After perfecting American comfort food at Chicago’s Atwood Café, recent Top Chef Season 8 contestant and Executive Chef of Sable Kitchen & Bar, Heather Terhune has brought a new concept and her own innovative spin to one of Chicago’s restaurant hotspots. She first discovered her passion for cooking while making preserves and canning vegetables with her family in her hometown of St. Albans, Vermont. After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute in 1995, she began her life’s passion working at The Willard Room at Washington, D.C.’s Willard Hotel, The Watergate Hotel’s Jean Louis restaurant, Pops Trattoria in Durham, North Carolina and finally Attwood Café.
Chef Terhune was excited to introduce her concept of social plates to Sable Kitchen & Bar. Her social plate’s concept is a play on tapas, yet her menu is divided into sections making it unique and different. As a fan of sustainable and organic movement, Terhune has created contacts with local farmers so that she can incorporate the best Midwest ingredients into the restaurant’s menu. Being that her main focus is on the quality of the ingredients and not the quantity, Sable Kitchen & Bar has given Chef Heather Terhune the opportunity to push her ingredient-driven food philosophy to a new level.
With the role of chef being filled by more men than women, do you see that trend changing in general or changing in the Chicago area?
I see a lot of strong woman chefs popping up on the scene. I saw that from being on top chef with eight women, but I am not sure if that is typical. There is one woman chef to every nine men chefs, but there are more women in my kitchen now than ever. Young cooks are coming up on the horizon and I think there are a lot more woman chefs and cooks, so that is promising.
Chicago was represented on a huge level on Top Chef this season. What do you think is changing to make Chicago one of the top food cities in the country?
People are starting to recognize what a great pool of talent and restaurants we have in Chicago. We are not New York and San Francisco, but we have a lot of great restaurants. I think we have one of the best food cities in the US and have a lot of new restaurants popping up in Chicago. I try to try a new restaurant every single week. I love that we have so many great restaurants and chefs and a lot of new up and comers. There are a lot of restaurants that fly under the radar that will be getting more recognition.
How do you feel your experience on Top Chef has changed you?
I wanted to do it because it looked like fun; it was basically a summer camp for chefs. You do what you love to do and it was definitely hard work, but you don’t have to deal with any administrative stuff and you can just focus on cooking. It was a great experience and it taught me a lot about who I am. I learned a lot from the other chefs, from molecular cooking to knife techniques. It was a great opportunity and I loved every second of it!
What advice would you give to young up and coming chefs?
To be patient. You are not going to become a successful chef overnight. It is a lot of hard work and it definitely is not easy. If you have a passion for it just persevere and push through. Stay focused and it will all fall in to place.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Chicago?
A new place called Bar Hombre, the Slurping Turtle, The Purple Pig, Yusho, Urban Belly, Belly Shack, Arami, and GT Fish & Oyster are awesome. The place I always get take out from is called Real Kitchen, which is basically gourmet take out.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in LA, SF, NY, or internationally?
I love Marea in New York. I sit at the bar and eat crudo and pasta. The octopus and bone marrow pasta is one of the best things I have ever eaten. Shake Shack and City Bakery are two of my other favorites. In San Francisco I love Zuni and Hog Island Oysters in the Ferry Building. In Paris I went to Ruggio, one of the best Italian restaurants and Denise Acabo’s A l'Etoile d'Or chocolate shop. When I travel I only care about where I eat and where I stay. Domilise and Cowbell in New Orleans are great too.
What is the ONE ingredient you could not do without?
Salt or acid. If a dish needs to be brighter, I use the zest or juice and always salt.
What do you cook for yourself at home?
Nothing. I have the barest fridge and I cook really simple stuff like roasted chicken or vegetarian. I would rather go out. I always have milk and cereal.
What money saving tip you can give people when it comes to cooking at home?
Don’t shop in regular grocery stores. Find neighborhood markets for the best deals, especially for produce. Harvestime Foods, Cermak Fresh Market, Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetable have all great local produce and ingredients. Support your local farmer’s market.
What dishes or cocktails are a must for someone that is visiting Sable for the first time?
We try to do things more seasonally. The corn brûlée or the veggie burgers, which are small but jam-packed with flavor. Desserts or anything small that is farmed and seasonal are great. We are known for all of our vegetarian options. We offer a wide variety of dishes under the farm and garden section of the menu that are vegan and vegetarian friendly. I have a lot of friends that are vegetarian, so I want to be conscious of that. A lot of the items on the menu since the beginning are a must. With such a large menu you can eat how you want to perfectly.
People love the War of the Roses cocktail. Our bartender, Mike Ryan, does an amazing job keeping drinks seasonal. We juice the carrots for the carrot and cardamom drink, which is really amazing. We are good at taking signature ingredients or different kinds of spirits or aperitifs that mix in with drinks.