just taken on the helm, what had been the food editor
for “New York Magazine.” And then taken on helm for “Esquire.” To have that kind of perspective. I mean, there’s somebody who ate
everywhere without worrying about the check. So you could eat adventurously.>>Yeah.>>And loved food to his
detriment in a way, anyway.>>Yeah.>>So you transitioned from
food truck to restaurant. A want to get back to collaboration
because that’s so key in what you are doing and
still doing is so unique. But talk about what you used. Like you’re a hands-on guy. This is a mechanic’s shirt.>>Right.>>That says EL Ideas.>>Yeah.>>So you’re very hands on
in the style of your food. Well, in the way that you make your
customers eat or suggest they do. You don’t make them do anything. Yeah.>>I think all those years working
at the hotel got me kind of tired of wearing the old traditional chef whites. And there’s really nothing traditional about EL. And it wasn’t white collar. It certainly was blue collar. So felt like we were going to
own that through and through so.>>Yeah.>>Yeah, this was our first jersey. And it kind of speaks to the fact, you know, like we don’t have any prep
cooks in our kitchen. So I come in, I do my dishes. I’m peeling the garlic for it. Slicing the onions. And, you know, like it gives us so much more of
the, well, I guess the signature on the food. It really is kind of a workhorse
mentality to it.>>Yeah.>>But, you know, also I, you know,
I’ve made a very strong effort to try to make the restaurant life
easy on the psyche as well. Because it’s such a hard business, you know, to
be able to maintain balance throughout a life. Especially with relationships.>>Yeah. It’s just the whole package.>>Yeah.>>So you’re, and you live upstairs.>>Do it differently has always been my model.>>So you live upstairs, and you come down. And then each of your cooks, yourself
included, is empowered to cook those dishes. I’ve always felt there was this
comparable aspect to, for chefs. Japanese poetry has got this concept that
you only ever really write eight poems. You just keep rewriting them.>>That’s a great.>>Isn’t that beautiful?>>Yes, it is. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Yeah. And I’ve learned, observing
chefs, that through the years, though they may vary on their dishes. They’re really, they’re using
a core group of techniques. Equipment. Styles. That they keep going back to.>>That’s very observant. It’s really observant.>>Yeah.>>Kyle, for sure.>>So what are those for you? Like what are those things? And I know how varied and inventive.>>Sure.>>EL might be. But, you know, like what, give
me the eight poems, Phillip?>>You know, the eight poems, that’s
a hard one to do, you know, for sure, but I think if you like, and I think for
me I like to use the analogy of a musician. You know, like you have, you, like I learned
how to cook basically at Le Cirque, you know.>>Yeah.>>So that was, that’s really like the
roots and the foundation of my music. Let’s say like Bob Dylan, his roots
is in Woody Guthrie and in the.>>Yeah.>>And in folk music.>>Right.>>And then so. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>With a little Robert Johnson thrown in.>>Like my first dishes when I first
broke off as a chef, they really were just like small variations from
the food that I grew up with. But slowly, as I started to gain
more confidence and, you know, build up more of a repertoire
with my own dishes. You know, then I became ready to
break into the electrical guitar. Like, you know, like go off.>>Right.>>And actually create a genre that
isn’t necessarily there before.>>Yeah.>>You know, and it, but that actually
happened more through storytelling than actual, like in thinking more about what it is
about food that gets us, connect to food.>>Yeah.>>You know.>>Yeah.>>And through that, yeah, I’ve got
like a set of, like, almost if you look at my whole repertoire, it’s
just a bunch of mish-mosh of the same thing mixed in 100 different ways.>>Right, right. So if someone took your microplane
away, for instance. Would that be the thing you’re
like, no, no, no, okay. Now I’m actually down one hand. Or something. You know what I mean? [ Multiple Speakers ]>>That’s a good point. If there’s.>>Yeah.>>If there’s one thing that would be.>>What are three or something like that. But I’m always curious with chefs. Like what is your, you know, that final scene
in “The Jerk” where’s he like, I’m fine.>>A good old fashion sizzler plate,
you know, like a little steak plate. Like that has so many different uses from.>>Yeah.>>You know, like crushing
peppercorns on the back of a, you know. So like, you know, like I think as a chef,
you know, we’re kind of taught to get along. Make it happen no matter what.>>Oh, yeah.>>So like I feel like I can create on the fly. But, like, I’d be really
