Chef Paul Kahan has become the nationally recognizable face for an emerging generation of Chicago chefs thanks to his ever-growing list of international accolades for such restaurants as Blackbird, avec, The Publican and Big Star, each in Chicago. Kahan was selected as a James Beard nominee for Outstanding Chef in 2007 and was recognized as the James Beard Best Chef of the Midwest in 2004. And just this year he was named a 2011 James Beard Outstanding Chef Nominee.
FE&S: As you were first getting a taste for the restaurant industry, when did you know you wanted to own restaurants?
Paul Kahan: I am still unsure.
FE&S: Any profound travels that have helped shape your job?
Paul Kahan: We usually do a big research before we build out each restaurant. So, a trip to France before we opened Blackbird is where the name of the restaurant came from. Before opening The Publican, the architect and I took a long trip to Belgium and drank a lot of beer. Of course, Big Star was preceded by a trip to Los Angeles where we ate a lot of delicious tacos and visited Bakersfield.
FE&S: What is the one piece of technology that never enters your kitchen?
Paul Kahan: We embrace technology. When the outcome is better than a traditional cooking method, I will prefer it. It is a good thing we are not perceived as a place with super technology. It doesn’t matter how something is made, I just want people to enjoy the outcome. If we can confit suckling oils and have it be better, from flavor standpoint, I’ll do it.
FE&S: What’s the most new-fangled tool or utensil you couldn’t live without?
Paul Kahan: A circulator, fish spatula, cake tester and Kuhn-Rikon super peeler.
FE&S: What piece of cooking equipment could you not live without and why?
Paul Kahan: High-quality pots and pans. I feel that quality food requires quality equipment. At home, I have an amazing Danish enamel lined cast iron pot. Great to cook in, and truly an iconic piece of modern design.
FE&S: How do you keep organized at work?
Paul Kahan: If I worked a station, it would be clean and tight. Mise en place grouped by dish, back ups within reach and counts recorded on everything.
FE&S: Did/how has the economic downturn affect your job?
Paul Kahan: Probably not news to anyone, but the economic downturn made us run our restaurants leaner and smarter. We met every day for weeks and weeks to brainstorm how to make our places run better for less money. No idea was too small. Ultimately, it has helped to improve our bottom line.
FE&S: Say you were not a chef. What would you be?
Paul Kahan: Butcher, auto mechanic, teacher, or because of my science background, a starving audio designer witting with low power high end tube amplifiers. Or anything involved with gardening or working at a garden center and growing food, but not a farmer.
(Note: Kahan plans to open up a butcher shop as his next business endeavor, adding to his restaurant empire.)
Click here to read part one of the interview with Paul Kahan.