Early restaurant work made chef what he is today

  • Chef Michael Grove slices roast pork for the Cuban sandwich at the Chicago Fire Oven restaurant in the Crowne Plaza O'Hare Hotel in Rosemont.

      Chef Michael Grove slices roast pork for the Cuban sandwich at the Chicago Fire Oven restaurant in the Crowne Plaza O'Hare Hotel in Rosemont. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

By Deborah Pankey
Updated 3/1/2011 5:11 PM

Growing up in the restaurant business (his family owned local restaurants), Michael Grove knows the ins and outs of the business. He would make a staunch competitor on "24 Hour Restaurant Battle" or "Top Chef."

But you won't catch Grove, chef at the new Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare in Rosemont, on TV.


"I saw firsthand at a young age what it took to run successful restaurants. Seeing my family work long, hard hours and observing their passion shaped me into the chef I am today," said Grove, 36. "... I enjoy watching 'Hell's Kitchen' and 'Kitchen Nightmares' for their entertainment value. I occasionally catch 'Iron Chef' and 'Top Chef,' but couldn't see myself participating in a reality show."

Grove's reality includes overseeing a staff of 35, all food operations for the hotel and conference center and its new restaurant, The Chicago Fire Oven.

He lives in Lake in the Hills with his wife, Kimberly, and children Brianna and Cassidy and twins Sayde and Nicholas.

When did you first know you wanted to be a chef? I remember helping my nana and papa prepare holiday dinners at their house for more than 30 people. I peeled the potatoes, helped make the soup or sauce, cut the fruit, kneaded the dough - whatever they needed me to do. I enjoyed it, plus I was good at it. I knew then that if my career in professional sports didn't go as planned, culinary was the way to go!

What was your first restaurant job? I grew up helping out in my family's restaurants, beginning at around age 10. I put away produce, washed dishes, worked the cash register and slung burgers. But my first actual employment outside of helping out family was as a waiter at Copperfield's in Lombard when I was 17.

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What is your role at Crowne Plaza? I am the executive chef, overseeing all food preparations for the hotel, which has more than 60,000 square feet of catering and meeting space. We recently opened a new restaurant, The Chicago Fire Oven, where we use a blazing stone hearth oven to prepare many signature menu items. And there's a new "grab and go" concept at the hotel called On The Fly. In addition to my other duties, I was involved with planning the concept and menu for these two new venues.

Tell us about a memorable evening: One New Year's Eve I was managing an event for 600 people. A newbie apprentice had just pulled the beautifully cooked chicken from the oven. On the way to plating the wheel of the rack he was using to transport everything hit a floor drain cover and more than 400 pieces of chicken ended up on the ground. Thankfully, I had enough chicken in stock to replace it. I instructed the culinary team to start grilling chicken, and the banquet manager to slow down service. Problem averted.

How has the restaurant business changed since you first worked in your grandfather's restaurant? Consumers are more health conscious. People want to know, and should know, where their food is coming from and how it's prepared. Gone are the days of the heavy gravies and pounds of butter.

What three ingredients should be in every home kitchen? Fresh garlic, white wine, extra virgin olive oil are three staples in my home and professional kitchens. There are no substitutes. Whether I'm sauteing or making a sauce, these are my "go to" ingredients.


What is your favorite ingredient and how to do you like to use it? Fresh herbs. I grow fresh basil, thyme, oregano and cilantro in my garden at home. And I have a great source that delivers fresh herbs daily to the hotel. Finishing your sauces and dishes with fresh herbs makes them more vibrant and tasty.

What do you do in your spare time? Being a father of four small children, and working weekends, there's little spare time. But if I can squeeze in a round of golf a couple times a year, I'm happy.

Tell us about this recipe: Cuban sandwiches are currently very popular. This is a great recipe, because you can prepare the pork loin a day or so in advance and keep it refrigerated. You can also assemble the sandwich a few hours ahead of time and grill when ready. It goes great with a Fat Tire beer on tap.

Try this at home or at Chicago Fire Oven at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare, 5440 N. River Road, Rosemont. (847) 671-6350.

• To recommend a chef to be profiled, write to food@dailyherald.com.