On the 2nd floor of The Langham, Chicago, you’ll find Travelle Kitchen + Bar, a bright and airy luxe lounge filled with white-clothed tables and plush seating. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide an expansive view of the Chicago river. Exploring the restaurant space, you will find glass doors that barely separate diners from a bustling but spotless kitchen. This kitchen is orchestrated by Chef Ricardo Jarquin who has built a reputation for some of the finest inventive American cuisine in the country.
Chef Ricardo Jarquin’s ascent to Executive Chef of Travelle Kitchen + Bar, as well as his viewpoint on ingredients and team training, are entirely unique.
- Chef Ricardo got his start working banquets while still in high school.
“The kitchen was the last place you would ever find me,” Chef Ricardo said about his childhood. In high school, he needed to pick an elective. The choice was between P.E. and a cooking class. He picked cooking. “There was going to be 20 girls and I was the only guy,” he smiled. The instructor of the class owned a private catering company and Chef Ricardo soon became enamored enough with the idea of cooking to want to try it as a career.
His instructor put him in touch with Philip Gris, the executive chef at Palm Dior which happened to be the best French restaurant in the city. Gris appreciated his eagerness and put him to work as a banquet cook working part time. After high school, Chef Ricardo pursued a bachelor’s degree at Johnson and Wales full-time while working his way up the line. “At one point, I had two or three jobs just to pay off my student loans.”
- Local, seasonal products are crucial to Chef Ricardo's Travelle Kitchen + Bar menu.
Chef Ricardo’s food is ingredient-forward and technique-driven. Each of his dishes highlights one key element – local produce. This reflects his early years as a chef working in places like New York and Hawaii.
“New York is a seasonal place. When I was opening the Conrad Hotel and working with a team of great chefs, I’d go to the local farmer’s market and learn. When you have great product, you have to do very little to make it shine.”
In Hawaii, Chef Ricardo opened Ulu Ocean Grill at the Four Seasons, which won Best Farm To Table restaurant. “I used to work with 120 local farmers and I had some of these farms on speed dial. It’s where I learned to work very closely with local food. We’re talking tomatoes that would be picked off the vine and delivered on the same day.” Ricardo grinned. “I got a little spoiled with all the great product year-round.”
It was hardest for him to use specialty produce when working large volume kitchens.
In Chicago, Chef Ricardo has built strong relationships with Green City Market, Chicago’s only year-round sustainable market. Green City Market operates as a non-profit organization, focusing on local and sustainable farming practices.
- Chef Ricardo hired his entire kitchen team at Travelle Kitchen + Bar.
“Anybody can be a chef,” Chef Ricardo stated. “But, in the end, a chef needs to be a cook. A cook is somebody who is passionate about what they do and who has the hunger to learn and grow and research and to see what others are doing.”
This line of belief represents how he runs his kitchen. Every chef on staff is assigned to a station. Once the station has been mastered, Chef Ricardo ensures that the person moves on to another station. Within a year of working at Travelle Kitchen + Bar, a chef has worked at every station in the kitchen.
Chef Ricardo also ensures that his team is involved in the restaurant’s menu. “I always work on projects with them and try to get their stuff on the menu. It has to fit what we do at Travelle, but there’s a little bit of everything on the menu.”
And what a stunning menu it is. The modern American theme, a melting pot of culture and gastronomy, allows beauties like Charred-Tar (tenderloin, A-I aioli, fried quail eggs, truffle oil) to be served alongside Clam & N’Duja Brodo (spinach, fregola, vanilla saffron aioli).
I was so obsessed with the brodo, I slurped the dregs from the main serving bowl. In front of Chef Ricardo. Good thing he took it as a compliment!
But the pièce de résistance of the evening was the exquisite platter of grilled Nigerian prawns, served with lemon butter, charred lemon and herbs. It was so exquisite, I couldn't wait to dig right in, which is why the only image I have of them is my ravaged plate...*
I can tell you right now that prawn dish has made it onto my ‘final meal on earth’ menu.
And let's not forget Travelle Kitchen + Bar's gorgeous dessert menu, care of Chef Scott Green, whom Chef Ricardo describes as "the best pastry chef I've ever worked with."
- The convenience store, 7/11, is filled with Chef Ricardo's guilty pleasures.
“When I get home, the last thing I want to do is cook. But my late-night, go-to spot is 7/11. I eat a lot of their chicken wings and taquitos. I also like their Cup O Soup, but I doctor it up with kimchi, sesame oil, scallions, and butter.”
- Proudest Moment. Weirdest Moment.
Proudest Moment: “Moving to New York was a big moment in my life. I didn’t have any friends or family there. I’d never lived anywhere else but Miami. It was a proud moment.”
Weirdest Moment: “I pissed someone off in the kitchen one time and they threw a knife at me. They missed.”
*WRITER'S NOTE: I managed to get a picture of the fantabulous prawns after all, thanks to the wonderful team at Travelle Kitchen+Bar! Feast your eyes...
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