As I interview chefs each month for The Dinner Party, it is so fun to see how completely varied their personalities and techniques are. While filming at Vie Restaurant, I have never seen a chef so dedicated to making everything in-house as Michelin-starred Chef, Paul Virant of Vie, Perennial Virant and his newest venture, Vistro.
Known for preserving foods so that they can last all year long - key for us Midwesterners, Virant is the king of making and cooking with pickles, preserves and aigre-doux, a sweet-sour sauce. At Vie alone, he has over 75 different preserves at any one time that can be used to accompany meats, cheeses, fish or sides throughout the year. In addition, Chef makes more than just pickles and preserves in house. In the video below, Chef adds a 2009 hand-made Nocino (Black/Green Walnut Liquor) to the Chicken Liver Mousse saying, "It just needs some booze!" My kind of chef!
Not one to keep knowledge to himself, Chef Virant wrote the bible on preserving foods. He wrote the first canning manual and cookbook authored by a Michelin-starred chef, entitled, The Preservation Kitchen, in 2012. This makes complete sense because Chef Virant is a natural sharer of information and a giver of time and energy.
For example, Virant was full of helpful tidbits during our shoot, including "Hone your knife as much as you use your knife," and "Season aggressively when you are serving something cold. " Then there is my favorite, "Never go without a spatula! You want everything from the bowl."
He also had this to say about time management in the kitchen. "When you are cooking for family and friends, ultimately you have to be organized if you want to have fun." No kidding! Virant runs three restaurants in three wildly different parts of town (Vie/Western Springs, Vistro/Hinsdale and Perennial Virant/Lincoln Park) and is as prepared as they come. Vie, his Michelin Starred restaurant, is a sumptuous and elegant affair, and it was a thrill just to be there for the shoot. New Vistro focuses on relaxed bistro fare with a distinct Virant style, and Perrenial Virant has a swank, city feel. All three definitely have Virant's distinct signature: incredible representations of food, products and artisans of the Midwest. And with Perennial Virant just opposite the Green City Market in Chicago's Lincoln Park, it couldn't be a better match.
Yet, more impressive than having the three restaurants and preserving anything he can get his hands are the dishes Virant creates. During our shoot, and for The October 27th Dinner Party, Virant made Chicken Liver Mousse with a Cranberry Aigre-doux on Rye Toast and Rushing Waters Trout, Creamed Beets and Bacon, with Horseradish and Dill. (Videos below.) The combinations of sweet and tart, and fresh and light - even in late Fall - made my tongue sing. His preserves really brought out the flavors in the food, giving variety to dishes even when ingredients should be out of season. Virant made me a believer in his philosophy, "Eat what you can, can what you can't."