It would be easy for Chef Paul Kahan to sit back and live off the success of his restaurants. Blackbird, Avec, Publican, and Big Star Taqueria (don’t forget Violet Hour, a classic cocktail bar) are four of Chicago’s hottest and most well received restaurants. But you know what, he wants more. After talking to Chef Kahan, it is clear that he is definitely not in this business for the money (although it is a nice perk), but rather to present food he loves in unique settings.
Kahan has the food business in his blood. His grandfathers and father all worked in the industry. “My interest in food began when I used to go out with my dad,” Kahan says, “We would eat sushi and other ethnic foods.” Sushi may seem tame to many now, but 30 years ago, it wasn’t exactly everyday fare.
Food memories, no matter how small, can pull at our hearts and stomachs more than you can imagine. Kahan reminisces about smoked chub as though it is the most wondrous food item ever. “Hot smoked fish is on my top ten things to eat,” says Kahan, “My dad and I would walk into the smokehouse, he’d pull a chub off the rack, peel back the skin, and we’d each have a bite.” Smoked fish is rarely served fresh after smoking – the oils still hot and runny, the meat flaky and buttery. The Publican serves warm smoked fish, a lovely homage to one of Kahan’s fondest food memories.
My first visit to The Publican was prior to open, so I was able to witness Kahan engaging with local purveyors. Questions were pointed and sincere: “where is this from?” “who are the farmers?” Working with small, local (when possible) famers is Kahan’s way of life.
“Different stuff comes in everyday,” Kahan says, “Sometimes we get amazing sardines, fresh anchovies, or Sanddabs from Monterey Bay Seafood, so our menu changes daily.” Not only seafood, but the chefs at The Publican are always bringing in fresh produce and other interesting foodstuffs. A forever changing menu is always a treat.
Chef Kahan will be the honorary executive chef at this year’s CRUSH Birmingham Food and Wine Classic at the Townsend Hotel. “It’s going be fun,” Kahan says. At the time of our interview, Kahan’s menu hadn’t been set yet, but rest assured it will be fantastic.
Here are two dishes from The Publican and Big Star, two of Kahan’s Chicago restaurants.
For more about CRUSH Michigan, check out their website.
For more about Chef Kahan, check out his “about” page on The Publican’s website.