The Kids Are Fine – Chicago Magazine

Like many of us, Oliver Poilevey, Jonathan Zaragoza and Amer Abdullah learned to cook alongside their parents. But one small difference: Their home kitchens were actually notable Chicago restaurants. Having become chefs themselves, these children of local culinary personalities are already making their mark on the city’s gastronomic scene.

“I still hear my old man when I’m cooking,” says Poilevey. “’Oh, I don’t know if I would do that.’ It’s easy to see why his father, Jean-Claude, looms large: Until his death in 2016, he ran Bucktown’s beloved French bistro, Le Bouchon, with his wife, Susanne. So when Poilevey and his brother, Nicolas, a wine manager, opened Obelix (700 N. Sedgwick St., River North) in May, he realized their vision couldn’t — and shouldn’t — be entirely separate. of their family history. . “We wanted to make our own vision of French restaurants,” he says, “but at the same time, we are still the children of our parents, and there are many things that we were lucky to have learned from them. .”

At Obélix, he honors that heritage by serving a handful of signature Le Bouchon dishes, such as onion soup au gratin. However, some of the more memorable offerings on the revamped menu, like a seared foie gras taco and steak tartare with fish sauce, might have given his classic dad pause. Still, Poilevey thinks his father would have come. He thinks back to that little voice: “Sometimes I do something that he might not have liked, but he could have tasted it and said, ‘Oh, that’s really really good. I can hear that too.

Jonathan Zaragoza

For Jonathan Zaragoza, family life when he was young largely revolved around one thing: birria tatemada, a Jalisco specialty made with steamed goat cheese rubbed with chilli and shiny tomato consommé. Her father, Juan, founded Birrieria Zaragoza as a rambling underground restaurant in the family’s backyard on the southwest side. Everyone in the clan had a role; at 12, Zaragoza took care of the fire of the outdoor oven. “It was a very collaborative effort,” he recalls. “It showed me what can be accomplished when people work together.”

Two decades later, Zaragoza devotes a large part of his time to solo projects which allow him to develop his creativity. He’s developed recipes for food companies like Molino Tortilleria and Foxtrot and staged pop-ups everywhere from Tijuana to London. And on Fridays this fall, he appears in a very familiar place. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the opening of Birrieria Zaragoza’s brick-and-mortar Archer Heights, he’ll be at the welcoming Backyard Bites restaurant, an outdoor event featuring dishes like charcoal-roasted pastor and earthy enmoladas. It may be his food on the menu, but he sees it as a tribute to those early years of working with his family on the dish they love the most. “Any success is a shared success in Zaragoza, because it’s our family name,” he said.

Amer and Mutaz Abdullah
Amer and Mutaz Abdullah

Hot Chi Chicken & Cones (100 W. 87th St., Chatham; 433 W. Van Buren St., South Loop), a chicken shop with an irreverent streak (see the Popeyes Ain’t Shit sandwich, which calls for a fried thigh harissa-glazed chicken), may not seem like an obvious successor to Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen in Hyde Park, a traditional Palestinian restaurant. But Amer Abdullah, who co-founded the former and grew up working in the latter, sees a common ethos between the two spots. Before his father, Sudki, opened Cedars 30 years ago, he would tinker with his falafel recipe on a camp stove in his grocery store stash. Sometimes the firefighters stopped him. “He would sit on a milk crate with a lit Marlboro in his mouth, with no ventilation hood,” Abdullah recalls. “I was learning all the safety things I shouldn’t be doing. But creatively, I learned a lot from him.

When his father died in 2019, Abdullah and his brother, Mutaz, took over Cedars. To get by during the pandemic, Abdullah has whittled down the restaurant’s lengthy menu to a handful of items. Then, with the same mix of enthusiasm and improvisation that had driven his father, he enlisted chef friends and Cedars staff in brainstorming sessions, producing new dishes like lamb barbacoa tacos. with tahini harissa. Their experiments also generated a fried chicken wrap that would eventually evolve into Hot Chi’s Middle East–meets–Nashville sandwiches. Abdullah swapped the wrap for a brioche bun, slipped on garlic toum sauce and piled on sumac onions. He made back noodles until it was perfect, just like his dad would have done.

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