Chef brings farm to-dining concept to Schaumburg

Chef du jour

  • Season's 52 chef John State seeks out seasonal, locally grown ingredients.

      Season's 52 chef John State seeks out seasonal, locally grown ingredients. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Season's 52 chef John State seeks out seasonal, locally grown ingredients.

      Season's 52 chef John State seeks out seasonal, locally grown ingredients. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
By Deborah Pankey |
Daily Herald Food Editor
Updated 1/18/2011 12:18 PM

I can't imagine his sons were too thrilled when John State left his job at the Happiest Place on Earth and moved back to the Midwest.

State, who trained at Chicago's Washburne Culinary Institute, worked for the celebrated chef Bradley Ogden at Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur and then crossed the country to create wildly popular Flying Fish Cafe at Walt Disney World in Orlando. He moved to the resort's flagship restaurant, California Grill, where he earned national acclaim, including features in The New York Times and Food & Wine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

His award-winning cuisine and seasonal focus made him a perfect fit for Season's 52 (a concept born in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom) and in 2010 he brought his family to the suburbs and opened the restaurant's Schaumburg outpost.

He lives in Oak Park with his wife, Kimberly, his sons Jordan, 17, Riley, 14, Parker, 9, Hayden, 8 and three cats.

When did you first know you wanted to be a chef? My sophomore year in high school, after I learned about attending culinary school, it was as though the light bulb went on. You mean someone will teach me this?

What has your first restaurant job? What did you learn from it? My grandparents owned a diner in St. Joseph, Mich. I spent time in the kitchen cooking with grandmother. My first job was at Big Boy, a chain restaurant in Stevensville. You had to be committed to the hours, want to work closely with others, have high standards and ensure you could laugh through the pain.

What is your culinary philosophy? Keep it simple and be meticulous about the details. Those details can be expecting the best (not the most expensive) ingredients to work with, pushing the team to want your standards and seeking feedback to learn to be better.

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How does that play out on your menu? Our food is simple, by design, but layers of effort go into producing the finished product. With weekly menu changes we are kept on our toes to manage the ebb and flow of ingredients. This effort makes us all more accountable to our guests.

What dining trends will we see in 2011? Casual dining will be even more popular.

Any food trend you're glad to see fade? Food trends are an important part of our culinary evolution. Trendsetters are the brave ones who declared this dish or component to be the "now." I admire risk takers and appreciate those trends that have lasted and have a legacy. If there is one trend that tends to cause discourse it is fusion. Protect the integrity of the food, please.

Tell us about your work at Disney World. How has WDW redefined "amusement park" dining? My 10 years with the Mouse were exceptionally rewarding as a chef. One of my mentors, Dieter Hannig who recruited me from San Francisco helped open the doors to "change" the dining scene in Orlando. We were fortunate to be able to introduce farm-to-table dining, daily menu printing based on what was available, tasting menus, wine maker diners, etc.

Guests who were on vacation from Chicago or New York City wanted to connect with the food they were used to dining on back home, so we delivered. Granted there still is a line for the smoked turkey leg at the Magic Kingdom, but for dinner the same guests can have Diver Scallops with Truffle Whipped Potatoes, Shallot-Shiitaki Ragout and Meyer Lemon Aioli.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What was the last meal you cooked at home? I love to cook at home and my wife is a great baker and sous chef, so we work together on meals. She secures the ingredients, as though I am in a quick fire, a la "Top Chef," clock starts when I arrive home from work.

We had tilapia with quinoa and arugula salad, feta cheese and candied lime vinaigrette.

Do you have a favorite pig-out food? comfort food? Slow cooked pork anything, magical! Comfort food is anything my wife makes.

What do you do in your spare time? I ran the Chicago Marathon, my first, on 10/10/10. I trained for four months; quite the commitment. I will be entering my first triathlon in 2011.

I am now a huge supporter of running, now that I realize it is a mental game as well an incredible outlet to closing out the world for just a little while. And I get to spend more time with my wife when we train together.

I also bug my kids to have me as their guest in the classroom as much a possible to share cooking with the students also.

If I wasn't a chef I would be a politician so I could help make a difference.

Tell us about this recipe: Mulligatawany Soup. This recipe reminds me of culinary school at Washburne Trade Center. The soup has such a different flavor profile than other classics like French onion or minestrone. This is a great seasonal soup.

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