This week we have been examining the newly open Chesterfield. One of the unique gems that is part of the new lounge is chef Michael Ehlert. Ehlert is a recent transplant by way of his girlfriend who somms at Bailey’s Prime Plus. We sat down with Ehlert to find out more of his background and the plans he has for the very tiny Chesterfield kitchen.
Take a leap for the full Q&A and find out about his Top Chef connection, his crappy apartment in Long Island and a detailed look at the new menu he has cooking up at Chesterfield.
What possessed you to start cooking for a living?
I’ve been cooking since I was 18 and went away to college. It was basically a way to make money. I was banging out pizzas and salads at the home town place. But when you were part of the kitchen it meant you could hang out after work and have a beer, and there was always attractive service staff. You get introduced to that at a young age and it’s attractive. Next thing I knew I was doing this for a living.
How did you find yourself in fine dining?
When I started it was like a burger here, chicken sandwich there, but eventually I ended up taking that to another level. So instead of thinking fries or salad, I started thinking which sauce is this. How many garnishes should I put on this one. So right when I was graduating college I figured out this is what I wanted to do, to cook.
I took a job at the best restaurant in town and I was at the pizza station making 200 hand-spun pizzas a night. I would burn a lot of pizza and myself but got better and better, so it was a matter of finding nicer restaurants to work for.
What about formal training?
I was still in Boulder and was working for a place called Jax Fish House for Jose Rosenberg who would go on to win Top Chef season five. There were a lot of people around me making more money and that’s when I decided to go to the CIA in upstate New York.
Your girlfriend is the sommelier at Bailey’s Prime Plus. We heard she also went to the CIA. How did you meet?
A year into the CIA I met Jennifer Jaco. She was in the middle of her bachelor’s program and I was in an accelerated AOS, and our paths crossed and we started dating that summer in 2006.
You’ve worked at some pretty nice restaurants.
I moved down to new York City in January of 2007 and started working at classic French bistro, Brasserie on E. 53rd that’s been open since 1959. I had a pretty shitty apartment in Long Island City. It took forever to get home at night, sort of a classic introduction to the City. A few years later I was hired to open DBGB as a sous chef. I was real excited about that because it was my first real opening.
You know, once you start cooking professionally in new York you best do a good job of it. I don’t know why anyone would want to do this that was not passionate. It doesn’t pay much, it’s difficult and arduous. Achievement are often overlooked and mistakes are magnified.
DBGB is part of the same group that owns Daniel in new York. Did you have a chance to work there?
I spent a lot of time at restaurant Daniel in the prep kitchen downstairs helping develop that menu, figuring what might or might not work.
What is your menu like here at Chesterfield?
We do some sandwiches for lunch, and I love a good sandwich. We make just about every component here in house. Anything I am not physically prevented from making here will be homemade. That would include the deli meat for the sandwiches including turkey, roast beef and pastrami. I am making the foccacia for our grilled veggie sandwich.
We also have some nice flatbreads. One I am opening with is a butternut squash puree with shaved Brussels sprouts and Guanciale, which is an Italian-style bacon made with the jowls.
And then another thing we will do is small plates at night. You know, when I think about the drink menu with the depth we have to offer, I think about socializing and snacking. We have eight plates right now. A couple of them are vegetarian like artichokes and falafel. We have two sausages, one is a Loukanika, which is a Greek-style sausage we grill. It’s sort of a play on a gyro with fresh pita, orange yogurt and a salad of cucumber.
We are also doing a chorizo inside of an empanada and serving that on stewed red and yellow bell peppers. We also are serving full plates of short ribs which is braised with whole Poblano chiles and roasted coffee beans. When that comes out we puree that into a sauce to coat the short ribs. We are doing that on a nice, simple parsnip puree.
At night we are doing some pastas. We have a Tagliatelle with a Bolognese with a parmesan cream. I do mushrooms and spinach in mine and just before we serve it I add a raw egg yolk on top.
Catch chef Michael Ehlert nightly at Chesterfield.The Chesterfield 1404 Main Street, Dallas 214-741-2811