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Alpana Singh Talks Changes at The Boarding House

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Open less than five months, The Boarding House has had its share of turmoil. High expectations for former Check, Please host Alpana Singh's first restaurant coupled with the massive and decadent three-story operation have polarized critics and diners alike. After bringing in sommelier Dan Pilkey in January, Singh cut ties with chef Christian Gosselin last weekend and promoted Bjorn Rasmussen. She chatted about what's happened at The Boarding House in the last few months and the changes in store for the future.

What went into the decision to change chefs?
At the end of the day, this is my first restaurant venture. When you have an entity this large it doesn't come without mistakes. What's most important, especially when you have 100 employees counting on you, is I saw a situation that needs to be corrected. The reception of the food and the general cuisine has not been what I would have liked. You realize at a point that things aren't working and you make those tough decisions to move forward and to go with what I had originally envisioned for the project.

I'm moving in a direction that I think will work well based on the wine program that will always be the focus. In my true feeling I feel Mediterranean food does fit that in many different ways. I've had months to listen to the customers and read the reviews and when you hear the same thing over and over again you have to get your head out of the sand. I think in the grand scheme of things restaurants are all about the long arc and I think we're going to stand here a few years from now and not even remember this conversation. I've been given a second chance, knowing I'm going to make things right, and that's exactly what I'm doing. We're going to be a force to be reckoned with.

How much input do you personally have on the food program and the menu?
Christian (Gosselin) is a very strong personality and you don't want to get in there too much because you don't want to cramp the chef's style. Learning my lesson, I'm going to have a greater hand than ever. I really enjoy cooking. I'm going to be working very closely with Bjorn on the menu with the culinary team. To have that sense of almost failing and knowing I never want to feel that again, I don't want to use the word control freak but I'll definitely be going in there and taking a lot more control.

Is the whole menu going to change over?
The entire menu is changing because I don't think it would be fair to Christian to keep dishes that were his without him being here. Over the next two months we're going to slowly start incorporating a few dishes at a time. We're taking out the fryer, putting in a grill, moving into more of a wine bar format. I spent time with who I call "the pate whisperer" and he gave us a personal lesson on his technique. This is what I envisioned for this restaurant. We want to be more purveyor-driven, highlighting different artisan products and how they compliment the wine. We're going to introduce a top notch charcuterie program, we're working with Pastoral and have already made changes to the cheese program.

What about in the winter?
We'll pull things from the south of France with cassoulet, northern Italy with braised osso buco, we're just staying within the comfort zone of the Mediterranean. In the spring and summer we'll do braised octopus and chick peas and fresher salads with artichokes and citrus. Just lighter, cleaner, fresher flavors.

How was the initial opening?
A lot of where we got off course was just the physical aspect of opening up the space. It's a 13,000 square-foot property. The efforts of getting the staff trained, getting the wine program set, getting stuff properly stocked and organized. Now that we've got all that taken care of I can focus my effort on making sure the food program is where we need it to be. I want this to be one of those stalwarts for years to come that people go for food and wine.

Are these decisions tough to make?
You can't be afraid, fear has no place in running restaurants. You have to make those tough decisions and move forward. At the end of the day I have to thank the critics. They're a mirror for what is happening and sometimes you have to look in that mirror and face truth and reality. Expectations are very high and it's my job at the end of the day to meet those expectations and surpass them. I look at the reviews and I say "okay, duly noted."
· All Coverage of The Boarding House [~ECHI~]
· All Coverage of Alpana Singh [~ECHI~]
· The Boarding House [Official Site]

The Boarding House

720 North Wells Street, , IL 60654 (312) 280-0720 Visit Website

The Boarding House

720 N. Wells, Chicago, IL