For a vet of Alinea and Room 21, Sushi Samba Rio’s new chef de cuisine, Dan Tucker, has kept a surprisingly quiet profile. No longer! His omakase pre-fixe dinners and cider- brined pork chop have Chicago diners buzzing.
How did you get into cooking?
I went to Illinois Wesleyan, but was pretty unhappy. Tey eventually asked me to leave. Evidently you’re supposed to go to class when you’re in college. So I got this job at a place that was a copy of Outback Steakhouse. I worked the deep fry station making bloomin’ onions and chicken tenders. I was completely lost and terrified, but I got hooked on the adrenaline of a kitchen.
So how did you find your way to Alinea?
I worked there as an extern while at Kendall College. Getting my butt kicked day in and day out there, I grew tremendously. I now understand how perfection and small details make a restaurant successful.
Derek Jeter was in this summer. Do you get nervous cooking for celebs?
It feels really nice when you see three Yankees sitting at your table. It doesn’t make me nervous, especially after working at Alinea, where we cooked for Ruth Reichl’s evaluation for Gourmet. One night, though, I hear “Charlie Trotter is on table 41 and wants all the specials.” I remember my stomach hitting the floor.
What’s the Dan Tucker experience like at Sushi Samba?
It’s a disservice if you don’t order off the hot menu. We’re being playful and interactive, serving Wagyu guests can cook tableside on hot Japanese rocks.