For this year’s Reader Key Ingredient Cook-Off, we asked some of Chicago’s top chefs to create a dish to honor a person who influenced their cooking. The exercise stirred many kitchen memories.

YouTube video

Chef: Dino Tsaknis

Restaurant: Primehouse

Duck, pheasant, quail, and foie gras pativier

Mentor: Michael Lachowicz, chef and owner of Restaurant Michael and George Trois

“Me and my buddies opened up a pizza place when we were young, and [Lachowicz] had a restaurant down the block. It came to a point where I needed more money. He used to come in for pizza every once in a while, so I asked if he had any openings, and I started working over there with him. Then we went to Le Francais from there. Eventually me and my buddies sold the pizza place, decided to grow up a little bit, I guess.

“He’s a big guy, and he doesn’t seem like he would have finesse or be delicate. But I remember coming in one day, it was early morning and I wanted to get ahead on my prep for the day, and he was there. At this point I was working for him for at least a year and a half or so, and he was decorating the most beautiful cake I’d ever seen—it was at the level of any pastry chef. The previous generation of chefs, you learned everything. He was telling me how he used to work for [celebrated French chef Alain] Ducasse and he did the cakes for Ducasse for a long time.

Pativier is a classic French meat pie. We used to do them at Le Francais, it was one of those bane-of-your-existence dishes that you had to make the sausage fresh every day, make the puff pastry. It always reminds me of training and discipline—this is what it takes to do what you do. That dish always stuck with me.”   v

Tsaknis’s dish was the crowd favorite at the Key Ingredient Cook-Off.