In the Know: Laurent Gras

Michael Nagrant / 06.03.08

Laurent Gras is the culinary version of Sherlock Holmes.  From churning his own butter to baking his own bread to brewing cocktail bitters for the bar, he didn’t overlook a single detail when opening his new seafood-focused restaurant L.20.  For this protege of the world’s foremost chef, Alain Ducasse, there’s no mystery to his success:  It’s his dedication to challenging convention as well as his versatility.  He’s a master at creating classic Michelin-style haute cuisine presentations filled with caviar and flecked with gold leaves, but he’s also adept at employing techno-wizardry to deconstruct citrus fruit into elemental forms topped with a touch of jalapeno.

Gras’ cuisine is the bridge between old-school French chefs and the molecular gastronomists.  Like Shawn McClain, who redefined vegetarian dining, Gras is making diners realize there’s more to seafood than Red Lobster.

Q. What’s the best Chicago-related advice you’ve ever given or received?

A. Ride a bike to work.

Q. What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

A. Honestly, I haven’t gone out to eat very much.  I usually eat at home.  But something unusual about Chicago is that the grocery stores sell the Hawaiian Sweet Bread from King’s Bakery in Hawaii. I’m not sure why they do, but I have it with coffee almost every morning.  That or the challa from Breadsmith [1710 N. Wells].  I eat half the loaf.

Q. If I were to come to your neighborhood, where would you insist I visit?

A. I live a few blocks from North Avenue Beach.  During the summer, I go there for an hour or two on every day off.  It reminds me a little bit of home, though the water is a little colder.

Q. What would your last meal be?

A. While I do think about the future and good meals to come, I never think about the last one.  It is too morbid.  I like to focus on life.

Q. What do you eat or drink before or after a shift?

A. I always go home.  I usually eat something light like yogurt, bread and cheese, and I love rice pudding.

Q. What’s the can’t-miss dish at L.20?

A. Hard to say, because I really like them all; maybe it would be some of the really rare items we have from Japan.

Q. What should we know about L.20 that we probably don’t?

A. I worked with DJ Timka (based in New York, he is the resident DJ at Buddha Bar NYC) on designing a custom music and sound for the restaurant.  It is meant to be an acoustic wallpaper to give a feel to the room.  The music will change every two months to reflect the seasons and the energy of the room.  It was the first time I did this and it has been a great experience.  I learned a lot about the technical side of music and how it can affect people.

L.20; 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago (773) 868-0002