On a cool fall day in Beloit, Wisconsin, Jacob Potashnick is talking about his new upcoming restaurant, but he’s preoccupied as he nervously looks around Froggy Meadow Farm. Potashnick, a Chicago native, has spent the last eight years traveling all seven continents. He even worked at fine dining restaurants during some of those stops, highly acclaimed places like two-Michelin-starred Kichisen in Kyoto, Japan, and one-star Daniel Berlin Krog in the woods near Skane-Tranas, Sweden.
In truth, Potashnick says his travels burnt him out on fine dining, but he’s reinvigorated and determined to break from Chicago’s fine dining scene with Feld, planned for a late 2023 opening in Ukrainian Village, perhaps creating a path for a fine dining crawl with nearby Kasama, the world’s only Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant. Potashnick and his partner have bought the former WHISK/Tamale Guy Chicago space and plan extensive renovations for a 20-seat farm-to-table tasting menu destination. Right now, he’s hosting pop-ups where diners can get an idea of this philosophy, using proteins like dry-aged meats and produce from farmers he’s met in person. Potashnick figures out the menus on the day of the dinner.
“The thing I don’t like about fine dining is the seasonal system,” Potashnick says. “We spend months creating or designing dishes so we can have them on the menu for three to four months. Then we’ll change. That’s not interesting to me, and I don’t think that’s interesting to the guests. It also narrows your ability for guests to come back because they’re only going to come back four times, three times a year.”
The chef — who resembles a clean-cut version of Carmen Berzatto from The Bear (Carmy is also a well-traveled chef intent on returning home) — has high expectations. Potashnick feels a responsibility to give back to a city that gave him the type of life and privilege that enabled him to travel all seven continents.
“I don’t have any hostility toward the rest of the [city’s fine dining restaurants],” Potashnick says. “But it’s like — what’s the narrative you’re telling when your menu has coconut, hamachi, A5 on it? You’re saying ‘I like luxury and you’re gonna eat really tasty food,’ which is fine.”
“I’m trying to give an experience that is more thoughtful from an entire eating perspective.”
As Potashnick talks, standing under overcast skies, it’s clear his mind is wandering. Froggy Meadow Farm owner Jerry Boone had told him that there are a few mushrooms left to forage. If Potashnick finds them, there are his to take home for use at a pop-up. A few minutes later, Potashnick is bent on one knee, flipping over a muddy log and using a small blade to cut away a few wild chestnut mushrooms. The approach is a bit reminiscent of Iliana Regan, the founder of forage-focused and Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant. Potashnick says he never ate at the restaurant, but acknowledges the two share a similar “Nordic mindset.”
“We’re going to show you the entire product, from A to Z,” Potashnick says. “If it’s asparagus season, you’re gonna have the skinny ones, the thick ones, the medium, the purple, if they’re white… because that’s what the season is right now — I’m not going to serve you watermelon.”
Feld has already garnered some national attention from those who have followed Potashnick’s journey which has been chronicled via TikTok (he uses a humble handle, “notyetachef”) where Potashnick has amassed more than 48,000 followers. A prolific poster, TikTok has become an outlet for him as a hypeman and as a way to burn off energy during the city’s slow permitting process. Potashnick also has built up industry relationships in other states; he insists that Feld won’t restrict itself to local farms. If a California farm has good citrus, West Coast oranges will show up on the plate.
Developing relationships with Boone and other farms have been critical for Potashnick. Boone is a character in his own right. He has a Ron Swanson-like quality as someone who wants to live off his land without an abundance of government regulation. Over the summer, he brings his produce from Wisconsin to Green City Market in Lincoln Park. He supplies more than potatoes and onions. He’s got a greenhouse set up with plastic and planned on growing hibiscus for John Shields of Michelin-starred Smyth. But the tropical trees didn’t blossom. Shields planned to use the blooms in a hibiscus flower-red pepper-uni bite.
“Jerry is a kindred spirit,” Shields says. “He’s the kind of person who will say things like ‘this product isn’t at its peak yet, I have some if you really want it, but I know it will be better in two weeks.’”
Boone, who spent much of his life on tugboats in the Gulf of Mexico, found a love for Japanese culture and grows produce, like daikons and red turnip greens, that visitors would find abroad. He’s a frequent traveler to Japan, visiting cities and rural areas, preferring to travel while the Midwest freezes during winter: “I’ve been to more places in Japan than most Japanese people,” he says.
