The first thing John des Rosiers remembers cooking are pierogi.
When he was seven, he started helping his Polish grandmother, and at Christmastime they would turn out thousands of the dumplings.
By high school he had a part-time job at Gabriel’s Restaurant in Highwood. Even then, he says, “the school part meant less to me than working in a kitchen.”
After many years of experience in restaurants, including Charlie Trotter’s and Bank Lane Bistro, John launched Inovasi, an American contemporary restaurant in Lake Bluff, two years ago. The name means innovation in Indonesian and shapes every aspect of the restaurant, from its food to its design.
John changes his menu three to four times a week and has also recently transformed the style of the menu, arranging food by inspiration. Dishes fall into categories like “Music,” “Dreams,” and “Someone Else,” a collection of customer ideas. A “Childhood” section will contain a modern version of the pierogi that John and his grandmother used to make.
To get to this point as a chef and restaurateur, he says he embraced different methods from different people. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he stresses the importance of going to culinary school to learn the basics.
“Proper technique and the foundational stuff are important. I learned that from Gabriel Viti at Gabriel’s, and school. But, understanding that things don’t have to be the way people tell you, I got that from Charlie Trotter. We don’t do anything traditionally at Inovasi.”
The approach is working for him: Though he started the restaurant during one of the country’s worst economic periods, he’s managed to succeed.
John sources nearly everything from local organic farms and then adds select ingredients and flavors from around the world.
As part of the community of Lake Bluff, Inovasi hosts a multitude of charity events, and auctions off personal parties. John has also opened Wisma, a retail store with locations in Lake Bluff and Libertyville that sells fresh, made-from-scratch entrees, pastas and salads.
Up next: John is publishing the “Book of Inovasi,” a cookbook as untraditional as the restaurant itself. In addition to recipes, it will contain stories, anecdotes, troubleshooting and even explanations of where John gets his ingredients.
“The restaurant is a constant evolution,” says the chef. “We’re always looking for the next thing.”