What do you think chefs—on their feet for 12 to 14 hours a day toiling away in their restaurant kitchens—do when they get home?
The surprising truth? They cook.
Cooking is one profession where you take your work home with you, and that’s just fine as far as chefs are concerned.
We had the delicious job of talking to some top chefs in Chicagoland and they all have two things in common: a passion for their craft and the desire to cook for the ones they love. Yes, they often come home tired, but for these chefs, cooking is creative, fun, energizing and relaxing all at the same time. To them, breaking bread with their families is the icing on the cake.
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Here’s what some of our dedicated chefs cook at home:
Chef David DiGregorio of Osteria Via Stato
The beauty of being a chef, according to Chef DiGregorio of Osteria Via Stato (620 N. State St., Chicago, 312-642-8450), is getting the opportunity to bring the family together and nurture them. This is one chef who never gets tired of cooking. “Everything inspires everything else,” DiGregorio says when asked how being a chef influences his home cooking. “Food is always exciting. It’s alive and new all the time. I’ve seen a lot of springs, but it never gets old—when the season’s first asparagus come in, I still get excited.”
- 4 slices ciabatta bread (cut into 1-inch slices)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus 3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, halved
- 2 cups sweet sun gold or heirloom cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup farmers’ market cucumbers, peeled, cut in half, seeded, sliced thin
- 1/8 cup slivered sweet onion, slivered
- 3 tablespoons torn fresh basil
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons slivered Cerignola olives
- 1 ounce red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Drizzle Ciabatta slices with olive oil and toast on sheet tray in 500 degree convection oven for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Once toasted, rub each slice with cut side of garlic clove, and then tear into 1-inch pieces.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine bread with 3 ounces olive oil, red wine vinegar and remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed. Arrange on plate and serve.
Chef Doug Psaltis of RPM Italian, RPM Steak and Three Dots and a Dash
At home, Chef Psaltis keeps it simple. “When there are no sous chefs to help, think fresh, easy and quality ingredients,” he says. His favorite approach is to head for the charcoal grill. He found this recipe while at the market in Marseille, France. Freed from the pressure of having to reproduce dishes exactly the same each time at Three Dots and a Dash (435 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-610-4220), Psaltis offers no measurements; it’s all about freedom and feel. Psaltis is also the chef/partner at RPM Steak (66 W. Kinzie, Chicago, 312-284-4990) and RPM Italian (52 W. Illinois, Chicago, 312-222-1888).
Spatchcock Chicken With Herbs de Provence
- 1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
- Herbes de Provence
- Sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh lemon juice
1. Crack open the chicken (or your butcher can “spatchcock” the chicken for you), drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with herbes de Provence and sea salt and put skin-side down on the grill.
2. Flip chicken when necessary; grill until done. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over grilled chicken, drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil to finish.
Chef Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno and Piccolo Sogno Due
Chef Priolo looks forward to Sunday morning, his day to cook for his family for the week ahead. “It’s all about organization,” he says. He uses his skills to make order out of chaos and a week of sauces and stews is fast work. He freezes in small batches so it’s always available for his family on the nights he is at one of his two Chicago restaurants: Piccolo Sogno (464 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-421-0077) and Piccolo Sogno Due (340 N. Clark St., Chicago 312-822-0077). Priolo suggests serving his Ragu with a salad of arugula, lemon and olive oil with freshly ground pepper.
Ragu di Bolognese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
- 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 1 thyme sprig
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 ounces each ground beef, veal and pork
- 4 ounces chopped or ground chicken liver
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 36 ounces San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
1. In a braising pot, heat the olive oil on high heat and sauté the carrots, red onions and celery and the fresh herbs.
2. When the vegetables have been quickly sautéed, add the ground beef, pork, veal and liver; season with sea salt and pepper. Lightly brown the meat, stirring occasionally (if the meat lumps together, mash it with a potato masher).
