Interview with Executive Chef Greg Biggers of Café des Architectes – Chicago, IL






Chef Biggers hails from Alabama, where he grew up watching his mother prepare Chicken and Dumplins’, a Saturday favorite. While attending Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina, Biggers worked at Blossom Café as a Pastry Cook, learning the art of baked breads and pastries. Later, he served as Private Dining Chef and then Sous Chef at McCrady’s, an inventive, farm-driven Charleston restaurant.

At Chicago’s 4-star restaurant, TRU, Biggers held the role of Chef de Partie under James Beard award-winning Chef Rick Tramonto, and then served as Executive Sous Chef at Morimoto in Philadelphia, developing his craftsmanship with seafood. Next, he rejoined Chef Tramonto as the Executive Chef of two 3-star restaurants, Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood and RT Lounge, before joining the team at Levy Restaurants’ Fulton’s on the River. In 2011, Chef Biggers came to Sofitel Chicago Water Tower to oversee all aspects of the hotel’s dining operations, including its restaurant, Café des Architectes.

Chef Biggers strives to build relationships with true artisans of the craft from all over the world. Biggers sources the best quality product available – from exotic fish flown in from Japan to game from Michigan’s Swan Creek Farm and small batch cheeses from France’s best creameries. He is proud to lead his team with a philosophy of incorporating both local and global inspirations.

Chef Biggers is the recent recipient of a 2015 Rising Star Award.

How did you get started cooking, and when did you decide to make a career out of it?

I started as a dishwasher at a chain steakhouse when I was 15. I never was able to find my way out after that.

From 15-19 it was just a way to make money. At 19 I met a chef, Matthew Wood, in my hometown of Florence Alabama that showed me what being a professional cook was all about. From then on I was hooked on learning the craft.

Who/what inspired you to become a chef?
The pressure, the pirate lifestyle, the ability to create something new everyday and learn something new around every corner.

You were born, raised, and received your training in the south, what brought you to Chicago?
I was offered a job at the Acclaimed TRU restaurant back in its heyday by Chef Rick Tramonto.

Describe your culinary philosophy and approach in three words.
Love your Craft.

Who influences your style the most and why?
Everyone and everything… I think that everyone can be influence by anything… I take inspiration from other chefs, cooks, artists, artisan food producers, plate makers, knife foragers etc.

Is there a process you follow while creating new recipes and dishes?
Yes. I always start by getting ideas down on paper. Then I curtail them to what is in season. Once I have a good road map I start prepping from those notes. Once I get on a cutting board the plan always changes. 9 times out of 10 the dish is usually totally different by the time I get through than what I put on paper. But for me I always like to have some sort of organization to start with.

Name three dishes at Café des Architectes a first time guest shouldn’t miss.
Foie Gras Torchon
Chestnut Provisions tasting
Roasted Duck Breast

Tell me about Chestnut Provisions and how it came about?
Chestnut Provisons is the moniker of our in-house cheese, charcuterie, jams, and pickle operation. It all started with a Sofitel initiative for all the hotels to be HACCP certified which is a very high level of food safety certifications. Once we got that I wanted to push to see what all we could legally make in house so we started trying to get dairy license to make cheese, canning license to make jams and pickles and charcuterie certification to make all out own salamis.

Your authentic cheesemaking and charcuterie are unique in Chicago, and have made Café des Architectes a destination for those who appreciate this art form. How do your more casual guests respond when they learn that these delicacies are made right here on site?
Most people are very surprised. At first they may not realize how unique and time consuming it can be, but once we are able to share with them the process involved most people are very impressed.

What emerging trends do you see happening in the Chicago culinary scene in the next few years?
There is a lot of hard cider beer bars popping up lately with menus to match as well as dumpling houses.

What are your most and least favorite ingredients to work with?
I hate razor clams and fiddle head ferns.
Love about everything else.

What are your favorite unconventional flavor combinations?
Olive and condensed milk (olive dulche de leche).
Wasabi and grapefruit.
Miso and pineapple.

What cookbooks have you read lately? What are your old standby favorites?
Altier Cren and Benu are my two newest acquisitions.
Old standby: French Laundry, Morimoto, Culinary artistry.

What city would you most like to visit on a culinary adventure, and what tool, ingredient, or book would you take with you?
Tokyo. Chopsticks.

The critics have their favorites, but I like to eat where the Chefs eat. Besides Café des Architectes, what restaurants do you like to dine at here in Chicago (or elsewhere)?
Balena, kai zan, eleven city diner, Spacca Napoli, and En Hakkore.

Where would one find you on your day off?
Making dinner and doing homework with my 6 year old son Elliot…

After a week of working long hours, what do you like to cook at home?
Anything in a crock pot or anything on my son’s “approved” list—meatloaf, Chinese noodles, quesadillas.

Coming from Alabama, what dish takes you back to your roots?
Chicken and Dumplin’s. My Mom, who I love dearly but wasn’t the best cook, would cook them on Saturday mornings and it was the one dish she would nail. I would help her cook the dumplings.

Do you have a guilty pleasure; something that you prefer to eat when nobody is looking?
I am awful!!! I am a fast food tour de force kind of guy and am strong enough to admit it… Taco Bell, Arby’s, Chick-fil-A.

There are many aspiring cooks out there like myself who are not beginners but haven’t yet reached the professional level; what advice would you give us to take our cooking skills to the next level?
Don’t follow recipes to the letter.. Professional cooks got to where we are at by creating things based on preference and availability. Cook what you want! Switch out ingredients for things you prefer. It’s okay to change recipes. Trial and error….. Change the temperature of the oven on some things, change the protein or vegetables, add different spices etc…

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