In the know: Randy Zweiban

Michael Nagrant / 11.04.08

While the culinary world is full of flash-in-the-pan itinerant chefs, Randy Zweiban is a serial monogamist.  He worked for Norman Van Aken for seven years in Miami and spent the last 10 years helming the stove at Nacional 27.  Now he’s just launched his Spanish- and Latin-influenced American culinary vision at Province.  We caught up with Zweiban to get his thoughts on dining — and drumming and diamonds, too.

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

Q. There are two seasons: construction and winter.  Seriously, though, Chicago is a great, livable town where people give you loyalty if you give them what they want. … If you work hard to satisfy people in Chicago, you can last a real long time.

Q. If I were coming to your neighborhood, where should I eat?

A. I live in West Town.  I love Green Zebra [1460 W. Chicago].  There’s a great Italian place, Natalino’s [1523 W. Chicago].  There’s all those old school Italian places like Bari [Foods, 1120 W. Grand] and D’Amato’s [Bakery, 1124 W. Grand].  May Street Market [1132 W. Grand] also does a good job.

Q. You were a diamond setter and a drummer before you started cooking.  How did that happen?

A. I got out of college when I was 20 and I had no concept of what I wanted to do.  I had always wanted to be in a rock band and play the club scene.  I had an economics degree, which didn’t qualify me to do anything.  My sister was working for a diamond importer in New York, and they offered to train me for five months.  I got to work with my hands, which I always loved doing.

Q. You know how to pick a diamond?

A. Who can afford one these days?  It allowed me to play music though, and I played in a few different incarnations of bands.  Back in the day when there was vinyl, I put out a couple of 45s.

Q. Is there a particular drummer you really look up to?

A. I always loved Charlie Watts’ simple timekeeping and “less is more” attitude.

Q. Why did you stay with Nacional 27 for 10 years?

A. I’m a very deliberate person and I think things through, maybe too far through sometimes.  I think it’s given me the ability to become well-rounded not only as a chef, but as a manager and an entrepreneur.

Q. Is this a tough time to open a restaurant?

A. There’s never a right time in life for anything.  I seem to have picked maybe the worst moment in the last 150 years to open a restaurant.  But people still have to eat, and if things do go sour, we’re still going to laugh and congregate somewhere.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about Province?

A. It’s LEED certified, so everything that could be green is green.  We used cork in the floor, regentrified wood in the tables and re-sewn leather in the chairs.  Anyplace we could be ecologically minded, we were.  Also, I think Province will be a place where you’ll be able to get a burger and a beer and feel like it’s a cafe, but also can come back and have a five-course tasting menu with wine, and you’ll enjoy both experiences.

Province; 161 N. Jefferson St., Chicago (312) 669-9900