Laurent Gras is the culinary version of Sherlock Holmes. Â 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. Â For this protege of the world’s foremost chef, Alain Ducasse, there’s no mystery to his success: Â It’s his dedication to challenging convention as well as his versatility. Â 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. Â 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. Â I usually eat at home. Â 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. Â That or the challa from Breadsmith [1710 N. Wells]. Â 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. Â During the summer, I go there for an hour or two on every day off. Â 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. Â It is too morbid. Â I like to focus on life.
Q. What do you eat or drink before or after a shift?
A. I always go home. Â 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. Â It is meant to be an acoustic wallpaper to give a feel to the room. Â The music will change every two months to reflect the seasons and the energy of the room. Â It was the first time I did this and it has been a great experience. Â 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