Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Oui Chef

Posted: November 27, 2013 in Food, Lifestyle, Personal, Uncategorized

I remember working as a young cook in Chicago. I really didn’t know much and  just wanted to learn more about food. And I knew I wanted to work for the best.
Everyone talked about this one restaurant. (Mostly the older chefs) a French restaurant in a suburbs, with a French Chef named Banchet

They talked about how that restaurant changed the way Chicago thought about dining and food. I made it my goal to work under him at  Le Francais….but
they told me I couldn’t. Because Banchet no longer had the restaurant and was retired, my hopes and dreams were crushed. 

But then one day in 1999 the news broke that Chef Jean Banchet was coming back to Chicago to take over Le Francais again. This was my chance. A once in a life time opportunity to work for a chef with such linage that ties to Chefs like Fernand Point and Paul Bocuse. 

A friend help me set up an interview with Banchet. I put on my best JC penny suit and told my mom I was going on an interview in Wheeling, and also asked her where wheeling was. 

And next thing I knew… a legend was sitting across from me telling me all about the restaurant .

He said; “I like you Reon”. ( His broken English on how to pronounce Ryan)
“If you want the job it’s yours. It pays 6.25 and you will work 6 days a week, and I want you to stay for more then a year.”  

I said “Yes!!” before he could even finish. I was now a cook for Jean Banchet at Le Francais.

I still to this day remember the smells of walking into the kitchen, the flavors of the sauces we used to make. The roasting of meats and the classic presentations, letting the flavor of the food speak for itself.

He was a master of French food and this was like my bachelor degree in Classic French cooking. The things I learned in that kitchen behind those walls would shape me to be the cook I am today.  I could not have worked at the French Laundry with out going through the gauntlet of Jean Banchet first. He whipped me into shape, taught me the classics, and showed us all what it takes to be a great cook.

I remember later in life after I left when I was traveling, I would call him just to chat and ask advice. He was always happy to talk. Even though our conversations were short, he always said a lot to make me think.

When I opened Butter, my first chef job, he randomly stopped in one day to check the place out ( that’s what he said)…but I knew was there to make sure I was ok. 

He told me he was so proud of the cook I had become. I will never forget that day. He walked in the dining room with a smile ear to ear and just said; “Hello Reon”.

I only hope I learned enough from him, I wish I could have asked more questions during our time together, but one thing I will never forget is how he put me on the proper road to become successful by teaching us how to cook things the right way.

You will be missed Chef, but what you left behind is enough for 100 lifetimes.



There is a lot of talk right and hot air being blown around Washington about people’s liberty, woman’s rights , guns and marriage.

You can have your opinion and are free to express what you think and believe- after all it’s a free country. BUT SO CAN I!! Muahaha.

But I wanted to show my support for my gay friends more than just by changing my Facebook profile pic to the red and pink equality sign…and we decided brunch was the perfect way to do it.

So I called up some gay friends, and set a date for brunch. Luckily,DJ Megan Taylor agreed to spin brunch tunes and Bacon & H.A.M. brunch at Tavernita was born.

Along with the Hosts & Tavernita Mangers , we came up with the menu and the vibe we wanted to create- which was a fun, and relaxed party with good brunch food.

But we weren’t expecting the turn out to be so incredible. It was INSANE. The place was packed and rockin. Since Nicole from Yacht Club Vodka was the sponsor, Kelli & her passed out sailor hats and everyone they invited and were hopping from table to table saying hello to everyone .

We’re going to do one of these once a month- our goal is to just create a fun and laid back big gay brunch party that anyone feels comfortable attending.








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Django Django

Posted: March 21, 2013 in Lifestyle, Music, Personal, Uncategorized

I think everyone knows that I’m super into music. If I wasn’t a chef, I think I would have been a roadie or bass player or maybe just a groupie somewhere.

So when my friend Graham, who is also into the music scene asked me to check out a new band Django Django with him, I jumped at the chance.

