We are super excited to kick off our newest category 'People' by featuring a super talented chef hailing from Chicago, IL.
Chef Mark Hill is the Executive Chef at The Wise Owl Drinkery & Cookhouse in Chicago. We first met him six months ago when a friend recommended that we stop by The Wise Owl to sample the food that his friend created. Let's just say we were glad that we did.
Chef Mark Hill is an incredible talent, and the food that he presented to us was distinctive, well plated, and most importantly, absolutely freaking delicious!
Like, LEGIT delicious!
We are salivating just looking at the images of Chef Mark Hill's spectacular culinary creations.
We knew right away that we had to tell you all about him, 'cause gosh darn it, he's that freaking amazing!
So without further ado, please enjoy our inaugural feature interview with Chef Mark Hill.
EC: Hi Mark, and thanks for taking the time to hang with Epicurean Chronicles. How about you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MH: I am almost 40! I am a father of two daughters, with a baby on the way! One is in the Navy, and one is 22 months. So between the kitchen & home life there isn’t much free time. It’s all good though. I’ve been cooking for 20 years. I cooked before I went to Culinary School, so I was pretty sure I knew I wanted to do this. School is what brought me to Chicago. Moving to Chicago was one of the best decisions I ever made. I moved right after 9/11, which made it impossible to find a job, and that first year was a little rough. But still, after a matter of days I was thinking, “What took me so long to move here?” I love what I do, and the ultimate goal is to own my own place. Which would hopefully mean less bullshit! I don’t know if that dream will ever be fulfilled in Chicago, just because the price to do business is so high.
EC: When did you know that cooking is what you wanted to do?
MH: In high school I worked at Pizza Hut, and it wasn’t until I quit and was working retail that I realized I missed it. As a kid I always watched my mom cook. For whatever reason I didn’t help very often, just watched. So after Pizza Hut I thought, “This is something I would like to do.” But it took over a year or so to get back in the kitchen.
EC: What is the first dish you ever cooked?
MH: Probably Hamburger Helper (laughs). Then Spaghetti, which was still using boxed pasta and jarred sauces, just adding random spices, etc. I think the first dish from scratch was Chili. I love Chili. I’ve written four distinct Chili recipes. I also made a Venison Chili that a chef I worked for used to win a competition.
EC: Do you have a signature dish?
MH: I don’t. I’m more known for my use of chiles. I’m a chilehead for sure. Whether it’s on the spicy side like Habanero & Scorpion or the more mild side like Pasilla & Ancho. I love to use them all over the place. I’m currently working on a Ancho Apple Pie.
EC: Is there any ingredient that you don’t like working with?
MH: Frozen Scallops. They become so waterlogged, and it’s just that you took this beautiful product and froze it to be used again. It’s depressing. Scallops are my favorite seafood by the way.
EC: What inspires your culinary creations?
MH: Everything. It could be a magazine or book that makes you think in a different direction. It could be a conversation with grandparents. Food memories, etc. I am always thinking about food.
EC: What is your process in creating your menus?
MH: I think about the crowd, the market, how creative can I be? If the menu is to be ten items, I start with twenty. At that point I’m looking at cross utilization and food cost. Slowly breaking it down and making changes here and there. Then when you have a kick ass menu that works, you have to fight with the owners...
EC: What is your favorite wine?
MH: Riesling. The crispness, along with the ability to be paired with spicy food. But I’m no Som (laughs).
EC: Do you eat fast food, and if so, where and what is your usual order?
MH: Of course! In Chicago it’s pretty easy to stay away from the franchises. My top three at any local spot: Chorizo Burrito. Gyros. Maxwell Street Polish.
EC: Is there anything you wouldn’t eat?
MH: Not really. I do not like beets. But I will try them in a dish, etc. It just wouldn’t be my first choice (laughs). I feel like you have to be open to keep experiencing things. You never know what’s going to be life changing.
EC: When you’re not cooking, what do you like to do?
MH: Listen to music, I’d die without music. Hang out with the fam. Having an almost two year old is awesome. Of course drinks with friends, family and colleagues.
EC: What’s currently on your playlist?
MH: Wu Tang Clan, The Prodigy, and Yellow Claw are always on my playlist. Some others right now: G Eazy, Panty Raid, Trey Songz, Royal Crown Revue, Run the Jewels 2.
EC: What is one of your most embarrassing moments in the kitchen?
MH: It was probably my first kitchen after school. I was instructed to grab some thyme. I grabbed sage. It’s crazy to think that I went to school and still didn’t know certain herbs. In my defense, culinary school is not enough.
EC: What is your proudest culinary achievement?
MH: I think for me it’s just getting props from outside the kitchens I work in. I had a consulting gig, I opened up The Harding Tavern. Last year in the Chicago Reader The burger was labeled “The Best Burger No One is Talking about”, that was pretty cool.
EC: What is your favorite food memory?
MH: Eating my mom’s Beefy Cheese Pie. It was Pillsbury pie crust and American cheese etc. But it was good!
EC: What is the one advice that you would give to aspiring young chefs?
MH: Stay open minded. We are always learning, always. With what we do it is impossible to know it all.
EC: What advice would you give to a home chef?
MH: Know that you are not a working chef. You may be a good cook, or even a great cook. But being a chef is way more than cooking. Respect that just because you know how to do something one way and you go out to eat and it’s done another way, that the restaurant is wrong. A lot of times we’re not going for that traditional take.
EC: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
MH: 5 years, probably working in a kitchen that has made (me) very happy, wiser, & hopefully increased my savings! 10 years hopefully enjoying working my ass off at my own place.
EC: If you had 3 wishes (and no wishing for more wishes) what would they be?
MH: Bring my little brother back who passed at 22, bring a dear friend back that passed at 27, and 10 million dollars, yes, just 10.
EC: Do you have any recipes that you would like to share with our readers?
MH: Ricotta Gnudi. Gnudi is a dumpling of sorts, similar to gnocchi, but without the potato. This recipe is mad easy & sure to please! Just add your favorite sauce & you're good to go.
2 cups ricotta
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup grated parm
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs dried basil
2 tsp chile flake
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Mix all ingredients except the flour until well combined. Stir in the flour. The dough will be soft & moist, if it feels too wet add small amounts of flour. Use two spoons to shape the dough (quenelles), & set them on a floured surface. Cook dumplings in salted boiling water, around five minutes. Remove from water using a slotted spoon, do not drain in a colander. Plate & sauce!