Chef Trevor McGrath has braved the flames of "Hell's Kitchen" and returned to Illinois doing what he does best.
As a child growing up in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, McGrath, 32, said he always had an "itch" to be in the kitchen. He started out trying to improve his mother's meat loaf recipe and things kept rolling from there. His "round about" way of getting into chefs whites included college in Iowa (where he dropped out before getting his teaching degree) and working as a plumber. His break came at Maxwell's, a restaurant in Cody, Wyo., where a senior chef saw something in the inexeperienced prep cook and threw McGrath onto the line.
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With yet another helpful push, his sister helped him earn a place in "Hell's Kitchen."
Chef McGrath did not let his lack of classical culinary training or chef Gordon Ramsay's temper keep him from making it into the final four of season eight before being sent home. Not bad for a former plumber.
McGrath recently landed in Glendale Heights as the general manager and executive chef at Bella Luna. The restaurant is a smooth combination of high class cuisine and Sunday night football relaxation.
Although "Chef Trev" as he likes to be called has had great success in the culinary world, he counts painting as his other talent. You can check out his artwork on his website, cheftrevor.com
What do you like most about being a chef? Feeding people good food. I like flavors as well so I get to experiment and get creative, much like when I paint. I just see it as a different medium.
I like the diversity of food, but that you can blend them together and get something completely new. Food is a social juggernaut; it is the most common way for people to come together, and in many ways it is the most intimate. Sharing food is how the world has come together, and I just happened to want to feed everyone!
Who is your culinary inspiration? My culinary inspirations come from different places, all of them chefs. My first chef who let me be creative and find that ribbon of passion running through me, obviously chef (Gordon) Ramsay is always in my head, pushing me to do it better, faster, but calmly. I just hear him saying in my head, "Relax Boyo, take a breath." I have a few others who have showed me the light in different techniques, but it's always the underdogs, and the out-of-the-way places that inspire me the most. The guys and girls in this profession who aren't afraid to go out and try it!
Describe your experience on "Hell's Kitchen?I'm sure you'd heard about Gordon's temper, what were you thinking when you signed up?My experience was more unique than most. My sister signed me up for the show. Truth be told I was hesitant to begin with but as it approached I got downright nervous. I promised I would try my hardest and that's exactly what I did. I didn't see too much of Chef's wrath on the show. His words, although harsh, were exactly what I needed to find that next level and dig deeper as a chef. All in all it is something I am proud to say I did, and feel proud to have made it so far in the competition.
Tell us a little about Bella Luna.A couple of chef's I knew came to me with Bella Luna. A great layout, plenty of parking, and a immaculate kitchen. While looking for investors (for my own restaurant) I am working as the general manager and executive chef, a full day to say the least!
We are trying to revamp the feel a little bit, bringing in live entertainment, such as comedy groups and music, of course. I have designed an American tapas menu for Tuesday nights, and on Sundays we offer a Chef's table. $23 per person gets you two glasses of wine, three dishes designed by me just for that night, and dessert!
We are listening to the community and our customers, trying to give them what they want in a real restaurant. Some specials have become menu items, suggestions have been heard and listened to. Pizza by the slice, coming up! More patio tables, done! More live entertainment, on the way!
I find myself branching out and cooking up batches of fresh scones for my early patrons, and fresh Irish soda bread and zucchini bars appear in the front display case regularly now. I've got to admit I have a good palate, but I have a very sweet tooth!
What's your favorite meal to cook at home? At the restaurant?My favorite thing to cook at home is probably pork chops. I have come up with a lot of variations over the years, and have stuffed, fried or grilled many a chop. As American as Peter Brady! Pork Chops and Applesauce does it every time for this chef. A nice side of Irish potatoes and grill up some corn.
When I'm at the restaurant I like to cook my pasta specials the most. I started as a saute chef out West and it's always a comfort zone for me. Building sauces from scratch and getting the consistency just right. Experimenting with specials, letting the flavors grow and develop. For me it's like painting. It's done when it's done.
My Bridgeport pasta is probably my favorite, because it is all seasonal vegetables and on-hand items, it's the same but individual each time.
Describe your style of cooking?I have studied under a wide array of chefs from different styles, to different backgrounds and techniques. I have taken a little bit of all of that and come together as what I like to think is organized chaos. I'd like to think of myself as taking American contemporary and putting it on its ear.
What's your guilty pleasure? Corned beef on rye with Swiss. I am in Heaven with a nice, thick cut of meat and drippy Swiss. It's hard to screw up a corned beef sandwich and I have seen it happen, but when someone shows it the love it deserves, it's divine.
Tell me about this recipe: Chef Trev's Gourmet Meatloaf has evolved all the way from those early years, and has served me well for entertaining, date night and is great as leftovers as well. It started with my grandmother's original recipe, but I can never leave well enough alone so we tweaked it a little bit. Hope you enjoy It!
Try this at home or sample his other fare at Bella Luna, 136 E. Army Trail Road, Glendale Heights. (630) 582-1500.
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