They were playing at one of my favorite places to see a show in Chicago- The Metro and thanks to Graham… we had seats on the balcony next to the stage

They took the stage and after the first song I was hooked.  The band describes their music as; ” Neo-psychedelic, Electronic and Art Rock”-  and in Poli speak- I’d say it’s full of awesome funky dance beats. They sound very similar to Beta Band and Graham said the drummer’s brother founded Beta Band. So looks like he took some tips from his older sibling.

Default, Hail Bop and Waveforms were my favorite songs.  The band all plays different instruments and I think that lends to the unique sound.

Keep your eye in these guys… I think they will be huge really soon. I’m already applying to be a groupie.

Year One & More…..

Posted: March 5, 2013 in Events, Food, Personal

Somethings never change…I’m always a little bit late.

But I couldn’t let Tavernita’s One Year Anniversary go by without a toast.

So cheers to an amazing staff- may sound cliche, but without Tavernita’s Executive Chef Greg Bastien, I’m not sure what I would have done.

Greg carrying the weight

Greg & I goofing around at Jean Banchet event.

A little over a year ago I remember becoming comfortable knowing that I’d have no life while opening this new restaurant. I remember panicking at every detail, every friend who came in to try the food- I wondered if they would like it. I spent countless sleepless nights wondering what the reviews would say. And thru the entire journey and all the growing pains, Greg quietly worked beside me, gaining the respect of the kitchen and wait staff. Before I thought I was ready, I left to open Little Market and let Greg run the kitchen and he proved what an asset he was again.

Equally as important are Alfredo, Paul and Tad, Natalie,Scott, Juan, Natasha, Katrina and Ivan. This team is really like family- we beat each other up, but always offer support.

Amigos de Pinxto, the Lounge launch, funny videos and tweets from @Pinxto the Dog and the wait staff kept me laughing thru all the times when I wanted to throw something and swear. Thanks to Erin, Rachel, Matthew, Christy, Chris, Linzi, Joe,& Steph, if they were not as good as they are I might have gone off the deep end.

So many familiar faces came out Saturday to wish me well, and I hope that you guys know that your support means everything. So keep coming back and to the new places please!!

Speaking of those…The Mercadito Hospitality crew has a lot going on and I’m looking forward to more stress and less sleep.
Thank you all and Eat a Pinxto!

Tavernita Kitchen Staff

Tavernita Kitchen Staff

Who’s A Big Baby

Posted: January 11, 2013 in Food, Lifestyle, Personal

I want to tell you about the Big Baby. No, not some sniveling adult who always tries to get his or her way, or Glen Davis a basketball player on the Celtics, but a burger. A double cheese burger to be exact. 

Where I grew up on the southwest side of Chicago, there are many hot dog stands named Nicky’s. No one knows who had the first Nicky’s or who served the first big baby, but the burger is somewhat of a Southside icon. 

Two thin patties of flat top griddle-cooked beef, ketchup, mustard, American cheese between each patty, caramelized onions, pickles, on a toasted sesame seed bun.


 Photo: Big Baby At Little Market Brasserie

It’s a work of art to see the guys behind the counter make a big baby. They are masters of their trade being precise with every layer. 

I couldn’t tell you when the first big baby I ate was or at what Nicky’s location I was at. At the time I guess I had no idea this burger was only served on the Southside. It’s just something I grew up eating.

 After school my friends and I would walk over to Nicky’s for a snack. For a while there was a Little Nicky’s location that served the Triple Baby.

Working on the menu at Little Market I thought a lot about what makes a great neighborhood restaurant. Price, comfort, and familiarity all were factors. But when it came time to create a burger, it was the Big Baby from my childhood that made its way to the menu.

I tried to keep true to the original, but we use a brioche bun, spicy mayo and Dijon mustard, but everything else is the same.  I even kept the American cheese.

My friends David and Catherine also are fans of the Big Bay, check out the info they have been gathering from Rene G on LTH

I think it’s time to turn the rest of Chicago on to a well-kept Southside  secret. THE BIG BABY!