lost without my steak pan.>>Interesting. Yeah. Cool, cool. So back to collaboration. Because if, when one comes in as a
diner to EL, it’s a, first of all, it’s pre-fee so that’s the story.>>Right. Everybody pays before they come in.>>Yeah.>>They no choice on the menu.>>Yeah.>>You get what we give you.>>You’re going to sit with your
friends that made the reservation. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Take your two choices. Take it or leave it, yeah.>>Or you’re going to sit with strangers.>>Yeah, we don’t have no-shows
because everybody’s paid up front.>>Yeah, yeah. Or if they do, you still got the money.>>We still have the money, yeah. Doesn’t happen often.>>So you’re sitting with either
friends or work colleagues or strangers. And then the courses come out. And you all sort of present. Pontificate. Preach. Teach. Educate. Sing. Soliloquy.>>Right.>>Each course.>>Right.>>Depending on the tone and tenor, you know.>>Yeah.>>Yeah. That in and of itself is a very human
collaboration with, I almost said the audience. But with the guests; right?>>That’s exactly kind of
the basis for where my style of cooking really kind of
veered off into its own. Is that, you know, at EL Ideas we have
this unique connection with the guest. Like we have nothing blocking us. Like in a normal restaurant a server
has to explain the dish to a guest.>>Yeah.>>And like, it’s like when you tell a secret
across the room, it’s going to be something else by the time it gets in front of that person.>>It’s like a game of telephone.>>Right. And I think even Harvard
did like a study about this. About being able to see the
person cooking your food. You know, like when you can
actually see what, them preparing it. And in our case even describing it. There’s just a stronger connection
to what it is in front of them and.>>Right.>>That’s really what, you know,
so much of art and so much about, certainly a restaurant experience is about. Is this strengthening of, you know,
the forming of those connections.>>Yeah, yeah.>>You know, we do it, you know,
we get the ingredients to us. And there’s, you know, like
what’s the story between, before those ingredients,
the farmers that it went to? The purveyors that it went to? You know, and what happened
to it before it got to us? And then we have this opportunity
to turn it into something more. To elevate it. Getting back to the elevating of the, for us. Now we have to create a story behind it and.>>Right.>>If we can create a linear
path where we’re connecting dots. You know, like by the time a person’s adding
it, they can taste the care that goes into it.>>Yeah.>>And I think is that is
the goal of the chef is to just make those steps,
you know, like full of care.>>Yeah, I like it. And your, I mean, your name,
the name of the restaurant and the cuisine are constantly collaborating,
it seems to me, with the environment. Like you can hear the train. You can’t miss the L train. Like you know, it’s not.>>It’s actually a freight train out there. The L, it does not pass near us actually. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Oh really, okay.>>But like all.>>All the same, you hear a train.>>All the places I’ve lived
in my life, [inaudible].>>Yeah.>>But all the places I’ve lived in my
life have really been close to trains. Like I can hear them passing by. So it’s really cathartic for me personally.>>Interesting.>>And there’s so much about trains that, you
know, correlate to connecting our country.>>Yeah.>>You know, and our history is so richly
tied through it for better and for worse. You know, because much of the decimation
of the Native American population and buffalo was on account of trains.>>Yeah.>>And, you know, so there’s a duality to it. But mostly they’re just something, I find
something really romantic about it and.>>Yeah.>>And something that actually translates
into our dining experience even.>>So you’re, EL’s always lived, it seems to me,
at sort of the crossroads within Chicago dining. Which is I think the most evocative and
provocative city in American dining. It has been for a while now. But, so you’ve got the molecular
angle of what Grant does at Alinea. And then previously at Moto. And, you know, that sort of.>>Right.>>World. And then you had the access kind of
angle that Jacob Bickelhaupt did with 42 Grams. And you were doing it in
[inaudible], that sort of way. And you were this nice crossroads where it was
like, well, it’s not going to be as removed. And we’re not going to have, you know,
vanilla-flavored balloons that we’re inhaling for dinner as intermezzo or whatever. But we’re also, it’s not low-down comfort food. It’s not that sort of thing. But there’s some aspects, a little bit. There’s a certain irreverence. But there’s also a certain