3. After the meat and vegetables have been cooked until lightly browned (about 10 minutes), add the crushed tomatoes, bring to a boil before turning down to a simmer. Adjust the seasoning and cook about 90 minutes or until the sauce becomes thick.
4. When it is almost done, add the heavy cream and cook for a couple of minutes more. The sauce is better the next day but you can serve immediately if you like.
Jennifer Eisen of House 406
Northbrook native Jennifer Eisen and her partner Chef Eloin Amador do the menu planning together for their restaurant, House 406 (1143 1/2 Church St., Northbrook, 847-714-0200). When it comes to their home, they stick with what fills them up and feels good—pasta. Eisen says cooking at home is a release from the stress of the day and the only challenge is what noodle shape to choose.
Pasta Broccoli Lemon Cream Sauce
Serves just enough for Eisen and her partner but could feed 3 or 4
- 1/2 pound pasta, shape of your choice
- 3 cups fresh broccoli florets
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1 cup shaved Parmesan
- Sea salt (We use Maldon flakes.)
1. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. (Eisen steams the broccoli over the boiling pasta water with a suspended strainer to save washing another pot. Watch the broccoli carefully as it may cook quicker than the pasta.)
2. Drain pasta and reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water.
3. While pasta is cooking, in a medium saucepan over high heat, reduce the cream to about 1/2 cup. Add the lemon juice, zest, and reserved 1/4 cup of pasta water to thin the sauce. We like a sauce that lightly coats the pasta without being overly thick.
4. Toss in the cooked broccoli and pasta. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Transfer to serving bowls and top with shaved Parmesan and sea salt.
Croutons can also be added to the top, just smash them up and sprinkle it on to your liking.
Executive Chef/Partner Joe Decker of Wildfire
As a father of two athletic boys, Chef Decker’s mantra is “plan, plan, plan.” Walking in the door, he is greeted with the familiar refrain, “What’s for dinner, dad?” His kids love food, so Decker, chef at Wildfire (1300 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, 847-657-6363) is always prepared with a plan to get dinner on the table fast. “I relish the opportunity to share my world with my family. We get to do this together and I feel really appreciated,” Decker says.
Simple Grilled Fish and Quinoa With Grilled Vegetables and Feta
- Four 7-ounce fresh skinless, boneless fish filets (wild salmon, grouper, swordfish, halibut)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh thyme, basil and chives
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili
- Zest of 1 medium lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground fresh black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Place fish filets in a single layer on a plate.
2. In small bowl, combine marinade ingredients together well and rub gently onto fish filets. Allow fish to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves smashed garlic
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Rinse quinoa well in cold water and drain.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and saute smashed garlic cloves until just golden brown. Add drained quinoa and sauté over medium heat for 3 minutes.
3. Add 2 cups water and a pinch of salt and pepper; bring to a boil, cover pan then reduce to low heat and cook until quinoa absorbs all water and is dry, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and place on large plate to cool to room temperature
Grilled Vegetables and Feta for Quinoa:
- 1 zucchini squash cut lengthwise 1/4-inch thick
- 1 red pepper, seeded and stem removed, cut in 1/4’s
- 1 medium peeled red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 10 spears of asparagus
- 6 Cremini mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and fresh pepper to taste
1. Brush all vegetables with olive oil and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Grill vegetables until tender and charred, and cool to room temperature.
3. Dice grilled zucchini, red peppers and red onions to a 1/4-inch dice. Angle cut asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces. Slice mushrooms into 1/4-inch slices.
- 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 3 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a measuring cup. Mix cooled quinoa and diced grilled vegetables together in stainless steel bowl; toss with dressing and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside.
To finish dish:
1. Lightly season both sides of fish with salt and pepper.
2. Prepare grill; clean well with grill brush and spray with oil.
3. Grill fish on both sides, making nice, clean grill marks, approximately three minutes on each side.
4. Place on plate. Serve with grilled vegetable quinoa.