“We’re trying to achieve excellence,” Boone says. “And we’re trying to grow crops nobody is familiar with.”
That might strike some as aggressive, but given how few North Siders in Chicago have visited the South Side and vice versa, it makes sense. Boone also likes to challenge chefs, daring them to create with unfamiliar ingredients. Beyond Smyth, Froggy Meadow works with restaurants like Le Bouchon. The farmer’s interests coincide with the chef’s desire for exotic ingredients for their menus. Chicago restaurants make for ideal customers. Boone says he wouldn’t find success selling produce in Beloit: “It’s a sophisticated product for sophisticated people,” he says.
People like Boone mesmerize Potashsnick, who is a fierce supporter of Chicago and the Midwest: “I would argue the Midwest, within two and a half hours of Chicago in any direction, has the best produce in America,” he says. If only Mother Nature made that produce available year-round.
Sarah Stegner, a co-founder of Green City Market, knows Boone (“He’s a rockstar,” she says.) and Potashnick (he volunteered at the market over the summer). Stegner watched them develop a relationship. “Relationship-driven food” has replaced “farm-to-table” as buzzwords.
“I guarantee you that if you go to the market and Jerry has something [special] there, you’re going to buy it and you’re to make it taste as good as possible,” Stegner says.
Potashnick graduated from Walter Payton Prep in Gold Coast. He says he was handed an issue of Bon Appetit in eighth grade with a Ruth Reichl story on Alinea. It piqued his interest and led to a personal tour of the restaurant from Grant Achatz on May 7, 2008: “And it’s really been like downhill since then,” he says, recalling the exact date. “I just never wanted to do anything else after that.”
The budding chef took a detour and studied hospitality administration at Cornell University in Upstate New York and after graduating, he returned home and plotted out his future, developing a manifesto for which restaurants he wanted to work: the chef needed to be present in the kitchen, it needed to be no larger than 40 seats, and the tasting menu needed a cohesive narrative.
In 2016, he journeyed to Sweden to work at Daniel Berlin. As Potashnick worked his way through various kitchen positions, Berlin sat him down and told him this: “I don’t really care what you learn here,” Potashnick recalls the chef telling him. “As long as by the time you leave, you know what a carrot should taste like.”
His travels also took him to Japan and two-starred Narisawa. Potashnick was put off by “the mix of French hierarchy and Japanese formality” and left.
“Let’s put it this way: It’s one of two restaurants I’ve spent time at that I’ve signed a nondisclosure — that speaks a lot,” he says, adding No. 2 was Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Potashnick says reads the headlines and knows outsider perceptions about Chicago. He’s among a group of friends from the North Side that left and feel they needed to return. They’re not sure if helping the city means educating at-risk youth about farming or hiring formerly incarcerated workers. At the very least, he can answer condescending coastal questions about what a Midwestern farm-to-table restaurant can serve during the dead of winter. In fact, he answers that on his TikTok channel:
“Straight off the bat you have your leafy greens — lettuces and shiso — still coming out of greenhouses, you have kalette, garlic, celery, radishes — there’s so much amazing produce — leeks and potatoes and carrots — this is way more than I need to make a tasting menu on a nightly basis,” Potashnick says, noting there’s snow on the ground in Chicago.
Beyond the fresh goods, Midwesterners love a good pickle. Potashnick mentions a few fermentation techniques, even using New Glarus Brewing’s Spotted Cow, the beer only available in Wisconsin and brought over state lines to Illinois by fans pretending it’s contraband.
Stegner marvels at Potashnick’s “level of passion” for celebrating local vendors. It’s somewhat unusual for a young chef to show that type of excitement for farmers. Beyond Froggy Meadow, Potashnick mentions Avrom Farm in Ripon, Wisconsin.
While Stegner appeared in cooking demonstrations online, she’s not as hitched to social media as Potashnick and other chefs. She mentions how Chicago chef Lamar Moore sold out a dinner for the James Beard Foundation in five minutes. While she’s not on TikTok, Stegner sees the value in results like Moore’s: “More power to you,” she says.
Feld, 2018 W. Chicago Avenue, planned for a fall opening