ContactMessage BoardsLinks  Home  
Featured Chefs
Hywel Jones
Christophe Megel
Rob Feenie
Previously Featured Chefs
Gourmet Articles
Environmental Kitchen
Cookbook Reviews
Recipe File
The Wine Guy
Career Center
Ask An Expert
Bruce Sherman
featured chefs bruce shermanbio

Asked to explain his philosophy of food, North Pond Cafe's new chef, Bruce Sherman, delivers a solid and self-assured summary: "I don't tend to overdo things; I like to think of my food as reflective of the ingredients themselves. I don't build things up too broadly in terms of flavors or too high on the plate.” Sherman exudes a confidence and intensity that probably has a lot to do with experience and the polish that comes with age. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn't arrive on the restaurant scene newly hatched from cooking school. It was only after a college career and a stint in the London School of Economics that he finally saw the light, the light of a new day in food, that is.

"I graduated with a BA from the University of Pennsylvania in Honors Economics and I spent my junior year at the London School of Economics. Even though I had spent my career until that point on a very definite path - economics - I had this realization that I wasn’t pigeonholed into any specific profession. I could do whatever I wanted. So I decided to go into the restaurant business." Sherman, living in Boston, says he started in restaurant management, but moved to the back of the house to try his hand at cooking and found it much more to his taste.

Eventually, he moved to Washington, DC, and found himself at a turning point. "I felt I had to do something in food and I wanted to try it on my own. I realized that the white-collar workers in DC didn't really have a good lunch option. So I started a catering business out of my apartment delivering high-quality box lunches. It was actually the perfect idea for the time and the culture of the mid-eighties. I was a one-man show and it took off. Within weeks my apartment was littered with plastic utensils and gourmet cookies wrapped in plastic. Two months later, I built out a commercial kitchen in a warehouse, hired employees and quickly grew into a high-end, full service caterer.”

Then, in 1993, Sherman’s wife had the opportunity to work in India. Sherman sold his catering company and traveled abroad to New Delhi for a culinary and personal sabbatical. In India, Sherman consulted for three “Palace Hotels” in Jaipur and taught Indian Rajasthani villagers working in the kitchens there, how to cook Western food. During his stay, Sherman became fascinated with the food of Southern India, which he describes as "dramatically different than what people in the US associate with Indian food. There is some intangible mixture of soul and passion in the south." These experiences taught Sherman a lesson that is instilled in him even today; an unequivocal passion for food and an uncompromising drive from within are the greatest ingredients that any chef can bring to the table.

After about three and half years, the couple decided to move on. As Sherman explains, "at that point I knew that food was for me. I felt there were, however, certain gaps in my culinary knowledge. My options for being further educated in cooking were to continue to learn in restaurants or to do a course. I wanted to be secure in the knowledge of my ’toolbox’ so I decided to pursue a formal, more comprehensive, education."

As Sherman and his wife planned their trip back to America, they decided to take a detour to Paris. There, Sherman chose to study at the École Supérieure de Cuisine Française (E.S.C.F.) which is, he says, "the place the French send their kids to learn all of the professional food trades." E.S.C.F. cemented Sherman’s already advanced knowledge of food with a re-grounding in classic techniques from the acknowledged masters, the French. Sherman expands, “I wiped my culinary slate clean. I was very committed to keeping an open mind and relearning technique and my approach to food in general. My experiences at both the E.S.C.F. and working at a number of Michelin starred restaurants were incredibly revealing in that sense.”

After France, Sherman and his wife moved back to America, specifically, Chicago. On the advice of some well-placed professionals in the culinary scene, he decided to work under John Hogan at Park Avenue Cafe and Sarah Stegner at the Ritz-Carlton.

It would be natural to assume that Bruce Sherman was heavily influenced by his Indian experience, and that his cooking might show a particular affinity for Indian spicing: more ginger, cardamom, coriander or other exotic seasonings. Not so. When asked what sort of spicing and flavor profiles he prefers, Sherman kiddingly responds: "Salt, butter, parsley and chives. That's sort of tongue in cheek, but I mean it. I know how to use the more exotic spices, but in a way, I use the Indian spices less than others. My cooking reflects my experiences in India, yet they aren’t necessarily recognizably Indian. Instead, they tend to be used with European subtlety not an Asian boldness. I love the flavors of the cuisine in India, but European culinary technique and restraint are my passions.”

What does matter to Sherman is seasonality, flavor, and the use of local ingredients when possible. Of course, winter in the Midwest can be a difficult time for chefs to procure fresh local produce, so Sherman works closely with his farmers and purveyors to determine what is in season and available. Explains Sherman, “If you are seasonal, it is more challenging to build your menu. You are forced to be creative. A natural pairing like lobster and sweet corn needs rethinking in the wintertime, for example. Perhaps I’ll replace the out-of -season corn with winter parsnip. Overall, it’s a liberating experience.”

Says Sherman, "Something I gained a clearer understanding and appreciation for in India and then refined in Paris, is seasonality, which is very important to me now. The vitality of a menu depends on it. I don't feature tomatoes on the menu in January, for example." Perhaps as important as his seasonal philosophy is Sherman's desire to get beyond the Midwest label some have put on the cuisine at North Pond Cafe. It's a new day at his restaurant. And, while Midwest ingredients are in themselves first rate, Sherman's culinary palette is not just his backyard, but also the world. With a range like that, we're in for some interesting cooking. (more)

North Pond Cafe is located at 2610 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614. Phone: 773-477-5845; fax: 773-477-3234. The restaurant seats 74 inside; 24 on the patio, weather permitting. Lunch is served Tues.-Sat., 11:30 a.m. -2:00 p.m.; dinner: Tues.-Sun., 5:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m.; Sunday Brunch, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Back to Top
Spinach Soup
Roasted Walleye
Bruce's Lamb
Copyright © 2008