In the Know: Brian Huston

Michael Nagrant / 09.16.08

Brian Huston, chef de cuisine of the Publican, has a diabolical smile.  The corners of his mouth curl up like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the original “Batman” when he talks.  It’s a signal of the sinful offerings he’s about to unleash on Chicago.  Huston’s planned opening menu, featuring cider vinegar-cured and salted pork rinds, tripe and blood sausage gratin and Wagyu steak tartare, is one of the most palate-tempting we’ve ever seen.  We checked in to see what other devilish schemes he has up his sleeve on the eve of the Publican’s opening.

Q. What’s the best Chicago-related advice you’ve heard?

A. Leave town.  As a chef once told me, if you love Chicago so much, the best thing to do is get out of town and bring something back.  So I worked in San Francisco and Colorado.

Q. Where should we eat if we come to your neighborhood?

A. I live up in Evanston.  Michael Altenberg used to run Campagnola.  Now there’s a guy named Vince, and Altenberg’s partner Steve still runs it.  I think when Michael left, people forgot about it.  They still turn out solid Italian standards.  I don’t think it gets enough credit.

Q. I hear you like to cook at home, which seems rare for a chef.

A. I don’t understand the cooks who don’t.  At the farmers market this morning, I was eating a cherry tomato, and one of the farmers said, “I see you’re eating.”  I was like, most cooks like to eat before they cook.  I got into cooking because I like to cook at home.  I was in advertising and I always had trouble showing my films and projects to people.  But cooking was something where I embraced it.

Q. The menu for the Publican was developed at executive chef Paul Kahan’s house.  What was that like?

A. [Kahan] would grade us and it would be like, C-.  I’d say we were successful half the time, and half the time we’d walk out asking, “Can I cook?”  He’s never satisfied, which is why the food is so great at both these places [Avec, 615 W. Randolph, and Blackbird, 619 W. Randolph].  Initially we just had a lot of fun, drank a lot of beer and grilled out at his house and kinda lost focus.

Q. What does it feel like to be part of the opening of one of the most anticipated restaurants in Chicago?

A. I wonder, is it going to be like going to see the new Indiana Jones, and you guys are going to go there [and say], “What, a spaceship? Are you kidding me, this isn’t what I thought it would be like.”  I have a feeling people will be lining up at the door just to cut us down because it’s taken so long to open.  The food’s going to be simple.  That’s going to be the hardest part.  You’ve had chicken a million times in your life, and you’re going to compare it to Grandma’s chicken.  We’re going to do hash browns, and there’s a diner down the street you’ve been going to for 20 years, and you’re going to have those to compare it to.

Publican; 845 W. Fulton Market, Chicago (312) 733-9555

This article first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times in a different form.