Chef revels in German cooking all year long
"Lett ist celebrate Oktoberfest!"
Jason Bauer sure is.
As the chef at Bauer's Brauhaus in Palatine he's enthusiastic about all things German. The restaurant, which he owns with several family members, opened last January featuring traditional German food prepared with modern twists from organic, locally grown ingredients.
This year marks the restaurant's first Octoberfest and it's been busy pouring steins of Spaten and serving up plates of homemade sausages and schnitzel.
Yet Bauer wants to remind us that German cuisine extends beyond the beer, brats and pretzels associated with this celebration (which in Germany end on Oct. 3, the country's Unity Day).
When did you first realize you wanted to be a chef? When I had to start cooking for myself. I was 19 years old and I had just spontaneously moved to southern Oregon, don't ask me why. I was born and raised in Niles and I guess I took for granted the food I grew up with -- whether it was my mom's home cooking or all the fine restaurants in the Chicago area -- because when I was in Oregon it surely wasn't the same. So, being disappointed with what I was eating, I started cooking for myself. After trying to recreate some of my mom's dishes and others from magazines and cookbooks, it became apparent that cooking was my calling in life.
Who has inspired you? I've been inspired by many people, though I guess there are two that I would say have had the most influence. First, would be my grandfather. My grandparents lived two doors down from where I grew up, so I was over there all the time.
In my grandparent's house they had a walk-in cooler that was bigger than most of the coolers in restaurant's I've worked in. Anytime you'd walk into it you could see anything from fresh produce to jars of homemade pickles and preserves, all that had come out of my grandfather's half-acre garden in his backyard. On occasion you might even find a side of beef hanging from the ceiling that he would age and than butcher. He was also known for his enormous parties at his house where he'd cook for hundreds of his friends and family.
So growing up and experiencing this farm-to-plate type of eating leads me to my second person who inspired me and that would chef Paul Virant of Vie and Perennial Virant. He might be considered the biggest advocate in the eating locally and seasonally movement that is currently the trend in dining out.
Working with him was great because he utilized all the local farmers which I appreciated. He made some amazing dishes. He also gave me the confidence to make things from scratch and not depend on already produced products.
What was your favorite class at culinary school? My favorite class was sausage making. It was such a fun, hands-on class.
Why did you decide to open a German restaurant? I decided on opening a German restaurant for a few reasons. First, because there aren't as many German restaurants now as there have been in the past. Second, the German culture is known for having a good time, i.e. Oktoberfest. Being located in downtown Palatine with all the bars in the area, it made sense to have a place with a beautiful bar, great atmosphere and delicious German beer.
And finally, since I'm of German heritage, I am also paying homage to my ancestors.
What do you like to cook at home? Well, I don't have time to cook at home anymore, but when I do it's probably past midnight, so I'm looking for something quick and easy. My go-to would probably be a Chicago-style hot dog. I'm a hot dog junkie, so much so that I had been planning on opening a hot dog stand for two years before I decided to open Bauer's Brahaus.
Do you have a favorite cookbook? I have so many cookbooks that it's difficult to pick one, but my most valuable one is "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I love this book; it's more of a reference than anything else. It lists every ingredient you can think of, and tells you what it pairs well with. It's a must-have.
Why do you think some people are intimidated by cooking? People are intimidated by cooking just because of the uncertainty. They are uncertain of how food is supposed to taste, uncertain of how to pronounce it, uncertain if someone else is going to like it, uncertain if they can actually make it. I think people just need to relax when it comes to cooking; to have fun with it. Try it once, if it comes out horrible, don't get discouraged, think about what went wrong and give it another shot. If you make something over and over again, eventually you'll get it right.
What essential kitchen tool do you use every day? I feel most lost in a kitchen without my sharpie pen and masking type. I know, you're probably thinking, huh? If I didn't have a sharpie and tape, I couldn't label anything and I wouldn't know what half the stuff is. Believe me, it's super important.
If you were caught on a deserted island with only five ingredients, what would you want them to be? My must-have five would be 1.) Sugar 2.) Flour 3.) Eggs 4.) Bacon 5.) Potatoes. That's a tough question, but I think I could survive off that for a while.
Tell us about these recipes: The first, German Potato Salad is actually something I could still make if I was on the deserted island (assuming the island had water)! The mussels are something I have on the menu because it's a good dish and it's made with Riesling (Germany's famed white grape). I like to serve it with a weiss beer.
Try these at home or at Bauer's Brauhaus, 45 W. Slade St., Palatine. (847) 991-1040.