amount of presentation. Like how did you, how do
you negotiate all of that with a restaurant that’s now been
a really healthy ongoing concern? You’re coming up on ten years.>>Yeah, we are.>>Yeah, yeah.>>You know, it’s been a
roller coaster ride for sure. And I’m not going to lie. I feel like right now we’ve kind of, blending into the walls a
little bit in the Chicago scene. And a lot about our comic book came out of
that energy of, you know, like here we are.>>We’re still here.>>I don’t to go, like, I’m not ready to
go down that path of irrelevancy, you know.>>Check me into record night, yeah. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Right, right.>>Yeah.>>I won’t go quietly anyway and.>>Yeah.>>So we did the comic. But at the same point, you know,
like it’s because of a restaurant like Alinea and what Grant is doing. And before him what Charlie
Trotter did in Chicago.>>Sure.>>And even before that was
Jean Banchet was doing here.>>Yeah.>>And then you look at, well, Grant right now. And, you know, he is definitely
in the top echelon. You know, the first time I
ate at Alinea, I came back. And I was like, oh, no, what I’ve
been doing is not going to be. That doesn’t matter anymore. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>I know nothing, yeah, yeah.>>Throw that out the window, you know. And so because he’s pushing the
boundaries like that, in a way, forced me to reevaluate what I was doing. And for me I don’t feel like I can
create food on that, you know, plateau. So I decided to find like a
niche with the style of service. And, you know, our whole approach
to the restaurant theme and.>>Yeah.>>You know, and to kind of
look at that differently. And to inject my personality
more than maybe my cooking style.>>So you have a comic book. You have a gothic or graphic novel. Not a gothic novel. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>It’s a little dark.>>Yeah. No, there’s moments. It’s true. So you’re going along. You’re recovering. Your staff told you, you got some anger issues. Your life is, I mean, you started meditating. I’ll let you tell that story. But in the midst of it, you run into a cousin.>>Yeah.>>And it’s like, because this makes sense. Dude, let’s do a graphic novel together. My life’s really interesting, I’m sure
for everybody, and you draw really well.>>It was his, it was my cousin’s idea.>>Okay.>>We started catching up at a
family reunion of all things. So the next time you go and crap
on it when your parents invite you to it, realize that some good things. It’s kind of like a health inspection.>>Right.>>You know, once in a blue moon
something good can come out of it. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>That’s sort of a theme for your life. You should probably hit up the
DMV for your next career move.>>It kind of is.>>Yeah, yeah>>You know, in a lot of ways. How ridiculous a, more ridiculous a
concept, the better a chance of success.>>Right. So this graphic novel that
you’ve written with Tim, I mean, how, this is a weird pivot, okay.>>Right.>>I’m just going to put it out there.>>Right.>>Yeah.>>So it came about out of,
I’d been working on a memoir. And it was getting really long. And I was at this family
reunion and talking with Tim. And we were catching up a little bit. And I told him about it. And he just kind of had spoken that
he had been studying comic art. And he just kind of, we mentioned
wouldn’t it be fun if we did that? And I think it was a couple
weeks later he texted me back. And he’s like, hey, you want
to still talk about this? And little by little we started
talking about it. And then it started developing. And, you know, little by little
it kind of became this thing that was bigger than both of us in a way and.>>Right.>>You know.>>Right.>>Yeah.>>So, but he’s in a different city. He’s in Minneapolis.>>Right.>>You’re in Chicago.>>Right.>>You know, talking about collaboration before. Like when I collaborate with people, I
generally like to have some close proximity.>>Right.>>From time to time. So how do you navigate something that’s so
personal, some versions of your life story? And, I mean, it’s a very physical
style of creation that he does.>>Right.>>So how do you, like, how do you do that
without standing over each other’s shoulders?>>It was a lot of trust
in the process to be real. And it was about a lot of communication. And a lot of connecting. And a lot of phone calls and text messages. And actually learning about
each other’s lives that I think.>>Yeah, interesting.>>Made the telling of this story
so much more rich, you know. Because I found parallels. We had different art forms for sure. But, you know, like there was a common
thread to I think anybody, any artist. And I think we were able to tap
