Shawn McClain is one part Steve Jobs, one part Charles Barkley, and just a dash of Jeff Spicoli. Chef McClain, like Jobs, is restless with ideas and vision. McClain focuses on the essence of an ingredient. Whether it’s Asian-inspired seafood at Spring, seasonal and veggie driven cuisine at Green Zebra, or a juicy bone-in-ribeye at his newest venture, Custom House, ingredients shine on the plate. McClain, like Barkley, also isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He is not a fan of snarky food criticism and refuses to be defined by it. Like Sean Penn’s character Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, McClain mixes in a bit of a west coast attitude and serendipity, attending culinary school, even when he wasn’t sure what it would amount to.
It has added up to a small empire that includes three of the finest restaurants in Chicago, all of which have received critical and national acclaim. Chef McClain has received best new restaurant honors from Bon Appetit, was named “Chef of the Year” by Esquire magazine and one of “40 under 40” to watch by Crain’s Chicago Business, and has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef Midwest.
In our podcast, McClain talks about developing his simple culinary approach, what it takes to succeed in fine dining, what it takes to sustain the success, and why GQ magazine food writer Alan Richman should be “put to pasture.”