Sometimes you have to leave home to realize it's where you belong. That happened to Theodore "Ted" Stay.
Stay grew up in far north suburban Ingleside and graduated from Grant High School and headed south to attend Johnson and Wales University in North Miami, Fla.
In 1995 he returned to the area and has cooked at some top kitchens in and around Lake County including D&J Bistro in Lake Zurich, Stonewall Orchard Golf Club in Grayslake and the Grand Geneva on the other side of the state line in Lake Geneva, Wis. He also put in time as an instructor at College of Lake County in Grayslake.
Today, at 39, he runs the kitchen that serves both Park Avenue Wine Bar and McGonigal's Pub in Barrington. He lives in Round Lake Beach with his wife and three children.
When did you realize you wanted to be a chef? I went to vocational school and got to work in my first professional kitchen and use ingredients that I would never readily have at home.
What was your first restaurant job; what did you learn from it? My first job was at the Westin in Fort Lauderdale. I learned how many components it takes to make a successful kitchen. It is not just a "chef" on the menu but all the different people, tastes, and abilities that work together that make a successful dinning experience.
Can you recall an early food memory? My earliest food memory was eating out with my mom and stepdad when I was 13 and wanting to order roasted duck. My parents tried to steer me away but in the end agreed to let me order it thinking in the back of their minds they would be eating duck and I would be eating their steak. Much to everyone's surprise I ate the whole thing. Those new and different flavors influenced me to try new menu items.
You run one kitchen and two dining rooms, what are the challenges and benefits of that situation? The biggest challenge for me is keeping up with the ever-changing wine bar trends while using sustainable foods and utilizing those ingredients for the Irish pub side of the kitchen. The benefit of this kitchen is that my staff gets the opportunity to cook two different kinds of cuisine and this is a challenge for the staff.
How do you come up with new menu items? I like to research other cookbooks from all different regions and combine ideas to create my own signature recipes.
What is your favorite ingredient and how to do like to use it? My favorite ingredient is fennel and I like to use it grilled.
What do you like to do in your spare time? For myself I like to go to the gym to stay in shape, take my oldest son, TJ, 9, to the snowmobile races, my youngest son, Casey, 4, to go fishing, spend time with my daughter, Lyrik, 7, riding bikes, and spend as much family time with my wife, Lisa, as much as possible.
What's your favorite food-centric book or movie? "The Curious Cook" by Howard McGee; it helped me understand the chemistry of food.
It's grilling season, what do you like to cook on the grill? I like to cook good ol' American steaks.
Tell us about the recipe: Poke with Pickled Pineapple. I was looking for something easy that you can prep a little bit in advance. This is light and refreshing on a nice summer day. Serve it with Conundrum, a white blend, or a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
Try this at home or at Park Avenue Wine Bar, 205 Park Ave., Barrington. (847) 382-3900.
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