into that and then open it up. And kind of see, you know, let
the story come out of that. And, you know, the one good
thing about being a chef, well, there’s a lot of great things
about being a chef. But the stories that we’re able to see. And the people we meet. And the, you know, the walks of life that we
come into contact with is tremendous, you know. And it’s, it gives you opportunity to touch
people’s lives in just a very profound and, you know, people love being,
eating good food, you know. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Yeah, yeah.>>And as a chef to be able to just do that, you
know, and being able, well, work hard for sure. But, you know, being able
to nurture other people.>>I mean, that’s one of the
amazing things about the industry. There’s some, you can live
without a razor’s edge. And the work and things like that
can really grind a person down. But the community. The camaraderie. The authenticity. The way you can change people’s lives
through cooking, not just through the food that they’ve eaten, but being a leader. Giving them a place to grow in their creativity. And then saying, and you probably
have to some of your chefs. I think it’s time for you to
go here and take the craft. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>No.>>No?>>No.>>No.>>No, I like people, I don’t
like people leaving me. I never have. You know, like at the same point, you know, I
totally understand that people need to move on.>>Yeah.>>And, you know, I was a
very lone soldier as a chef. I didn’t have anybody opening doors for me. You know, like I had to push down
every door that I came in front of. And I feel, I think as a result of that,
that’s what I feel like other chefs should do. If a chef wants to push down a
door and come to me and learn.>>Interesting.>>You know, and if chef wants,
says that I’ve learned enough. It’s time for me to move
on and go somewhere else.>>Yeah.>>I’ll, you know, good luck. I do wish you the best. I don’t hold grudges.>>Yeah.>>To people for leaving. But at the same time, you know, I think it’s
important for everybody to go find their own.>>Right. Interesting, interesting. So you’re working on this book with Tim. And you’re, like were there times where you
just said, that’s not how I see it in my mind? Just like designing a dish.>>This is, yeah. This is actually very easy for
me to answer that question. There was a point, you know, there’s
a really hard point in the story where Tim and I were kind of, not stuck. But I just knew I had to get this out. And it was going to be really hard and
really cause a lot, you know, I’m going to, really going to have to go
deep into myself to get it out.>>Yeah.>>But I wrote it out. It was vital. And, you know, as soon as Tim saw it, I
was like, yes, that’s what I needed to see. And that’s the direction we need to take this. And then when it came time for
him to draw it, he completely kind of left out the dialogue that I did. And he completely took this story kind
of out of the, not just out of the scene. Like a completely different place. And when I first saw it, I was
like what do you, what is this? [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Yeah, yeah, record scratch.>>This is not anything.>>Right.>>Right. And he’s like, I just felt
like I had to take this and, you know, I just, I kind of, we hung up the phone. And I was talking with my wife who,
you know, is an incredible backbone that has allowed this to
happen in a lot of ways. And, you know, she, I was
like he, what’s he doing? He’s taking this the wrong way. And she’s, I’m like, but I
realized, you know, like at EL. Like I don’t tell chefs what’s to cook. You know, and she kind of helped me to see this. Like, you know, like you don’t
tell your cooks what to do. Like, you know, what? You’re right. And I let him go. And the strangest thing about it is like,
even though my words were completely lost. Like his drawings capture the
words in a more profound way. And it is now my favorite
part of the entire book. Because it actually means. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Couple different languages.>>That I have my own interpretations
of those pages.>>Sure.>>That have nothing to do
with my writing in a way.>>Yeah. So I know, so pretty much every
chef has said to me, come to my restaurant. Let me cook for you. You’ll know me through my food.>>Yeah.>>Did Tim come to the restaurant either
before, middle over after the book?>>The middle.>>Middle. Interesting.>>It is interesting. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>Why the middle?>>You know, I think it was a
lot to do with the distance.>>Okay.>>You know, between us for sure.>>Yeah.>>It was, I believe it was
the middle that he came for. And I think it was also to just kind
