A conversation with Michael Lachowicz is a treat. I know this because I had one with him recently, and I urge those who will be dining at his French restaurant in Winnetka (appropriately named Restaurant Michael) to have one as well.
Subjects were brought up and batted around like what the Cubs have been doing as of late to opponent’s pitchers (and what the White Sox have been doing to entire teams, sans bats.) Here are some standouts: weeping chocolate, the temperature of industrial kitchens, floral drug deals, and the hectic pace of the restaurant industry.
Last one first. This, in respect to Chef Homaro Cantu, executive chef of Chicago-based Moto, who took his own life recently — reportedly due to financial troubles associated with the relentless necessity as a chef to push the envelope, while staying constantly ahead of the pack in terms of developing original ideas.
“This guy took his own life because sometimes”—and here, even the garrulous Lachowicz is hard-pressed to find the right words — “sometimes, you just can’t keep up,” he explains. “You want to keep opening things, you want to keep reinventing things, you want to — but the fact of the matter is, you also have to maintain a business, and a family, and a personal life, and all that other stuff. It’s very hard to do.”
But that doesn’t mean Lachowicz is slowing down. Now in its 10th year, the modern French restaurant — with a nod to the classics — is making use of its additional dining space, converting it into a formal room, “but a formal room with a little bit of character—and it’s going to be fun,” says Lachowicz. “I’m going to use that room to really emphasize my passion for cooking.”
That passion is evident in his chicken truffle squash blossoms, what Lachowicz calls his “perennials.” Spring forces him to be creative, and the mousseline stuffed, delicate blossoms are his colorful imagination at work. Lachowicz gets most of his spring fare from Nichols Farm, but the pedals are acquired from a unique relationship: his former boss, Chef Roland Liccioni, of Les Nomades.
“We end up meeting in the parking lot over by the Happ Inn, and we’re doing like a dope deal with squash blossoms,” says Lachowicz of his springtime dish. “It’s really simple, but its method and technique driven. So, it’s going to take a little bit of practice.”
Restaurant Michael’s Chicken Truffle Squash Blossoms
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves: 6 (20 squash blossoms)
4 ounces ground chicken, dark meat
1 large egg
6 ounces heavy whipping cream, plus 2 tablespoons
½ teaspoon pate spice (or your favorite poultry seasoning)
Kosher salt and ground white pepper to taste
2 tablespoon reduced chicken stock, chilled (but still liquid)
2 tablespoon minced black truffle (or ¼ cup of your favorite mushroom, sautéed, patted dry and chilled)
12 fresh squash blossoms with one-inch stems
- In a well-chilled food processor bowl, add ground chicken and process on high speed until a lumpy paste is formed. Stop machine and add salt, pepper, pate spice, and egg. Process again until smooth.
- Begin to drizzle the well-chilled cream into the running food processor until there are two tablespoons of cream remaining. Add the remaining cream to the chilled, reduced chicken stock and mix well. Finish the mousse with this mixture. (This whole process should take no more than three minutes.)
- Remove bowl from machine and chill for one hour. Remove from fridge and smooth the mousse through a fine sieve. Add chilled and dried mushrooms (or minced truffle) to the mousse. Place chilled mousse into a disposable pastry bag*.
- Open blossoms and pipe in mousse until full. Twist blossom closed and steam over boiling water for four minutes. Serve warm or chilled.
*These stuffed blossoms can be filled with the aid of a pastry bag with a fine tip. They can be served steamed (three minutes in a colander, covered over rapidly boiling water) or fried in a very light tempura batter at 350 degrees until light golden brown (about two minutes).