Just one month in, Rural Society, the newest restaurant from Chicago-raised, Philadelphia-based chef Jose Garces (Mercat a la Planxa) and run by chef de cuisine Cory Morris, has received wide approval on social media and just received high praise from RedEye critic Michael Nagrant.
Morris, who steers the Rural Society ship in the Iron Chef's absence (just like he previously did at Mercat), below discusses how the first month has gone and how the team works to educate customers on what sort of Argentine experience they're in for.
How has the first month gone?
First month has been great, man. We're really excited to have Jose's second restaurant and to be involved in such a great hotel group.
What have been some of the hurdles you've gone through so far and how have you handled those?
Typical to most restaurant openings. Hiring a staff, teaching them the cuisine, learning the inner workings of the grill system we have installed. It's not a typical grill where you flip a switch and it heats up. We have to consistently tend to these fires. Learning where the sweet spots are has been an ever-changing deal for us.
What are the differences between working at Rural Society and Mercat a la Planxa?
It's pretty comparable. At Mercat I was working a lot with the plancha, so there was a big emphasis on high quality proteins and vegetables simply prepared. Here it's the same, but I just have the parrilla (which) gives it a little more unique flavor with the American oak and hickory that we're cooking with. There is a lot of Spanish influence in Argentine cuisine, so being able to understand those flavor profiles and inject them here or there has been great.
What are the main differences between opening both Mercat and Rural Society?
No major differences. We're still in a hotel, but this property happens to be brand new so we have access to some really amazing equipment. Not to say we didn't at the other restaurant. It's a pretty smooth transfer, almost mirrored.
With regards to menu development, is there anything specifically that you can point to on the menu that is your creation or is it entirely collaborative?
Just specials at this point. We had such strong, positive feedback from our original concept in D.C. so we all thought it was smart to continue on with that. We know that the diners here might be open to different things and being in the market for the last eight years, I understand what I'm able to provide. Coming up on our first seasonal change, Jose and I will sit and look at the menu and figure out what we can make Chicago-centric and personalize this restaurant for Chicago.
Is there a lot of educating customers on what the cuisine of Argentina is and what your take on it is?
A lot of people have this perception that we may be a churrasco, but we want them to have more of an upscale experience where all the meats are ordered to your liking. As well as playing on a lot of the cultural differences you get from Argentina - drawing on a lot of the Italian influence, which has quite a few of my favorite menu items. And just the different cooking styles that we're able to apply with these grills. There's a constant education as to who we are and what we do and our cooking style.