I started to peel potatoes in my grandfather’s small, family restaurant on the North side of Chicago around the age of three. I loved every minute I spent in the kitchen and really, I never left. By the time I was 13, I worked full-time at an area hotel and by 17 I was off to upstate New York to attend the prestigious, Culinary Institute of America.
It was while attending CIA that I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the kitchen of Maxime Ribera, a member of the Maitre Cusinier de France. I studied under Chef Ribera for two years before returning to Chicago for a three-year stay at Le Francais in Wheeling, IL. It was there that I found my passion and honed my skills with sauce work under the careful direction of the famed, Jean Banchet and later Roland Liccioni.
Chefs always want to move up, I know I did. After Le Francais, I took on the position of Sous Chef for Café La Cave Restaurant in Des Plaines, IL., which only recently closed after all these years.
Shortly after that, I was off to France to work for a friend at a restaurant in Lyon by the name of “Pierre Orsi.” Working in the country, where the food I worship was born, was an amazing experience. When I returned home after six months I took the position as Chef de Cuisine at the Highwood restaurant, Allouette.
The goal of most chefs is to have your own restaurant, and after all of my experiences watching how others did that, I knew someday it would be my turn, and that is when my brother Tom and I opened the highly acclaimed and awarded, Les Deux Gros, in Glen Ellyn, IL.
In a tiny space across from the train tracks, Les Deux Gros received countless awards and accolades, including four stars and Restaurant of the Year in 2002 from the Chicago Sun Times.
We were proud to receive three and a half stars and “Chef to Watch” from the Chicago Tribune, three stars and ranking of number eleven of twenty in the top restaurants from Chicago Magazine in 2002. Additionally, the restaurant was recognized in several pieces placed in Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Food & Wine magazines to name a few.
While Glen Ellyn was indeed where I set out on my own, I knew I needed to expand and with many customers coming in from the city, I was hoping to be closer to downtown Chicago.
I settled on the lovely town of Winnetka, IL, on Chicago’s North Shore and opened Restaurant Michael. Just west of Lake Michigan and North of Chicago’s city streets, it seemed the perfect place and it has been for the last six years.
Restaurant Michael will undergo a 420 square foot expansion this summer, which allow for more seating, private party space and room to breathe for our guests. We will go from a 68-seat restaurant to being able to accomodate 100, making us a third larger by Fall.
I have always been a large man and the food I cook, I believe, has big taste. I want people to remember my food and perhaps a conversation I have had with them at the table. I love to be in the kitchen, but I also love to see guests enjoying the food.
Since we live in a world which extends well beyond the place we work, I thought that this blog can be a worldwide extension of Restaurant Michael and myself. I might talk about my food or I might talk about food I have eaten or things I notice other chefs doing.
My grandfather loved to talk as much as I do. He recently left this world and although he is very missed, I know he would appreciate keeping the lines of communication about food open. I do not fashion myself as a writer, but I have things I want to say and hear what others think about food and restaurants today.
The internet is a big place so you never know who might be listening. I know my grandfather will be tuned in and I hope that you will join me. I might just tell you a story or two about him as well…