Iliana Regan stresses technique during Elizabeth’s staff meals | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

Iliana Regan stresses technique during Elizabeth’s staff meals 

Making food for each other helps cooks hone skills for the restaurant’s ever-evolving tasting menus.

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  • Nick Murway

Green Day is blasting from the kitchen of Iliana Regan's Elizabeth. It's 4 PM on a Thursday, an hour and a half before the doors of the 20-seat Lincoln Square restaurant open, and the staff of about ten finishes prepping for a nearly sold-out service and sits down—or leans against a counter or stands over a sink—for the customary family meal.

Staff meals typically allow the cooks, no matter their experience level, to flex some creative muscle in the kitchen. But Regan views them also as teachable moments for her workers: "Chef orders stuff and then says, 'Oh, let's do some galantines' "—deboned stuffed chicken—"just so everyone knows how to make galantines," says Mikey Mudrick, one of the restaurant's longest-tenured cooks.

Elizabeth's tasting menus turn with the seasons, which means that every few months there's a drastic change in product. Most recently, as the fall chill became more pronounced, the all-vegetarian Harvest Moon menu gave way to the meatier Downton Abbey menu. The family meals surrounding a changeover lend themselves to greater experimentation, as chefs make use of the waning menu's leftover ingredients and practice tricky culinary approaches required by the menu that will soon debut. For instance, while Harvest Moon took a looser, more rustic approach, Downton Abbey demands refined, European techniques.

Today it's front-of-house team member Derrick Westbrook's final day before he leaves to start his own wine business in Hyde Park; he's requested seafood for his last meal. Mudrick and the other cooks answer with a simple preparation of shrimp sauteed in butter with parsley and cherry tomatoes, and a side dish of brined salmon. The staff toasts Westbrook with plastic deli containers full of sparkling cider. But there's not a lot of time to get sentimental. Within 15 minutes everyone has gotten their fill, packed away the leftovers, and wiped down the dining room tables in anticipation of what is about to be a busy night.   v

  • Nick Murway
Elizabeth's staff meals range from sauteed shrimp one night to the tacos pictured. Chef-owner Iliana Regan (far right) views the meals as a chance to sharpen skills. - NICK MURWAY
  • Elizabeth's staff meals range from sauteed shrimp one night to the tacos pictured. Chef-owner Iliana Regan (far right) views the meals as a chance to sharpen skills.
  • Nick Murway
  • Nick Murway

Sauteed shrimp with cherry tomatoes

1 pound shrimp, 16-20 size, head on
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 shallot, minced
2 T and 4 T butter, separate
3/4 cup white wine (any white wine will do)
1 T canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a medium nonstick saute pan with the canola oil on medium heat until the oil is shimmery and glistening. Place the shrimp flat in the pan and season with a pinch of salt. Cook about 30 seconds and flip to brown other side. Remove shrimp from pan, then place the garlic, shallot, and tomatoes into pan and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the two tablespoons of butter and cook until it turns a hazelnut color, stirring frequently so as not to burn the garlic or shallot. When color is achieved, squeeze the half lemon into the pan, then add the white wine. Stir, then return the shrimp to the pan. Turn heat to low and simmer for about three minutes, stirring halfway through to evenly cook. Once the shrimp are fully cooked, turn off the heat and place the four tablespoons of butter into the pan. Stir until butter melts into the sauce. Season with salt, if needed. Sprinkle parsley and crack black pepper over the top.

  • Nick Murway


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