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Sous Vide to Power Tiny Michigan Avenue Restaurant

Kaliflower uses the method to move into spaces competitors can’t

Kaliflower is moving into the former Fannie May Candy shop.
Kaliflower [Official Photo]
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Armed with an MBA from Harvard University, Ben Arnstein is poised to open his first restaurant, Kaliflower, later this month in downtown Chicago. It’s a fast-casual restaurant with rice bowls and salads where everything is made to order — not an assembly line restaurant where customers move from one side from another while pointing at ingredients they want on their orders. Arnstein said he wants to show healthy food can be flavorful, with spicy dishes like a chicken tikka bowl at 333 N. Michigan Avenue.

While customers can swap out ingredients off the menu, it’s not a “choose your own adventure” like many quick-service burrito or salad shops. Inside a former Fanny May Candy shop and at under 1,100 square feet, Kaliflower won’t take up a lot of space, and that’s by design. The kitchen doesn’t need bulky equipment as it uses sous vide machines and induction burners. That way, Kaliflower can move into smaller spaces other restaurants can’t. It’s a strategy that Arnstein developed while studying at Harvard and traveling to research what would become the idea for Kaliflower. Instead of spending money on larger spaces, Arnstein and his crew will invest in prime real estate. They can also spend a bit more on design. They’re using well-known firm Siren Betty Design for Kaliflower’s interiors.

Knowing that he wanted to open a smaller restaurant, Arnstein said he went through hundreds of methods before honing in on sous vide for the restaurant’s chicken. Sous vide immersion will help keep quality consistent, Arnstein said. Workers just need to season, vacuum seal, set the temperature, and drop the food into water for a specific period of time. Besides the MBA from Harvard, Arnstein has an undergraduate degree from Duke University. He worked with a chef consultant in developing recipes for Kaliflower with the hopes of opening multiple locations.

For Arnstein, the restaurant business is a blend of art and science. He was an avid home cook dating back to his time at Duke where friends would give him a hard time for the number of ingredients in his kitchen cupboard. Not many college kids were interested in truffle oils and rare salts and spices. Arnstein worked in finance, including at Bain Capital. He moved to Chicago in 2017 to start growing his idea for a fast-casual restaurant.

Other dishes include a turmeric cashew soup with cauliflower rice and chicken. Sometimes while traveling, Arnstein said he felt road trip food was too heavy. He wants Kaliflower’s customers to feel light so they can continue their workdays without feeling comatose. The dishes avoid butter and cream. There’s also a Caesar salad-type dish with crispy chickpeas, a 64-degree egg, and “Daalafel.” That’s a baked take on falafel with lentils, chickpeas, and jalapeño.

Check back for news on an opening date later this month.