Paul Kahan

F&W Star Chef

» See All F&W Chef Superstars

Restaurants: Blackbird, The Publican, Avec, Publican Quality Meats, Big Star (Chicago)

Experience: Metropolis, Erwin, Topolobampo (Chicago)

Education: Northern Illinois University (Computer Science)

Who are your food mentors and heroes?
Alice Waters resonates in my thoughts on the power of food and its place in society. A great Chicago chef named Erwin Drechsler really taught me how to cook. And Rick Bayless taught me the importance of great ingredients and respect for our farmers, foragers and fisherman.

What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
Regional French Cuisine, by Anne Willan.

What’s your current food obsession?
Since our butcher shop opened about a year ago, I am pretty excited about all things cured, smoked and aged.

Name three restaurants you are dying to go to.
Manresa, in Los Gatos, California; La Pineta, in Tuscany; and Olivier Roellinger’s le Coquillage, in Brittany.

What is the most cherished souvenir you’ve brought back from a trip?
Lots of Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany.

What are your hidden talents?
I have designed a couple of nice bathrooms for my house, and I’m a pretty good DJ.

What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Fresh water, and the lack of it.

What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
I often take a gulp from the maple syrup bottle late at night.

What’s your favorite store-bought ingredient?
At our butcher shop, Publican Quality Meats, we sell the most amazing peanut butter ever, Cream-Nut, from the Koeze Company, in Grand Rapids Michigan. It tastes like a mouthful of salted peanuts.

1999 Best New Chef Bio

Background Born in Chicago. Worked at Topolobampo, Erwin and Metropolis Café in Chicago.

How he got into cooking Helping out his father, who owned delis and a smoked-fish business.

Favorite cookbooks French Regional Cooking by Anne Willan and the Chez Panisse books.

Favorite place to eat Jim's Grill, a vegetarian Korean diner on Irving Park Road in Chicago. "You always feel great afterward. And lots of rock bands hang out there."

Dish he could eat every day Lake fish—pike, salmon and trout.

What he eats at 1 A.M. Dish 131 at River Kwai, an Asian restaurant with 130 dishes on the menu. "It's different every time I ask for it."

Strangest customer request One diner wanted each item on his plate kept separate. "So the potatoes couldn't touch the meat; the meat couldn't touch the green beans..."

Trend he's most tired of "A little salad on top of everything. It drives me up a wall."

Recipe tip Don't buy scallops that are sitting in a pool of creamy liquid. They should be dry and a little sticky and have a sweet, briny smell. If there's no smell at all, they've probably been treated with chemicals.

Won Best New Chef at: Blackbird