of reinforce what we were doing.>>Yeah.>>And to give a little bit more of
a background seeing it as, you know, picture’s worth a thousand words and.>>Yeah.>>I mean, that kind of goes to why I did a
graphic novel and comic instead of a memoir. You know, get to the point faster and.>>Yeah.>>While my cooking is about me, but
what I really knew at the end of day was that there was a whole side
of me that nobody gets to see.>>Yeah.>>You know, and.>>All of us.>>Right. And, exactly. And I think I was, you know,
through Tim’s drawing. I was able to get that out in
the story and in the comic. And, you know, it isn’t so pretty at all times. But it, good intentions.>>Well, your hero, one your heroes is
John-Louis Palladin, who is one of my heroes. I’m not a chef. But everything that he stood
for and that he did. And I would trade some other people
who died later in life for more years of Jean-Louis life continuing forward.>>Right.>>If only for what it would
mean to American dining. So I felt a kinship with
you in that book definitely.>>Yeah. Jean-Louis was a master. And, you know, really became
him in a lot of ways. Because I remember talking
about him with a young chef. And the chef didn’t know who he was. And I’m like, oh, my gosh; right? That’s it, that’s exactly how I felt about it. And when I started thinking about him and
like drawing parallels between myself and him. Well, you know, anger issues are a
very easy place for a chef to start with drawing parallels to other chefs. And, you know, he had this huge
passion for white truffles. A story of his that I remember
hearing when I was in New York City was him
coming back from a vacation. You know, seeing that truffle
oil was used on a dish. And walking the entire restaurant
staff out to the back alley. And he took the bottle and smashed it
against the wall into a gazillion pieces. And, you know, and when I heard this
story, I was like, oh, that’s a legend. That’s who I need to be.>>Yeah.>>You know, and he was this hero
that was larger than life and. [ Multiple Speakers ]>>I know that story.>>You know, and, well, we tied a white
truffle goddess into the comic as well as a result of, you know, the kinship. And the, you know, like chefs worship truffles
as if they’re like this other worldly thing so.>>Yeah, yeah.>>Kind of tied everything together in the end.>>So it’s a lovely book that
is not particularly lovely. But it’s worthwhile for anybody
in the culinary sphere to read because it’s a window into,
more real that goes on.>>Yeah.>>In my role I’ve had the opportunity
to stand just, not quite in the corner of the kitchen, but off to the left. And just observe. Soak it in.>>Right.>>Yeah. But never be asked, why is he here? And the things that you see. It’s very true in your book.>>The intensity, there’s.>>Yeah.>>Tons and tons of intensity and machismo and.>>Yeah.>>Testosterone. And the girls in the kitchen
who manage to survive, they’re usually the toughest people there. You know, and I figure there’s a
degree where we nurture diners. And we have a great sense of
nurturing others with food. But then we don’t really nurture ourselves. And, you know, we’re really not very nurturable. You know, we’re kind of like jerks.>>Oh, that’s not true about everybody. So what’s exciting to you
about EL Ideas right now? What are you putting out? Or what do you see coming now
that you birthed this book?>>Right.>>Right. But still, it’s service every night. Well, Tuesday through.>>Right.>>Through Saturday. So like what’s the drive now? Or what are you looking?>>Honestly, the drive very much is just about
getting the message across about this book. And about what the book has opened up in me. And, you know, I want to be, for the
rest of my life I’d rather be known for my words than about, than for my food. But I feel like, if I’m able to focus on my
words and my narrative in this story, you know, I feel like my food will take care of itself. Because I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t
you know, I feel like the less I actually think about it and put into it, the more precise in
a weird way that dishes are coming out now.>>Interesting.>>It’s been very moving.>>If you’d talk about that,
if you pursue that from a place of humility, it makes perfect sense. If you pursue what you just
said from a place of ego, everyone will tell you you’re
going to crash and burn.>>It’s a really good way
of looking at it, Kyle, and.>>Yeah.>>You know, it is. The ego, a chef’s ego is about
as big as they get, you know. And, you know, just taking a little
bit of air out of my own ego has been, made a world of difference in regards
to my appreciation of what I do even. [ Music ]

Robin Kshlerin

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