Chef du Jour: Vernon Hills chef hopes to elevate status of 'pub grub'
From a fast-food chain to an Italian cafe and market and even an Irish pub, Corey Grupe has cooked in many restaurant environments.
Today he heads up the kitchens at Timothy O'Toole's Pub in Gurnee and Chicago. Over the past several months Grupe has been developing recipes and working out his interpretation of upscale pub cuisine as Timothy O'Toole's plans an expansion into another Lake County suburb.
"Our menu is going to be focused on utilizing local and organic ingredients as well as items from our garden as much as possible," Grupe said. "While our dishes are classical and approachable for everyone they will be delivered in a more upscale manner."
Corey lives in Vernon Hills with his wife, Sara, and their three rescue dogs, 11-year-old Bay Leaf, a coon hound mix; 6-year-old Pinot Noir, a shepherd-huskey mix; and 6-month-old Roux, a shepherd-mastiff mix.
Who do you consider your mentor? I have had many different mentors during the various stages of my life and career. A short list would be my mom and dad, chefs David Utley (has worked for Harrah's Casino, Bally's Casino, Cosi restaurants, Grand Biloxi Casino among others) and Pete Repak (an alumnus of Charlie Trotter's, Mansion on Turtle Creek and Fox & Obel). All of them are instrumental in the way that I approach my craft.
What is your culinary philosophy? Keep it simple, use fresh ingredients, proper techniques and keep the food approachable and fun. I don't cut corners. If it's not right I won't sell it. I'm a big fan of talking to my customers about what they are looking for and utilize their feedback to create new menu items and specials. What I make from day to day is not about me. It's about what my customers are looking for, what I can purchase at any particular time and what's going to be best for the business.
As you look to open a new Timothy O'Toole, how do you balance an existing spot while setting up a new operation? I am fortunate to have great staffs in Chicago as well as Gurnee. If I need to step out to take care of something for (the new spot), the staff knows what they need to get done. The benefit of having the other two places is I have the ability to test the dishes, tweak them if they need it and get customer feedback.
Where do you get ideas for items that will be on the new menu? Inspiration can come from anywhere. I speak with all of my purveyors and find out what is in season and I will play around with any food items that are available. I read several different trade magazines so I am aware of current trends and will build dishes based on that. I have taken ideas from movies, books etc ... My wife is also great resource (we met in culinary school at Kendall College). For any budding chef, I recommend buying "Culinary Artistry" or "The Flavor Bible" by Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page. There are times you have writer's block or can't think of anything that you want to make. The books put together flavor cliques which I will use to create dishes.
What is your guilty pleasure food? Chicago-style hot dogs, love them! My first restaurant job was at a hot dog stand in Libertyville. It's still there.
What's the oddest item in your pantry at home? Corn husks, a can of lychees, porcini salt and dehydrated mushrooms and over 70 different hot sauces from everywhere.
What do you do in your free time? Hanging out with my wife, watching the Chicago Blackhawks, playing with our dogs, working in our flower and vegetable gardens, golfing and reading.
Tell us about this recipe: Chipotle Orange Duck Tacos with Red Cabbage and Watercress Slaw, Goat Cheese and Spicy Black Beans: This is a nice autumn dish. The chipotle orange sauce goes very well with the duck. It gives it a nice smokey citrus flavor. The watercress and cabbage lend earthiness and pepper. We serve it with the spicy black beans and a rice pilaf.
Try this at home or at Timothy O'Toole's Pub, 5572 Illinois 132, Gurnee, (847) 249-0800.
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