A Chicago hospitality industry veteran has taken the helm at Fulton Market Kitchen, the seven-year-old bar, restaurant, and art gallery in one of the city’s most popular dining neighborhoods. Executive chef Jonathan Harootunian, who has spent more than three decades cooking around the city and suburbs, made his debut as the restaurant reopened in April for dine-in service. His new menu weaves international flavors and ingredients into a crowd-pleasing assortment of New American offerings.
Harootunian says he was immediately struck by the strong artistic bent of the restaurant, which opened in 2014 with a collection of pop art, oil paintings, and collage. “It’s a very visual restaurant, and it’s important that the food and style of cooking emulate that,” he says. “Everything is grounded, but there are flourishes and nuances, innuendos that hopefully — in my convoluted mind — make things stand out and are exciting.”
That translates to a menu that experiments with form and function, represented in dishes like a ghee-roasted cauliflower (raisin chutney, curry oil, cilantro powder, popped capers, goat cheese crema) designed to highlight complex Northern Indian flavors. There’s also an eye-catching dish of butter-poached Maine lobster with jet black squid ink pasta (asparagus, brown butter crumble, double lobster creme) and a char-grilled octopus (fingerlings, Fresno chili, edamame, kumquats) that resembles an abstract work of art.
There’s a light-hearted vibe to Harootunian’s dishes, which often integrate a range of textural elements like a “grilled avocado crunch” salad coated in “fun little crunchies”: toasted coconut; pumpkin, sunflower, and hemp seeds; plus a topping of punchy pickled onion.
“We’re making snacks, but at the end of the day, it should be a fun, humorous, whimsical experience,” he says. “That encapsulates the way I think about cooking. It’s not an overly wrought, stuffy atmosphere — it’s a pretty hip restaurant so we’re going to do things that mirror that.”
Over the course of his career in Chicago, Harootunian has cooked at numerous local restaurants including Meritage in Bucktown, Vivere Restaurant on the ground floor of Italian Village, and Tallgrass in south suburban Lockport. That experience has sparked a desire to help back-of-house workers who want to further develop their skills and take strides in their career path — to serve as the mentor he never had. He enjoys helping them play to their strengths and work on areas of uncertainty, whether that means spending time at the pastry station or working on Old World techniques like making terrines.
“It’s about not stagnating, never resting on whatever laurels one might have achieved in the past,” he says. “It’s always about trying to do better and better.”
Fulton Market Kitchen, 311 N. Sangamon Street, Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.