Chef Stephen Gillanders didn't plan to offer an à la carte menu for Intro Chicago until a talk about three weeks ago with Lettuce Entertain Your Enterprises' Rich Melman. Gillanders, whose stint at Intro starts Oct. 29, prepared a tasting menu, as tastings are what the previous three Intro chefs have served. That's when Melman advised Gillanders that Intro presented a chance for the chef to express himself in anyway he chooses, which led Gillanders to develop Intro's first à la carte menu.
"This is really more my style," said Gillanders, who has embarked on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia, including stops in China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines.
His travels have helped shaped the menu, as he said the items are representative of each of his stops. Take the flatiron steak, which is his spin on the Southeast Asian-influenced beef and broccoli.
"We're going for a little more approachable, a little more convivial," Gillanders said, explaining how his menu will utilize ingredients not normally associated with fine dining. He'll marry them with high-end techniques with the hope of producing big flavors. An $84, five-course tasting menu remains an option.
The wilted kale salad provides another example of international flavor, showcasing Gillanders' attempt to remind diners of the sometimes-forgotten Mexican origins of the Caesar salad. The salad uses toasted-pumpkin seeds in lieu of croutons and Cotija instead of parmesan cheese. Gillanders also noted that kale is indigenous to America's neighbors to the south.
Gillanders burst onto the scene in 2004 when he won the San Pellegrino's Almost Famous chef competition as a student at UNLV. Intro marks a return to Chicago for the chef, who in 2011 reopened The Pump Room for acclaimed restauranteur Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Gillanders worked at several of his friend's restaurants, including Vongerichten's Tokyo outpost, and his menu at Intro gives him a chance move out of his mentor's shadow. It almost serves as a preview for Gillanders own restaurant, S.K.Y. (it stands for his wife's initials, and isn't pronounced as the word), which is slated to open sometime next year in Los Angeles.
Intro, Lettuce Entertain You's rotating concept, aims to provide young chefs a network to help support and nurture new talent. It appears that the chefs have taken advantage as Gillanders spoke about bouncing ideas with CJ Jacobson and some healthy competition between himself, Erik Anderson and Intro's current chef, Aaron Martinez, whose stint ends on Oct. 17.
"They set the bar high, and I don't mean because CJ is 6'8"," Gillanders joked.
Check out the sample menu below.