Have You Seen Me?

Michael Nagrant / 06.17.08

We track down Chicago chefs who are missing in action to find out what they’re up to now that the limelight’s dimmed:

Jean Banchet
Last-known location Owner and top toque at Wheeling’s Le Francais. Founded in 1973, Le Francais was regarded as one of the best restaurants in America until some changing of hands in the mid-’90s and its closure in 2007.
Update Banchet first hung up his clogs in 1989 but returned for another brief stint at Le Francais that ended in 2001. The French chef is now fiercely committed to retirement, relishing trips on his BMW and Screaming Eagle Fat Boy Harley motorcycles. He lives in Jupiter, Florida, where he hosts massive parties, cooking up feasts of coq au vin.

John Bubala
Last-known location For the past 10 years, this cigar-chomping, wild-haired bon vivant ran his restaurants Thyme, Thyme Café, Baccalà and Timo (the last of the clan, which closed on New Year’s Eve 2007), slinging rustic Mediterranean fare punctuated by heaping plates of pork in every conceivable incarnation.
Update Bubala says he’s “living the dream,” spending time with his three young kids, playing baseball six days a week, exploring the back alleys of Chinatown and the taquerias of the North Side. He also teaches the breakfast class at Kendall College, where the school dress code requires him to don a tall toque and checked chef’s pants and shave regularly. “That’s the toughest part,” he says. “I gotta shave everyday.”

John Manion
Last-known location Executive chef of Wicker Park’s Mas, which, before it closed earlier this year, was among the first hot spots along the now-gentrified Division Street, earning loyal followers for its innovative Nuevo Latino eats and drinks.
Update Manion, 37, has been consulting, including working on menus for Rockstar Dogs and The Old Oak Tap, a bar opening in September at 2109 West Chicago Avenue. He continues to work with his Mas partners on the food menu at Motel Bar and is looking to open an Argentine-style street pizza and empanada restaurant. “Nowadays all the bars are full of hipster kids with backwards hats,” Manion says. “I want to open a solo project that appeals to my generation.”

Ryan Poli
Last-known location Combining styles of avant-garde Spanish cuisine and old-school gourmet French for attention-getting results at the West Loop’s Butter. The restaurant was sold to Really Nice Restaurants in 2006 and is now a private party space.
Update After getting out of Butter, Poli headed for Spain, where he staged in the kitchens of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona and Alkimia in Barcelona. Poli honed his pastry skills at Alkimia and says that after running his own kitchens, working as the low man again taught him how to manage young line cooks. He’ll have another shot at it when he takes the helm as chef de cuisine at Perennial (1800 N Lincoln Ave; slated to open late June).

Gordon Sinclair
Last-known location After quitting as a PR manager for the Tribune Company in 1975, Sinclair told everyone he was going to open a restaurant. But he had no experience, so he got a job as a waiter at now-defunct Mon Petite, where he worked his way up to captain, maitre d’ and sommelier. During the day, he worked on opening Gordon’s, eventually launching the spot in July of 1976. Gordon’s became one of the most influential restaurants in Chicago, a spot where Charlie Trotter and Carrie Nahabedian spent the early part of their careers.
Update In 2000, Sinclair sold the Gordon’s space to Nahabedian, and it became Naha. Sinclair headed to a small lobster town on the central coast of Maine, where he bought an 1835 Cape Cod house. He wintered in Auckland, New Zealand, and rented an apartment in Brisbane, Australia, where he learned to scuba dive. Last year he headed to Buenos Aires to learn how to tango, speak Spanish and drink Malbec. Now he’s in L.A. working on a career-advice book.

Gabino Sotelino
Last-known location Executive chef, founder of Ambria, Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! and Mon Ami Gabi.
Update When Ambria closed last year after a 27-year run, Sotelino, a partner in Lettuce Entertain You, extended his Ba-Ba-Reeba! tapas-bar concept to Las Vegas and the Mon Ami Gabi Bistro to Bethesda, Maryland. He’s slated to open another Mon Ami Gabi in Reston, Virginia, this summer and has more locations on the way. “I’m not interested in fancy, high-culture restaurants anymore,” Sotelino says. “I like the bistro concept where things are laid-back and more casual.”

Ricky Moore
Last-known location Moore made a name for himself cooking soulful New American fare at South Water Kitchen before serving as executive chef of The Parrot Cage, a restaurant staffed by students from the Washburne Culinary Institute.
Update In 2006, Moore moved to Washington, D.C., and helmed the kitchens at Agraria and Indebleu, focusing on farm-to-table dishes and modern Indian-influenced cuisine, respectively. While in D.C., he competed against Michael Symon on Iron Chef America‘s Thanksgiving battle. Seeking more time with his burgeoning family, he then relocated to his home state of North Carolina. He now runs the kitchen at Raleigh-Durham wine bar Glasshalfull, where his Farmer’s Supper series celebrates crops of individual regional farmers.

Nick Van Wassenhove
Last-known location Executive chef of Extra Virgin (which Restaurants America morphed into Bar Louie about two years ago), consulting chef of Leonardo’s Tuscan Bistro and former executive chef of the Rosebud group.
Update Van Wassenhove took time off to travel and spend time with his son and indulge his scuba-diving habit. He splits his working time these days between personal-chef gigs, restaurant consulting and serving as a vegetables and herbs specialist at Gethsemane Garden Center. Of the gardener’s gig he says, “It’s a way of extending my education as a chef and getting closer to food. I see it as a self-taught course in botany.”

Andrew Zimmerman
Last-known location Executive chef of Del Toro, the Spanish small-plates (okay, tapas) spot in the space that is now home to Violet Hour.
Update Zimmerman is chef de cuisine for NoMI, where, he says, “Chef [Christophe] David still has final say on the dishes…but I have a pretty free hand.”Though there’s no immediate plan, Zimmerman says he’d also like to set up a small-scale smoke shack where he could do some high-volume bacon production.

This article first appeared in Time Out Chicago.