Executive Chef Ross Henke of Mexican-inspired restaurant Quiote (2456 N. California Ave.), a Michelin Bib Gourmand 2018 and 2019 winner, is trailblazing an experimental dining series called Off the Record: Test Kitchen. Off the Record is a monthly opportunity for up-and-coming chefs to design fun and innovative tasting menus. The second installment of the experimental meal series will be served in Quiote’s private dining space above the restaurant and will have a different monthly theme. The dining series will be intimate with about 14-seats per meal.
“Oftentimes, when you’re a cook, you don’t have the opportunity to express yourself creatively,” Henke said. “But cooks want to express themselves so I always encourage them to play around with dishes and try them on our menu.”
Experimenting with Imagination and Vinyl
Many chefs have to work within the confines of their restaurants so they don’t necessarily have opportunities to creatively play around with food. For example, some of the chefs at Quiote may want to experiment with Nordic or Southern food that is not really within Quiote’s “realm” of cuisine. This series helps retain the talented chefs while inspiring them to experiment with food, Henke said.
“We want Logan Square to see what our little neighborhood restaurant can do. It’s not just about me. It takes everyone in the kitchen [to create what we serve],” he said. “I touch the food the least. These cooks create delicious food every day through a collaborative effort.”
There will also be a vinyl component to each of their meal series carefully curated by the chefs themselves, many of them vinyl nerds, he added.
“Off The Record makes sense for us to play records. It’s the chef’s choice of what music plays during the dinner… It’s another level of getting to know who is cooking for you,” Henke said.
The records that the chefs choose are reflective of what they listen to outside of work in the comfort of their own home. The upcoming meal series, “Jew-ish”, will feature Third Man Records, Jack White and hip hop, according to Henke. Tickets for this specific iteration will be $85 for a succulent 9-course tasting menu on Tuesday, April 23rd from 7-10pm.
A Variety of Culinary Themes
Chef Oliver Shlaes, kitchen manager of Quiote, created a specific “Jew-ish” themed tasting menu inspired by his own Jewish heritage.
“Shlaes visits familiar flavors from the staple dishes he grew up translated through contemporary techniques,” Shlaes said in a statement. “Dishes like “masa ball soup”, oysters, and “kugel that doesn’t suck” will be featured on the tasting menu.”
Another upcoming meal from Off the Record will have a “Wisconsin Supper Club” theme led by sous chef, Mikey Kolodzej of The Publican on May 21. You can expect contemporary twists on “Wisconsin supper club classics.”
The dishes will get a bit more tropical June 21 for their “Beach-Cuisine” tasting menu created by executive sous chef, Kyle Cottle of Blackbird. Hawaiian shirts will be encouraged with a colorful, fine dining theme.
“It’s about the diners who get an exclusive look at the people who are going to be taking over the food scene in the next few years,” Henke said. “It’s about the cook breaking into that first terrifying experience with their name attached to it. There’s much more pride that goes into a meal when it has your name on it.”
While the tasting menus feature dishes with meat and gluten, they will also offer vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options if you sign up through Tock and indicate that you have a dietary restriction.
If you are interested in learning more about their Off the Record dinner series, visit its official page.
Chef Henke’s Culinary Roots
The collaborations for this second installment arose from chef Henke’s history with the chefs at Blackbird and Publican; he went to culinary school with chef Cottle of Blackbird and used to work with chef Kolodzej at Publican. He said he is excited to cook with them again as he has not done so in years.
Chef Henke opened Quiote with owner Dan Salls in February of 2017 where he started off as chef de cuisine. He was then promoted to executive chef in 2018, which has been an exciting challenge for him since this is his first gig as an executive chef.
“The biggest challenge of becoming an executive chef and opening a restaurant is understanding my own personality among others,” he said. “You have to manage each person in the kitchen differently because they have [various] skills and sensitivities.”
While being an executive chef is challenging, it is quite “humbling” for chef Henke because it helps him think more broadly about everyone else who comes through his kitchen. He feels lucky enough to call the crew his family. His culinary journey started at Naperville’s White Eagle Golf Club, LM Bistro at Hotel Felix, Publican Quality Meats and The Publican.
Featuring Today’s Regional Mexican Cuisine
When Quiote first opened 2017, Logan Square was a bit skeptical. According to chef Henke, the community already had such a great, authentic dining scene from the jibarito place around the corner to Taqueria Moran and Don Chema.
“We want to come in and use our skill set as people who are classically trained and have worked at really good restaurants. But we also have a great rapport with the farmers and people who raised the animals and have a love for the entire Latin community of food—our menu is not just Mexican,” Henke said. You will also see Spanish, Peruvian, and Colombian food featured even though Mexican food is a major focus of Quiote’s menu.
“People think regional Mexican is Mexico from 50 years ago. We want to do Mexico justice within the Logan Square setting using midwestern ingredients and show what regional Mexican is today,” the chef said. “In Mexico, they’re doing [innovative] food pairings that people don’t know about and we want to mirror that up here.”
Burrito Battles Coming to You this Summer
If you are looking for something a bit more casual, Quiote will also be having their Burrito Battles in the summer every other Wednesday of the month. For $20 you get two halves of a burrito from each restaurant competing in the battle along with a drink pairing and $5 is donated to a charity. It runs the first week of June through the first week of October and takes place in the back area of Quiote near the food truck.
“We just want to meet new people, hang out with old friends and meet new restaurants and chefs,” Henke said of summer events like the Burrito Battles. “I love when a restaurant is closed for the day and you get to meet everyone affiliated with that kitchen; it’s fun for building friendships in an already small community.”
The Burrito Battles are a way to relax, enjoy the weather, and kick back while eating delicious food. Restaurants from all over the city will be featured while Quiote provides the flour tortillas; however, the competing restaurants design and produce the burritos themselves.
Chef Henke is grateful to the Logan Square community and is excited to continue orchestrating these eclectic and distinctive meal series featuring Quiote chefs and chefs from all over Chicago.
“We’re not trying to please every single person, we are who we are. Logan has accepted us in a great way and I am really happy where we are,” he said.
Featured photo: Quiote