Our Chicago chef community has been growing by leaps and bounds. One chef in particular has been receiving a great deal of industry accolades and attention.
Katie Wyer, head pastry chef at Telegraph and at sister restaurant Reno, was recently nominated for Food and Wine’s People’s Best New Pastry Chef award. Zagat also included Wyer in its 2013 edition of “30 Under 30,” a selection of the most passionate, promising, up-and-coming food-makers under the age of thirty.
We sat down with Katie to discuss her menu planning process, her use of needle-nose pliers, and her dream dinner.
You split your time between Telegraph and Reno, which have different vibes. Reno is more of a family friendly Italian place, whereas Telegraph is a sophisticated wine bar. How do you adjust your approach to fit the different types of patron?
My mission for the Pastry Program at Telegraph was to emphasize the dinner experience by making the third course or dessert course a natural continuation of the meal. Telegraph’s Sommelier, Jeremy Quinn, and I start with either a wine, a digestif, or a dessert concept.
Because desserts end up being the end of a meal, I’ve always felt that they are unintentionally enjoyed with the coffee or the wine from the previous savory course. Pairing dessert [with a unique wine] extends the experience and hopefully the enjoyment of the dinner.
Reno has been about the homey feeling that comes with eating somewhere in the neighborhood. I gear the desserts towards families, especially kids. Even if the desserts have a complex flavor profile, they are still simple enough in design to delight even our youngest patrons. The pastry case is sporadic and constantly evolving, which keeps even our regulars interested. At Reno, I like to create desserts and pastries that seem more obvious than they were to come up with, while still surprising people with subtleties and details.
Which seasonal ingredients are you excited to incorporate this spring?
- I always get giddy for rhubarb.
- Also, stone fruits give me the opportunity to use my pliers! I use [the tool] to remove pits from peaches and plums, which enables me to poach them whole in summer Rieslings and later fill them with mousses.
- Herbs like Lemon Verbena, Sorrel, Angelica, and Mint make their way into summer dishes frequently.
- I also gather berries and seasonal fruit at their peak in ripeness and layer them with sugar and dark rum for an Austro/Hungarian treat called Rumtopf. This year, I saved all of the fermented, slightly-carbonated fruit/rum liquid. I turned it into a sorbet for a dessert titled, “Flavors From Last Year That We Look Forward To Again.” That kind of cocktail of summer fruits is a great way to celebrate the year’s harvest in the months where nothing is growing, and creativity seems a little desperate.
If you could gather 3 people (living or dead) at a common table and cook dinner or dessert for them, who would you invite? What would you serve?
My Mom’s Dad (my Papa), my first chef, Joel, and author Tom Robbins. I would serve whatever they asked for. It would be graciously enjoyed by my Papa, quietly critiqued by Joel, and blown out of proportion with adjectives and run-on sentences by Tom Robbins.
If I had to guess about the menu, there would be: buttered popcorn, stuffed artichokes, crab legs, White Castle sliders, asparagus, apple pie, and pastry cream. They would be paired with many bottles of wine, mediocre coffee service, and chocolate after-dinner mints.
What is your personal food vice?
I’ve always eaten everything and never been picky, so no particular foods have become true vices for me. Although at certain times, Chinese, Indian, and Costa Rican delivery have been my fix. So have sushi binges, crinkle cut french fries, Fritos, and Whirley Pop popcorn.
Any advice for fresh foodies or newbie chefs who are looking to establish themselves in the culinary world? What do you wish you had known when you were first starting out?
Keep working, follow your intuition about your career path, and don’t be afraid to surprise yourself with what you may become passionate about. Every opportunity is a chance to better yourself. Saying yes to anything that won’t kill you will probably make you more well-rounded than the guy on the line next to you.
A truly incredible man named Hans, a farmer on the island of Lilleo in Denmark said, “If you do not enjoy what you are doing, you’ll never be any good at it anyway.” I think that sentence resonated with me more than any advice I’ve ever been given.
I can honestly say there’s nothing I wish I knew before starting out because I wouldn’t trade this adventure and all of my “ah ha!” moments for anything. Everything I know now that I didn’t know then comes with a story and an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
Let us know if you’d like us to bring Katie’s food to your office!