Even though he received an urban culinary education at Chicago's Kendall College, when it came time to open a restaurant of his own, Jeremy Lycan, Executive Chef of Niche
, decided to rock the suburbs. His decision was as much about his fervor for Geneva's small-town feel as it was about honoring the legacy of his mentor, chef Joel Findlay of Geneva's once-popular (now closed) restaurant 302 West. Findlay was a champion of American wine making and believed that if a chef wasn't happy, you could taste it in his food. Lycan carries on these traditions at Niche by selecting an all-American wine list and taking care of his chefs by such gestures as changing the music in the kitchen if it has the potential to bring them down.
When he opened Niche, Lycan knew his mission was not to just to fill Findlay's shoes (he actually kept a pair of Findlay's shoes under his desk for inspiration months after Findlay died), but to forge his own way. By pursuing a globally influenced, though primarily contemporary American menu, with dishes like grapefruit glazed monkfish, cocoa- and cinnamon-dusted grilled venison chops, and pineapple ginger coulis, Lycan's definitely found his way.
What do you wish you could change or pickle and preserve about the Chicagoland restaurant/food scene?
Most importantly, the cultural diversity and the adventurous nature of local diners, who are willing to try all kinds of ethnic cuisine. I wish people understood more about foie gras. So many other animals are treated much worse. I used to teach a course at the Culinary Academy in San Francisco, lecturing for three hours on the subject.
What would your last meal be?
I hope I don't have to plan my last meal. But it would be simple comfort food like my grandmother's roast ham. Also her blackberry pie.During the '70s she used to keep lard for the pie crust in the basement. She'd bake a pie or pop popcorn with that lard every Sunday.
Where do you eat/drink before/after a shift?
Every Saturday before a shift, I hit the Cocoa Bean in Geneva for pastries. I love their almond croissant and cinnamon rolls. The rolls have a kiss of citrus.
What's the can't-miss dish at Niche?
Fried frog legs served with a trio of wasabi mayo, teriyaki sweet chili and miso teriyaki dipping sauces.
What should we know about Niche that we probably don't?
We have great wine dinners with a strict focus on American wine makers. The entire kitchen is involved in planning the menu.
Recipe: Field greens splashed with a honey–orange vinaigrette and tossed with fresh goat cheese and toasted almonds
"Here at Niche we work very closely with the Heritage Prairie Market to supply us with field greens direct from the farm to our back door," says Lycan. "For this salad, the low acidity of the orange juice would lend itself well to their spinach mustard greens blended with arugula for its sharpness. We also use Bron's Bees 'Prairie Flower Honey' for this salad. There is something special about eating honey that tastes like the flowers of the Fox River Valley."
Half-pound field greens
2 oranges juiced
1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
half-cup almonds toasted
Method and Technique:
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together orange juice and honey. While vigorously whisking, pour a thin stream of olive oil until fully combined. In a large salad bowl, add field greens, almonds and small chunks of goat cheese; season with salt and pepper. Pour vinaigrette around the edges of the bowl and toss greens to coat.