Cafe des Architectes really has become a cheese house of sorts. In November 2014, this French restaurant in Chicago, Ill., became the first in its state to make cheese in-house. And just because they could, the staff decided to create their own charcuterie too.
In a way, Cafe des Architectes didn’t choose to make artisanal cheese and cured meats on their own; on the contrary, this destiny sort of chose them. A few years ago, the executives at Sofitel, the company that owns Sofitel Hotel Chicago which houses Cafe des Architectes, announced that they wanted all their North American hotels to be HAAACP certified. This is basically restaurant jargon for food safety certification, which isn’t to say the restaurant wasn’t safe before, but it does require the staff to keep rigid logs that prove they have followed regulations.
The executive chef at Cafe des Architectes, Greg Biggers, decided to use the certification requirement to his advantage. Biggers figured he might as well gain certification for things most restaurants don’t get the chance to do. This is how he dreamed up Chestnut Provisions, a branch of the restaurant that would focus on making preserves, meats, and cheese in-house. After acquiring a walk-in fridge, the chef sent his staff to learn the techniques of charcuterie, canning, and cheesemaking. If this doesn’t exemplify “Where there is a will, there is a way,” then I don’t know what does.
Six months and loads of trial and error later, Cafe des Architectes is starting to master the ambitious crafts they set out to learn. Not surprisingly, cheese has become their most beloved in-house creation. Leigh Omilinsky, the restaurant’s pastry chef and new cheese aficionado, has begun to learn what makes fromage tick. She and Biggers have decided to stop making the brie they started out with and now focus on hard cheeses that are more conducive to the environment of their charcuterie/cheese cave hybrid. As Biggers explains to the Chicago Reader,
The other thing that we’re doing, too, is Taleggio [an Italian semi-soft cheese]. We’re on our fifth round and Leigh and I finally found our sweet spot for that. Our first rounds, they were OK, but they were superstinky, riding that line between stinky cheese and rotten. We upped the salt in our Taleggio by about 22 percent, and for some reason in our environment that was the magical fix, and what we’re pulling out of our cave now is really good Taleggio.
To show off their improvement, the restaurant added cheese boards to the menu that are fully composed of Chestnut Provisions–made items. An average (more like phenomenal) cheese board includes their slow-cured meats, cheese, jam, pickles, brioche, and even homemade mustard. This has gone over so well with patrons that they’re offering a three-course meal, every bit of which is made in the restaurant. Soon Chef Biggers wants to introduce a brunch menu that incorporates their homemade cheeses, jams, and meats.
It’s hard to believe that all of this spawned from the implementation of stricter rules and regulations. The staff at Cafe des Architectes really is playing by the rules.
Feature Photo Credit: Cafe des Architectes