Despite the ever-changing nature of the restaurant biz, there are a few things these days that are bound to be the case inside most every serious food establishment you might walk into.
One is that the place will have some kind of farm-to-table shtick, letting you know where your escarole was grown and maybe even the name of the farmer who tilled the field to grow the grain to feed the rosy-cheeked pig you're about to eat. Two is that the chef will have his or her own TV show or will be about to start his or her own TV show. Three is that that chef will not be looking to enter politics.
Not the case at Graham Elliot, the celebrated Near North Side Chicago restaurant where Chef Graham Elliot Bowles 1) is indeed plotting an eventual entry into politics and 2) pooh-poohs the whole "local sustainable" thing. (He does fit the stereotype in one respect: Bowles is about to launch his own TV show.)
"I would love to do a restaurant that simply served product from my own farm, I think that would be amazing, but that's just not the case here, so when you go to the farmer's market and there's 10 stalls and all 10 are selling rhubarb, that's not f****** cool," Bowles said in a recent interview at his restaurant.
"To me, spring is this amazing abundance of things and because I'm located in this one spot doesn't mean that I'm not able to use things from other areas, especially if they harmonize well as a finished dish. I'm not trying to pull from disparate areas just to create this conglomerate of craziness, but uh, this idea that because this person again chose to live this life that I'm supposed to support that because it's politically correct right now, I definitely don't follow that idea.
"One last point on the local farmer thing, we were laughing in the kitchen the other day, predicting that the next wave is gonna be putting, underneath the farmer [name], another layer of wording which would be the name of the migrant immigrant who picked your stuff on the farm. So it would be, Johnny's farm from blah, blah blah, picked by Manuel Ortiz from this part of Mexico who makes $3 an hour, so you feel nothing but guilt as you eat this food."
Bowles touts Graham Elliot as Chicago's first "bistronomic" restaurant. The idea is to take four-star cuisine and serve it up in a laid-back environment. The approach allows Bowles, 33, to live his attitude towards the restaurant experience: "Dining should be something that isn't always taken extremely seriously."
In 2004, "Food and Wine" magazine declared Bowles Best New Chef. At 27, he was the youngest four-star chef named in any major U.S. city. He's also appeared on television: Bowles competed in seasons 1 and 2 of "Top Chef Masters" on Bravo.
Click HERE for Chef Graham Elliot Bowles' favorite recipes
"Food to me, in one word, is 'creativity' or 'expression,'" said Bowles. "It's simply, 'this is who I am at this point in time, and this is what I want to cook for you.'"
The opportunity for expression really spoke to Bowles creative side even as a teenager – he sang and played guitar in a band during high school, and he would continue to play during culinary school. "I got to the point of saying 'okay you can either starve for your art musically or culinary-wise,' he said, and he opted to roll the dice on his culinary career.