For those just hearing about Free Rein, what is it?
At Free Rein, we’re focused on thoughtfully sourced ingredients and globally influenced cuisine. We change the menu frequently to keep it fresh, seasonal and engaging for guests.
What is your earliest memory of cooking?
I have early memories of baking with my mom and family during the holidays...might sound cliché, but it’s true.
When did you make the decision to become a chef?
I started cooking at a very young age and never stopped. I realized this was something I was good at and I should try to make a career out of it.
What chefs have inspired your culinary journey?
Ryan McCaskey. I worked with him many years ago at Courtrights, which was one of my first introductions into fine dining. Thomas Keller is another iconic chef and source of inspiration for me. The way he wrote about food in his cookbook, Bouchon, was so inspiring and has never left me.
Since Free Rein is located in the St. Jane hotel, you offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. That said, the experience and food are executed at a high level across the board. How do you approach the different menus?
Our breakfast menu is mainly for hotel guests. The menu is simple and features well executed takes on staple breakfast items. Then, we transition to lunch, which is tailored to people who live and work in the area. We keep it simple and elegant with a selection of salads, sandwiches and some more composed entrée dishes. There’s something for everyone, so we hit that whole demographic. Dinner is where we flex our muscles the most. The dinner menu is the greatest representation of me as a chef. That’s when I’m cooking for myself and just hope everyone else enjoys it.
What other art forms influence your work in the kitchen?
Cookbooks. I read a lot and I’m always learning from other chefs. We also play a lot of 80s pop radio in the kitchen. This doesn’t necessarily influence our work, but it keeps the atmosphere fun.
At Free Rein, we’re focused on minimalist techniques and playing, so we’re getting away from the garnishes and “art of plating” and more focused on the ingredients on the plate.
Being Chicago born and raised gives you a unique perspective. How does Free Rein play into the evolution of the food scene?
Coming from a fine dining background in Chicago, you quickly learn that some people in the city don’t like to eat that way. Being based here and seeing the transition of the food scene in our city has played into how I create the menu at Free Rein. I’ve adapted our menu to appeal to what the people want to eat without compromising our technique and quality of our food.
Also, the relationships I’ve built with local farmers, purveyors and other chefs over the years have impacted how I cook and influence what products I use.
If you had to pick one Free Rein menu item for a guest to try, what would it be?
We change them frequently, so it’s hard to pick one. Right now, I’d say the 100 Dry Aged Slagel Farms Bone in Strip. We change the preparation seasonally but it’s a great cut of meat and always delicious.
What other Chicago businesses should our readers know about?
I live in Ukranian Village and spend a lot of time there. Some of my favorite spots in the neighborhood are Rootstock, Boeufhaus and Café Marie-Jeanne.