Paul Virant is the chef/owner of the acclaimed Vie restaurant in Western Springs, Ill., about 20 minutes outside of Chicago’s city limits. Vie, awarded a Michelin star, focuses on farm-to-table cuisine with a simple but elegant presentation that showcases Illinois and Midwestern agriculture. Virant also took over as executive chef at the recently reconcepted Perennial Virant. Located in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park this restaurant is across the street from Green City Market, the city’s largest outdoor farmers’ market, where Virant regularly shops. His first book, Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, Jam and Aigre Doux (Ten Speed Press) comes out this spring, co-authored by former Restaurants & Institutions magazine senior editor Kate Leahy.
FE&S: Why did you decide to become a cook?
Paul Virant: I worked at one of the better French restaurants in St. Louis at the age of 17 and one of the captains told me about the CIA. The rest is history.
FE&S: What career obstacles did you overcome in your early career?
Paul Virant: I left Charlie Trotter’s too early, but I ended up at Ambria as saucier and met Pat Sheerin! Great guy.
FE&S: What was one of your greatest learning experiences?
Paul Virant: Working as a line cook in New York City at March. I also staged at Bouley, Le Bernadin, Gotham Bar and Grill, Lutece, Park Avenue Café, American Place, River Café and the Hudson River Club.
FE&S: Do you do any volunteer work?
Paul Virant: At Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen in New York City I once served 1,200 meals in two hours and I’ve also worked at a shelter in Chicago where we served lunch for 30 men every Wednesday for close to five years. I also donate and participate in fundraisers throughout the year for health, obesity and welfare causes.
FE&S: If you were to open another restaurant based on your favorite items what would it be?
Paul Virant: A place for sandwiches or gnocchi — I love all dumplings.
FE&S: What piece of cooking equipment could you not live without?
Paul Virant: Cast iron pans. They are the only types of pans I have at home, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cook. Also, a sharp knife is important.
FE&S: What kind of equipment would your dream kitchen have?
Paul Virant: A wood oven and a steamer for food preservation!
FE&S: Any memorable kitchen injuries?
Paul Virant: French knife and mandolin cuts; I don’t fair well at the sight of my own blood. Soda water with bitters and a chair helps when it happens.
FE&S: What do you wish culinary schools would teach more of?
Paul Virant: Canning and more extensive charcuterie.
FE&S: What’s the first thing a cook should learn to make?
Paul Virant: Stock or broth.
Click here to read part one of the interview with Paul Virant.