For our monthly series “Meet The Kitchen Family,” we sat down with Gerad Gobel of The Kitchen Chicago to get to know him a bit better. Here’s what he had to say:
How did you get into cooking?
I went to college at Southern Illinois University, and I needed a part-time job. I started working as a dishwasher, and then I moved up to line cooking, first at a country club and then at a barbecue restaurant. Later, I flipped a coin and moved to San Francisco.
A coin flip?
Yeah, after college I wanted to move to either San Francisco or Denver. Ironic now…
And you continued cooking out there?
I worked at a great little restaurant called Delfina on Eighteenth Street. I was there for a couple of years. It influenced me a lot in terms of how I work and I made a lot of great friends. I also worked at Bar Agricole, another special place.
Tell me more.
A big part of why I’m in restaurants, or why I cook, is because I see cooking as an extension of agriculture. It’s a fantastic way, especially at The Kitchen, or at places like Bar Agricole or Delfina, to support small farms. Bar Agricole has their own RSA with a little farm in Mendocino, where they get their pigs almost exclusively. They probably buy two pigs a week now, maybe three. People who work there continuously do whole animal butchery.
I feel Chicago is very well represented in fine dining. Alinea is here, Grace is here, and there are other ambitious places like Elizabeth and 42 Grams that are getting up to three Michelin stars. They’re moving forward with molecular and plating, more modern style cuisine. Low-end dining here is great too. A lot of people love the four dollar hot dog with everything on it, or the deep dish pizza. There’s a big Korean neighborhood in Chicago with some really nice restaurants. In San Francisco, you can’t walk down the street without tripping over a farm to table restaurant. I don’t see that being as prevalent here yet.
So then, how is The Kitchen fitting into this landscape?
I think The Kitchen Chicago will be a breath of fresh air. I can’t think of many restaurants here in Chicago that are like The Kitchen. Hopefully we can become the Zeitgeist.
Did you move back to Chicago specifically for The Kitchen opening?
My move just happened to coincide with The Kitchen’s opening in October. I’d lived in San Francisco for the past eight years, and just recently moved back to Chicago in July. I know Kyle Mendenhall from Abbot’s Cellar, the last restaurant I worked at in San Francisco. Knowing Kyle, visiting Denver twice, and getting a good feel for The Kitchen’s identity, I knew it’s where I wanted to work coming back to Chicago.
What’s life like when you’re not on the line?
When I’m not at work, I make a lot of stuff. I’ve made all my own knife handles. I’ve made a few knives, none I’m proud enough to use in a kitchen yet. I do a little bit of leather work. I do some woodworking. I have the day off today and I’m going to test three different focaccia recipes. I have this obsession right now.
An obsession with focaccia?
In Rome, there’s a little pizza shop, called Pizzarium, run by Gabriele Bonci. I had it last summer, the crust that he got was incredible. It was firm and crunchy on the bottom, almost like a cracker dough, and really light and airy, with a one to one and one and a half inch rise on it. Some of the bubbles inside this dough were an inch big, they were huge. So today, I’m testing three different flours. If you ever get the chance to visit Rome, please go.
Interview by Veronika Sprinkel Ink 2015.
Images courtesy of Gerad Gobel