Black Bottom Sundea

If you try one dessert at Little Market this has to be it.

It’s a warm brownie with two brandied cherries, soft serve ice cream, salted caramel, candied peanuts & two more brandy cherries on the top.

I didn’t find inspiration for this creation while traveling and trying restaurants, and it’s not a play on a childhood favorite- I actually have no idea how I came up with this dish. But I love it. It’s one of my favorite desserts, and the simplicity probably has a lot to do with it.

we started with the ice cream, who dosent love soft serve, Grace added the peanuts and caramel, but the kicker is the cheries, makes it kind of an adult sundea!

Salty, sweet, warm, crunchy, liquor- it appeals to every sense of taste. (Ok so I added the liquor part)

And as I sat enjoying one of these bad boys post friends and family service….I realized that most of Little Market’s menu has this same theme- be simple and be awesome

I dont want you to like this post on FB, I don’t want you to respond, i dont want you to tweet or retweet – I just want you to think.

Yesterday on my walk to work I saw a homeless man eating out of a garbage can, and at first it didn’t really register.
I’ve almost become immune to all the homeless people begging around Chicago. But this man was different, he was minding his own business, not asking for anything. Just looking for food.

My second reaction was reaching in my pocket and pulling out all the money I had on my at the time -only six dollars- because I don’t really carry cash on me. I walked over and said; “Excuse me sir, please take this and get something to eat.”
That was it.

He said thank you twice and I put my head phones back on and walked to work like I do every morning, trying not to have contact with anyone and oblivious to things around me.That’s my way of telling people I don’t want to be bothered, or I don’t have change or don’t have time for your long story about hard times. I ignore the world by listening to my music. I am sure I am not alone, and I’m not saying its a bad thing. We all get into our zones and want to get from point A to B as fast and efficiently as possible. I went on with the daily rat race of life, doing what I do every day at work. But today was different, today I could not stop thinking about the homeless man eating out of the garbage can. Was six dollars enough? How much food can someone buy with 6 dollars? Someone was so hungry, that their hunger forces them to eat out of the garbage? I am sure this was not the first time I have seen a homeless person, or the first time i have seen someone digging through the garbage, but something was different. Maybe it was my view of life changing, or the fact I am getting older, or maybe this day on my walk, i just stopped and looked around. I don’t know?

We all use the terms; “I’m starving” or I’m so hungry I can eat anything “. But today I saw those phrases come to life. I saw a man so hungry he was eating anything, so starving his animal instinct came out and he was just looking for food.

I can’t stop thinking of him and how I could have helped more.  He was not begging for money or bothering people for change, not trying to run a scam. He was just hungry…maybe I should have walked him over to the restaurant and got him a hot meal and maybe something for him to take with him for later? Why didn’t I?

I take a lot for granted, I have a great family, a good job, and friends I lean on for help and advice. We all do, and I don’t want to get all preachy or make you think I am patting myself on the back for helping a homeless man, thats not my intent. I just don’t think I helped enough, I could have done so much more.

Finding Balance on the Road

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Food, Personal, Travel

I’m so stuffed from lunch, and I’m in line…to eat again. You’ve gotta love Texas!

Alfredo (my business partner) and I are on a tour de force across America doing research and getting inspired for new concepts for the Mercadito Hospitality group.

Currently we’re eating our way thru Austin, TX and the food scene is booming. We have been to everything from food trucks to BBQ to cocktail bars to taco stands.

But trust me- it looks a lot more fun on Instagram than it really is- especially if you’re trying to stay in shape. We hit at lease 2-3 places for lunch and 3-4 for dinner and always a midnight snack. You can imagine that calories catch up with you fast.

So about a year ago I made a valiant effort to start losing weight and trying to stay healthy. But being a chef I want to taste everything!  Once I asked Steve Dolinsiky how he manages to eat out all the time and stay so fit. His response? Portion control- only taking a bite or two of each dish and moving on.

