Sean Patrick Curry, executive chef at the new Chicago Marriott Naperville, has been around the block, and then some.
His culinary career has taken him from Philadelphia, his hometown, to Atlantic City, to Baltimore and as far away as Chambery, France. He's even done a stint on a "food truck," albeit a 54-foot model that catered to movie stars and music idols.
Now, however, chef Curry, his wife and their two children call Naperville home.
Curry first decided he wanted to become a chef when he was just 7 years old and started sweeping floors in a pizza place. He studied at the Atlantic City Culinary Academy and then did an apprenticeship in France.
Upon returning stateside he spent time at restaurants on the Jersey Shore before entering the hotel side of the culinary field. At the new Marriott in Naperville Curry oversees banquets and the hotel's fine-dining restaurant, Artisan Table, which was bustling during the recent Ryder Cup golf tournament. Chef Curry is also very involved with the American Culinary Federation and community organizations as well as first lady Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools initiative.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? The biggest influence was Francesco (aka Pops) and Splendora Zanello. They were friends of our family. Pops would make tomato sauce by cooking fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil and oregano in a cast iron skillet. It was the best smell in the world to me. He would tell my friends and me stories about being a chef for some really great restaurants in South Philly. Dora would always make great food at Christmas and I would go to their house on Christmas Eve when my family was visiting my Grandmother who lived four houses down from them. I would sneak up to their house and eat some of the leftovers.
You spent a lot of time on the East Coast. How is Chicago different? Chicago has a different culture. People are outside more here and they're a little friendlier. Chicago has really become my home, but I still miss the pizza and Philly cheesesteaks (from Philadelphia).
What do you like to do on your days off? I spend my time with my family. We really enjoy going to the Naperville farmers market on Saturday mornings. We also enjoy just hanging out with each other. Connie and I play with the kids during the day, and then my daughter will want to help us cook dinner. She likes to say she's my little Sous Chef.
I am also a member of the American Culinary Federation, American Institute of Food and Wine, Oxfam and Slow Food USA. I read a lot of cookbooks and food related magazines as well. If I have a meeting, or function to go to, my wife will go with me when we can get a baby sitter. She is a foodie as well.
Do you cook at home? I do love to cook at home. With opening the Marriott Naperville and Artisan Table I have been working quite a lot and Connie has really taken over the kitchen at home. She is an excellent cook as well.
We started the paleo, or cave man diet, two months ago. Wow, has it been a culture shock for both of us. We have to plan our meals a week out and buy fresh produce and fruit almost every day. It's challenging when we're busy, but it has given us more to work together on, which we love, and it has also helped both of us lose weight and feel healthier than ever.
What was catering for the stars like? It was called Coast to Coast catering. I worked with chefs P.J. Haines and Sean Lynn. They both have left that company and started a new motion picture catering company called American Roadshow. The company was based out of New York but we traveled to Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, West Palm Beach, New Orleans, Ohio, and Providence, Rhode Island.
The band God Smack was at our truck a lot when we filmed the video for "Awake" at Mansfield (Ohio) prison. They were not really picky but high maintenance for a couple days. It was pretty awesome though.
What trends do you see in the food industry? The big trend right now seems to be tracing where your food comes from. Buying local and sustainable products are very important to people. Diners want to know we are buying good products from good people. Our coffee company "Crop to Cup" really sums it up on their logo, "Don't buy food from strangers."
Comfort food is a big hit these days as well. Just plated really well.
What is your biggest pet peeve in the kitchen? I have three of equal value: 1) The right attitude: stay food-focused with positive attitude. 2) Cleanliness: you need to work clean or somebody will get sick if you're not careful. 3) Mise en place: If you're prepped and prepared, you will cook great food. The chances are that you will if you love cooking, but you need to be ready.
What is the best thing you've ever eaten? The best meal I have ever had was at La Ciboulette in Annecy, France. Chef Georges Paccard and his wife, Marie, really show their love of food in their cooking. When I worked for chef (Michelle) Bouvier at L'essencial in Chambery, he sent me there to learn what Haute -- Savoie cuisine really is. They gave me a tour of the kitchen, fed me, and then quizzed me on what I thought of each dish in detail. It was awesome!
What three ingredients do you always have in your pantry? Fresh lemons, sea salt, a fresh pepper mill.
What kind of advice would you give to new cooks? The best advice I could give is to not worry about what people think of you, but stay food-focused. People these days worry more about how they're perceived then what their food tastes like. Also, don't try to lead a kitchen for at least 10 years. Learn. Learn. Learn. I think you need to learn how to follow before you can be an excellent leader.
Tell us about this recipe: Short Rib Tortellini. It is a dish I did at the Renaissance Harborplace (Baltimore) for the James Beard Celebrity Chef's tour. Great flavors, homemade pasta and all local products. It reminds me of a simple chef-crafted dish with deep rich flavors.
I pair it with Paringa Shiraz sparkling from Riverland, Australia.
At home the recipe is a little of this and a bit of that, however to make it easier I have converted it into exact measurements to have a consistent product every time
Try this recipe at home or sample some chef Curry's other dishes at Artisan Table, 1801 N. Naper Blvd., Naperville. (630) 505-4900.
• To recommend a chef to be profiled, send the chef's name and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put Chef du Jour in the subject line.