A few minutes into my interview with Jody Andre, we're interrupted by one of the restaurant's Harrison Street neighbors who informs the Briejo chef and co-owner that, surprise, she needs to conjure up a menu for an upcoming Oak Park Midweek Market.
After debuting the space in 2008 — and subsequent favorable reviews in the Chicago Tribune, Time Out Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times and write ups in the Wednesday Journal — foodies are still clamoring for a taste of Andre's changing menu.
Andre sat down with Patch recently to discuss what she will cook (crab legs), what she won't (Brussels sprouts) and what's kept Briejo humming after nearly two years at 211 Harrison St. in Oak Park.
How did you know this is what you wanted to? Were you one of those people who were cooking since you were a kid?
No. In fact, I was a very picky eater when I was kid.
I moved to New York and as you grow up, you start trying different things and started falling in love with food. I would go home and try to replicate what I'd tasted at a restaurant.
When I moved to Chicago, I started having a lot of dinner parties and cooking. And I thought it would be fun to open a restaurant [first in 1996 with Tomboy in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, then later in 2000 with The Room and 2003's Speakeasy Supper Club, which changed names to South in 2004].
Ignorance in bliss.
You have no idea what you're getting yourself into. And I realized I'd gotten myself into a 24/7 job. I didn't take a day off or take a vacation for over five or six years. Leaving is harder than staying almost. It's an unforgiving but very amazing business.
Was there some sort of evolution to Briejo's menu?
This is a combination of all the restaurants. The pork tenderloin with raspberry barbecue sauce? That was something that originated at my second restaurant, The Room.
But we've kind of made it our own out here. We're a lot more open.
Every Wednesday, we've been doing a three-course meal for $25. We've done French. We've done Greek. We've done Italian.
That's gotta be fun.
It really is just having fun. And getting to know the Oak Park market was a lot different market than I was used to. [Diners] here eat a lot earlier in the day.
We're really trying to cultivate a later night crowd, which we've been fairly successful in doing with live music. Music usually start at 8:30 p.m., and we fill the house. We have not had a time where the house hasn't been filled, even in bad weather.
What draws you to certain ingredients?
I go for what's fresh, especially in the fish department. I go for what's in season and what's not over-fished. So that leaves that wide open.
We try to use a lot of locally grown produce and we frequent a lot of the local places around here. Of course, there's the Farmers Market, where I go to see what kind of organics I can find. I love getting the fresh corn, the fresh greens and what not.
We haven't deviated much in our style of cooking, but I don't care if one of my chefs gets an inspiration to do any type of food. If they come back from a vacation and want to try something, we'll try it.
What ingredients do you absolutely hate?
Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Though I've had them on the menu before, it's just a personal thing. I don't like making them, I don't like the smell of them.
I've never had veal on my menu. That's a personal thing.
What do you cook at home?
It's not much. I'm never home. But when I do, it's crab legs. King crab legs. I do a surf and turf, and I'll grill steaks and do crab legs. We get the big honkin' one-pounders. And I do a lot of soups at home.
Who do you admire in the culinary world?
I've always admired [Rick] Bayless. He does really high-end cooking for the type of cuisine he cooks, but he can bring it down and he can make the best mole sauce I've ever tasted.
And, I have to say, I respect my own staff right now. They inspire me. We collaborate and whatever we feel like is the best presentation and the best flavors, that's how we go.
I mean, I dream about food.
When I go to sleep, I'll dream about not only food, but the restaurant business. And some of it's really not fun.
I had a dream last night that I had to wait on my entire staff. They were sitting and eating with their families, and I couldn't get the food out fast enough.
But that's how it is. I'll fall asleep watching "Top Chef" and I'll wake up wanting to taste something.