That may work for him, but if something tastes good I will eat the whole plate. So to combat the eating sprees I decided to hire personal trainer, Chris Grayson of USI in Lincoln square. I work out with him twice a week and do Bikram as often as I can, sprinkled with a Brazilian jiu jitsu training.

In between food research trips I rely on quinoa to keep me full, I make a huge batch and eat small portions during the day. I was turned onto quinoa at Protein Bar and I swear by it.

But just when I think I’ve found a balance that works for me…we hit the road and stumble upon a place like Gourdoughs, the doughnut food truck.  To quote Homer Simpson: “Mmmmmm doughnuts”.

Sorry Chris…it’s my job…I promise to work it off next week man.

Taste of Nations

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Events, Food, Personal
Originally posted in August 2012
Taste Of The Nations

I get tapped to do charity events all the time, I wish I could say yes to all of them but we all know that’s not possible. And while I try not to play favorites, I have to admit that there are a few I can’t say “no” to…one of them being Taste of The Nation.

They bring out rockstar Chefs, Mixologists and energy like no other.  Leaving the restaurant during a busy service is always hard, but when I get to hang out with all my friends for a good cause like- stopping child hunger then it’s a bonus.

I usually like to bring a crowd pleaser and something vegetarian so last night we rolled with Escalivada tapas.

The event was packed and I had to hustle to keep our table filled. My friend Christian was back in town from New York so he graciously pitched in.
Even Pintxo came out from behind the bar at Barcio to say hello to all his adoring fans and snag some besos from the ladies.
Cooking, raising money for charity and hanging with my friends is pretty much a perfect night


Dining in Madrid

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Drinks, Food, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel

Originally posted in July 2012

Everyone always asks me to recommend restaurants in Spain for their trips. I finally decided to put a list of my favorites and some cant miss spots! Here is Madrid, Enjoy!



C/ Pelayo, Madrid 915 226 413
good tapas nothing fancy or crazy

Good for a quick lunch or a beer and some bites

Le Cabrera 

C/ Bárbara de Braganza, 2 Madrid 913 199 457
awesome cocktail bar with great tapas,

cool scene make a reservation

Estado Puro 

Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, 4, Madrid913 302 400

(its in the NH Hotel in the Paseo del Prado)

Chef Paco Roncero’s new tapas restaurant. sit out side if you can, he is a El Bulli guy so some
tapas are creative and some traditional.

try the patatas bravas here! and cod fritters. make a reservation

Orio Restaurant

C/ Fuencarral, 49 Madrid902 520 522
good place for lunch, tapas are ready on the bar,

help your self, ask server for plates

Fuencarral Street

great for shopping, cool stores, funky boutiques! The street then spills
on to Gran Via and then over to Sol (the center of Madrid) in Sol watch for pick pockets
i have never had a problem but just be aware

La Latina Neighborhood 
The Best Of Madrid
The whole idea in this neighborhood is to bounce around
go from place to place, have a few bites and on to the next one
here are some cant miss spots!

Casa Lucio

C/ CAVA BAJA, 35 Madrid, Spain 913 653 252
One of the most famous restaurants in Madrid. MUST MAKE A RESO!!
try the potatoes with the fried egg, everything is good here

Casa Lucas

C/ Cava Baja 30, 28005Madrid, 91365 0804
Tapas bar, good wines great food
Best Foie Gras mousse i have ever had, also try the chicken with corn mousse tapas

San Miguel Market

Plaza San Miguel 1 Madrid, 915 427 364
Huge market, great stalls to eat at, just walk around and eat
opens at 530am and closes at 8pm

Fine Dining Restaurants

Sergi Arola Gastro

C/ Zurbano, 3 Madrid,913 102 169
$$$$ but very good, I worked for Sergi for a year when he was at La Broche.
May be a lunch spot , check out the web site must make a reso

La Broche

C/ MIGUEL ÁNGEL, 29-31Madrid,913 993 437
Tasting menu restaurant, $$$$ I used to work here! the chef is a great guy
he lived in the states and speaks english.

Barcelona & San Sebastian coming soon!