Montarra chef proud of his culinary oasis
Fresh ingredients from local farms help Dave Perlick make his cooking stand out from others' in the Northwest suburbs. Perlick, 30, is executive chef at Montarra, a contemporary American restaurant in Algonquin.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Perlick was 13 when his family moved to Crystal Lake. He received his culinary training at Elgin Community College. After a short stint at an Italian restaurant in Algonquin, he joined Marriott hotels, starting as a prep cook in Schaumburg. He rose to kitchen manager and was assigned to a task force upgrading Marriott food service around the country. Next, he worked at the Boulder Ridge Country Club in Lake in the Hills, before helping to open Montarra as sous chef in 2004.
The ambitious young chef lives in Algonquin and says he hopes to oversee four restaurants by the time he's 40.
What led you to become a chef? Out of high school, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. My parents showed me an article in the Daily Herald about Elgin Community College and its culinary program. I always was cooking. As a kid, I'd get up and make my own breakfast. I always had a desire to be in the kitchen, but I had no idea of a career at that point.
In my first class, the instructor said, "If you don't enjoy working every night, every single weekend, every holiday, working opposite the schedules of your friends, you might as well leave now." I was 18, and I thought, "I don't know if I want to go through with this." But I decided to stick it out.
What do you like about being a chef? The exciting thing about being in this business - it's a hot job nowadays. It's chic to be a chef. It's such a proud feeling to have, to make people a great meal. I can do everything and anything. I make it all.
What's your culinary style? I'm a working chef. I don't sit in the office.
Montarra is an oasis in this area. We just bring in a unique flavor. We're something special and distinguished in an area that's really screaming for it at this time.
I borrow from other chefs. I create new dishes. I'm not a recipe guy. I cook what my heart tells me to cook. It's a God-given talent. I truly believe that.
What kinds of things do you cook? Every week I bring in new ingredients and get creative. I try to get the freshest ingredients I can. I buy a lot of my produce from local farms, from late spring to late fall. Everything I buy is just picked that day. It takes a little more work to find the product that you want.
The fish I get is flown in from Hawaii daily. It was swimming the day before.
Do you have favorite ingredients? I love duck prosciutto - that's a duck breast that's been cured a couple of months, like regular prosciutto, but it's richer because it's duck. I love foie gras. I love truffles. I love all the luxurious ingredients. But also, I like simple things, like polenta.
How do you design your menus? We change the core menu every two to three months, but where we really shine is our specials, which we change every day. That's where we get creative. I want to have a taste for every single palate.
Do you have a specialty? If there's one dish I pride myself on, it's risotto. We make it 101 different ways here. We're renowned for it.
If you could cook for anyone, who would it be? Either my parents or Jesus. Everybody else is lumped together for me.
Are you religious? Yes. Very. That's why I think we're so successful. Because we've been blessed.
I go to Light of Christ Church in Algonquin. They're building a new church. It's going to be gorgeous.
What do you do in your spare time? I'm an avid golfer. I'm an outdoor guy. Golf is a great way to be with your friends. It's always in a beautiful place.
I'm a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan. It takes up a lot of my free time. I'm somewhat of a gearhead, too. I like working on cars.
Tell us about this recipe. Double Decker Chocolate Fondue Cake. It's one of the better-tasting desserts I've made in a long time. It's pure decadence.
Try this at home or at Montarra, 1491 S. Randall Road, Algonquin. (847) 458-0505, montarra.com
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Double-Decker Chocolate Fondue Cake
¾ pound (3 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound good quality semisweet chocolate
½ cup coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua
⅛ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups sugar
1 tablespoon good quality vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ pound (1 stick) butter
½ cup Irish cream liqueur, such as Bailey's
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 pound semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
Powdered sugar and fresh raspberries for garnish
For the cake: Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Using 2 tablespoons butter, grease an 8-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and tamp out any excess.
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate with the coffee liqueur.
While the chocolate is melting, beat together the eggs, salt and sugar until the mixture forms a ribbon when dropped from the beaters. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Beat on medium speed for 20 seconds to fully incorporate.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan and bake 20 minutes or until a pick comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes and remove cake to a wire rack.
For the fondue: In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, butter, Irish cream liqueur and sugar and bring to a simmer. Stir the chocolate into the simmering mixture, take off the heat and let sit 5 minutes.
To assemble: Take the cooled cake base and with your finger gently press down and around inside the edges on top of the cake to make a level "holding well" to hold the warm liquid chocolate fondue. Place the cake on a platter and carefully fill with the fondue mixture. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Gently slice the chilled cake into eight portions (a knife dipped into hot water helps). Using a cake spatula, lift out each piece and dust with the powered sugar and sprinkle with fresh raspberries.
Chef Dave Perlick, Montarra, Algonquin