Chef du Jour: Suburban boys grow into meat experts in the Windy City

Should we really be surprised that two boys from the Northwest suburbs who remember childhood jaunts to Gene's & Jude's for the spot's legendary hot dogs would grow up to run one of Chicago's top-rated meat-centric restaurants?

While working at Courtright's in Willow Springs more than a decade ago, Thomas Rice, Elk Grove High School class of 1995, and Kurt Guzowski, Hoffman Estates High School class of 1997, realized they shared a passion for sausage.

“We wanted to tell those stories of our ancestors and the relationship they had with the neighborhood butcher,” Rice said.

Today, the pair run Tete Charcuterie, a spot in the West Loop that has become a nationally recognized mecca for those seeking Old World-inspired smoked and cured meats and pates.

Rice's culinary education started in his Hoffman Estate family room watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin and led him to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and then into kitchens with celebrated chefs Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Guzowski, too, was weened on Channel 11 cooking shows and headed to the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. He went on to work with chef Guiseppe Tentori and spent time as executive chef at Chicago's Landmark Grill and Lounge.

As Tete marks its anniversary, I took the chance to get to know these local boys a little better.

Who influenced your decision to become a chef?

Thomas Rice: My great-grandmother and grandmother, but more importantly no one really influenced me. I truly believe this is what I am supposed to be doing … my calling in life, my purpose.

Kurt Guzowski: I just gravitated toward it after high school.

What was your first restaurant job?

Rice: Working at Frankie D's in Bloomingdale. I just remember the restaurant smelling like parmesan cheese and I loved it. I was a prep cook on salad station. My mother got me the job; she was the bookkeeper.

Guzowski: My first Chicago cooking job was at Lakeview Supper Club. It taught me the fast-paced life of the kitchen, and how to get yelled at.

What made you two think you could work together?

Rice: Conversation, same vision and we were both sick of working for other chefs.

How do you complement each other in the kitchen?

Rice: We seriously finish each other's sentences. We are always thinking the same thing from a business aspect and not afraid to tell each other what we may think of a dish or each other's thoughts. We are methodical in our decisions from food, to hiring staff, to business. It gives us a real advantage. The old cliché: two heads are better than one ...

Guzowski: Just having two heads helps us bounce ideas off each other and helps to create dishes and elevate them to that level we are proud to serve. There are plenty of disagreements … you have it out, curse a couple of times and move on. Nothing is personal. We have a common goal that is the success of Tete.

Where do you find inspiration?

Guzowski: In the seasons, in other chefs. It's always fun to sit with a fellow chef after work and discuss food and seasonality.

What is your culinary philosophy? How does that play out on the Tete menu?

Rice: Fresh, light, sexy, seasonally driven food. We use many different vinegars, vegetable and fruit purees and herbs to take our dishes in an unexpected direction.

What was the last meal you cooked at home?

Rice: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mac and cheese with panko-fried Tete hot dog and roasted broccoli for Tete's executive sous chef Thomas, Jr. (5 years old).

Guzowski: A simple roasted chicken with potatoes and asparagus.

Do you have a guilty pleasure food?

Rice: Bread; it's biblical. With butter and fleur de sel it's a quick, easy snack and delicious every time. I will eat and try just about anything.

Guzowski: Plenty of guilty pleasures! McDonald's hash browns are delicious every time. But fiddlehead ferns — I do not like them.

Tell us about this recipe: Filipino-inspired Longanisa with Garlic Fried Rice.

Guzowski: The longanisa makes a great breakfast. Use day-old rice.

Try this at home or at Tete Charcuterie, 1114 W. Randolph St., Chicago. (312) 733-1178.

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Filipino-inspired Longanisa with Garlic Fried Rice

Filipino-inspired Longanisa Sausages

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