Quadrangle Club chef Chris Turano brings out best flavors in ‘Mother Earth’s’ work
It’s noon on a Monday and nearly every table at the Quadrangle Club is taken. When the corner door swings open, the light chatter in the dining hall is periodically pierced with the clamor and commotion in the kitchen. Back there, a team of cooks, servers and dishwashers whisk around each other, as servers tote white platters out the door to hungry diners.
“Two crab cakes coming in,” Chris Turano yelled, as he sprinkled fresh ground pepper onto one of his weekly specialties, tagliatelle pasta crowned with an organic poached egg.
Turano, 28, has been the executive chef at the Quadrangle Club since January 2009. His welcome message on the bottom of the menu is a measure of his ambition: “At the Quadrangle Club, we strive to utilize as many local, natural and sustainable ingredients as possible…” It goes on to point out the transfat-free oil, the hormone-free dairy and the reliance on vegetarian feed for meat served at the club.
Turano said his guiding principle has been to rethink how the Quadrangle Club’s kitchen functions and how the entrees are prepared so that his menu can compete with any other Hyde Park restaurant—and win.
Club members have noticed. The Quadrangle Club’s general manager, Rob Lindgren, said the club is serving about 15 more people each day since Turano became chef.
Laila Rashid, Associate Vice President of Individual Giving for Medical Center Development, has been coming to the Quadrangle Club over the past six years. “When I came here before, I would order one dish,” “Now, I look at the menu and want to try something different. Who would ever think to put a poached egg on top of pasta?”
Turano also has become known among the city’s food vendors for his insistence on locally grown produce and freshness. When it comes to salmon, the Quadrangle Club’s best-selling dish, Turano himself examines its eyes and gills, then trains his nose on the 20-pound fish; he knows fresh and will send it back if it’s not.
“Cooking is not an art, it’s more of a craft, like being a carpenter,” explained Turano. “Mother Earth does all the work, and you’re just playing around with it. If a carpenter makes a really nice chest, it’s amazing. But most of the work is bringing out how beautiful that wood is to begin with. Cooking is the same idea. It’s not what you add to food, just don’t screw up what’s already good.”
Turano and the club’s management are working with campus horticulture experts and landscapers to plant an organic herb and vegetable garden. The goal is for each plate on Turano’s menu to feature something from that garden.
Streamlining the kitchen with new techniques also has been one of Turano’s ongoing efforts. The immersion circulator he purchased, for example, looks like a small aquarium with bubbling water. The machine slowly cooks by water bath at a low and controlled temperature so that meat is as tender on the perimeter as it is in the middle.
If anyone appreciates Turano’s innovations, it’s Thomas Nagylaki, a Hyde Park resident and Professor Emeritus of Ecology & Evolution. Nagylaki can describe restaurants as well as any food critic: the exact address, the manager’s name, the chef’s background, and which plates match a certain palette. Almost everyday for the last 25 years he has dined at the Quadrangle Club for lunch, his largest meal of the day.
“I like to discover new things and augment my picture of different cuisines, plus I can’t eat the same thing every day,” said Nagylaki, who helped develop the Quadrangle Club’s current system varying some of the selections each week.
“Then, it becomes a question of how do different things harmonize on the plate, the quality and the preparation,” Nagylaki added. “Fish, for example, is plus or minus infinity, in my view — it’s either great or it’s awful. And Chris gets it right all the time.”
Members of the University faculty and staff and community residents are eligible to apply for membership to the Quadrangle Club. More information about the club, membership and membership benefits can be found at the Quadrangle Club website: http://quadclub.uchicago.edu/Home.aspx.
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