Big things often have small beginnings. It’s a statement especially true of many fine dining-leaning pop-up restaurants, which steadily amass a hungry fanbase before inevitably evolving into something huge. It’s a pattern we’ve seen in places like 42 Grams, a former pop-up operated out of an apartment that now lays claim to two Michelin stars for its pint-sized BYOB restaurant in Uptown. Similarly, Lincoln Square’s beloved and whimsical Elizabeth started out as a pop-up called One Sister, which packed hyper-local, uber-modern and wholly unique cuisine into a multi-course format out of chef Iliana Regan’s home. Could Claudia be next? All signs point to yes.
Claudia is a fine dining pop-up concept helped by chef Trevor Teich. The chef started the restaurant, which he named after his mother, in 2014, following stints at esteemed kitchens like NoMI, Acadia and the now closed L20. One look at his new spring menu at Claudia makes it clear he’s learned a lot from his tenures in such fine dining institutions, and they’ve provided an apt launching pad to go solo. He’ll be serving eight-course tasting menus on April 3 (seatings at 5:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) out of a private BYOB event space at 327 N. Bell Ave., with tickets available on Claudia’s website.
To dine at Claudia is like falling down a wonderland rabbit hole of deliciousness. Dishes to be served include uni bon bons; a king crab roll with cucumber, soy and yuzu; a Heston Blumenthal-inspired plate called “A Day at the Beach,” made with spot prawns and kushi oysters; salmon with peas, coconut, ramps and fiddlehead ferns; squab with raspberry, black sesame and foie gras; and spring lamb pot-au-feu with miso consommé and spring vegetables. Altogether, a palpable sense of adventure weaves its way through Teich’s cooking, making for some extremely dynamic and exciting dining.
I spoke with Teich to learn more about Claudia, his cooking style, and the man behind Chicago’s most promising pop-up.
Matt Kirouac: Tell me about your background and how you got into cooking.
Trevor Teich: I was actually working retail in 2000-whatever, economy collapse time. I was cooking extravagantly more complicated things at home, as people were being let go around me. My buddy Paul Dabrowski was a sous chef at NoMI, and I saw what he was doing—and I saw it as a good time for a career change. I approached L20 hoping for a one-day stage, and got an internship. I wrote a blog post about it here:http://theforkchicago.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/taking-back-my-life-.html
MK: Where did the idea for Claudia come from? Who is it named for?
TT: After working in high-end kitchens like NoMI and Acadia I wanted to explore and develop my own cuisine. Claudia is named after my mother. It’s my way of keeping in touch with my roots and staying creative.
MK: What are your cooking philosophies and styles with Claudia?
TT: At Claudia I really try to make it an adventure. There are a lot of surprises, whether it’s a daring pairing like our past white chocolate and lobster dish or a table-side infusion of truffles into a consommé with our current lamb into a pot-au-feu. The backbone of my flavors are mainly Japanese and French. Again with the lamb dish, it’s pot-au-feu, but the consommé is made from a clarified miso broth. It’s a beautiful and delicious way to bring those two worlds together. Everything I do at Claudia is to give the guest the best experience. Almost every dinner at Claudia our guests have made new friends because we provide the right place to enjoy an adventure with others.
MK: What is the process like of running a pop-up restaurant?
TT: The phase “pop-up restaurant” is just a way of letting out guests know that we aren’t a brick and mortar restaurant that takes reservations five days a week. Although I do aim to reach that goal. So, one wouldn’t maybe think there is a lot of planning that goes into doing a pop-up, but there is. All the recipes are tested before they hit the menu and evolve as the season goes on. In many ways it’s like opening night every time I do a pop-up dinner, but over the past year I’ve refined the process. You can’t plan enough.
MK: What’s the most challenging aspect?
TT: Not enough storage to keep up with my plate and service-wear obsession. A new plate can really inspire a dish and allowing me a new way of delivering a course to our guests.
MK: Tell me about your new spring menu. Any particular inspirations behind it or any of the dishes in particular?
TT: I’m very excited about our new menu. It really takes the diner on a little vacation — starting out with some zesty bites to awaken the palate, a walk in the forest with our “Snails In The Woods” dish, and on the way to “A Day At The Beach” dish which is an offering of various seafood such as spot pawns and kushi oysters with cucumber geleé, smoked trout roe, and borage blossoms. The “A Day At The Beach” is a homage to the great Heston Blumenthal and his “Sounds Of The Sea” course at The Fat Duck where they bring out an iPod that plays the sounds of the sea. I love the idea of an edible beach scene. We have really made the dish our own at Claudia using Heston’s idea as a jumping off point — the dish will feature edible rocks, edible driftwood, and more. The dining adventure at Claudia then continues and ends with a celebration of strawberries and chocolate.
MK: Anything you can share about what are you working on in the future?
TT: I have some things in the works with various collaborations with other chef’s from Chicago. We just did a sold-out dinner with Aaron Martinez along with David Posey in January. It was a blast. I have a collaboration in the works with a nationally known farmer and also another one with a big-name chef from Chicago. Still working out the logistics for both of those right now so I can’t reveal names or dates yet, but I’m super excited to announce them when I can.