While his kitchen may be small, that hasn't kept Chef Scott Kupferschmidt from thinking big.
Kupferschmidt is the new(ish) chef at House Red Vinoteca, 7403 Madison St., recruited in October to bring new life and ideas to the ever-expanding menu and restaurant focus that is growing to define the wine boutique.
"We've continued to shift the focus more and more towards the restaurant," Kupferschmidt said recently at House Red. "As a result people are coming in with a different expectation and we're always trying to surprise [customers] with something new and different from what else is on the street."
Kupferschmidt seems to be the perfect chef to recreate the menu at the wine-focused business. Between culinary school and working at various restaurants in Chicago, he worked as a wine seller, learning the business end of the biz—and a lot about wine in the process. A passion for the kitchen has once again brought him back to cooking.
"Wine is still the driving force behind the menu," Kupferschmidt said. "Pairing it with dishes is about making a great experience [for the diner] where their wine complements their entree and the entree complements the wine."
Kupferschmidt said that means keeping the flavors simple, to compliment a broad selection House Red's selection of wines. It also means not pinning their cuisine under one particular label, as his latest menu can attest. The dishes span from American to Mediterranean to Spanish to French. The result is a delightfully playful menu that can have a diner starting with an appetizer of warm olives or hummus, before moving to an entree course of Serbian sausages, salmon or pork loin topped with caramelized onions and bacon and served with mashed parsnips and apple and red cabbage slaw.
"I like to keep people on their toes," Kupferschmidt laughed at the variety. "But in all seriousness, with so many varieties of wine, we can find a way to pair the courses precisely in this way."
Another result is a constantly changing menu, with a focus on seasonable items that come and go as the months change.
"A benefit of having a small kitchen is that I can keep everything extremely fresh," Kupferschmidt said. "We're placing smaller orders so things don't sit around long—it comes in and we cook it."
Kupferschmidt isn't one to stay put in the kitchen. He likes being out among the guests and you'll often see him running food to the tables. He's proudly worked every position imaginable in restaurants over the years and takes a certain pleasure in interacting with guests, making recommendations and allowing for a personalized experience for the customer.
"That's something chefs don't get in a bigger restaurant and it's something I love," Kupferschmidt said. "It's why I love cooking for people—I love the expression on their face when they try something and I love to talk with them about it."
In December, House Red will begin a special Sunday brunch menu as well, opening up a whole new variety of flavors and ingredients for him to play with. In the spring, Kupferschmidt will begin working increasing with local farms for the restaurant's seasonable items.
Guests can also swing into House Red on Tuesdays for specialty wine flights and cheese plates. On Thursdays, they offer a prix fixe three-course menu with wine pairings, and on Friday and Saturday nights, the usually intimate atmosphere jumps with live music.
With its new chef, House Red is aiming to create an experience like none other in town: a place where you can sample wine by the glass and then bring home the bottle, and somewhere you can go to dinner multiple times a month and never get bored.
It's an impressive transformation in only three years, but like a fine wine, House Red has aged well.
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