For Best Chefs America
Photos by Nathan Michael
Patrick Sheerin, the chef/owner of the Chicago restaurant Trenchermen in Wicker Park, knows all about the perils of being your own boss. He opened Trenchermen in 2012, in a former Russian bathhouse, with the intent to create a restaurant that would become a vibrant community center. His investment has paid off. Sheerin's modern American cuisine, executed with fine dining flair, has made Trenchermen a widely-renowned, must-eat spot in Chicago.
BCA: How was the first year of business at Trenchermen? What were some of the highs and lows?
PS: We definitely took a very organic approach in terms of what we could do with the space. We wanted to make sure we did things correctly. That’s been a priority. The biggest high was getting open and the restaurant has been really well received. The lows are just not getting things fixed quickly enough. You know what you want to get done and we want to make sure we’re taking care of our guests.
BCA: Prior to opening Trenchermen, you worked at acclaimed restaurants such as NAHA, Everest, The Four Seasons, and most recently the Signature Room at 95th. How has your experience from these restaurants shaped who you are as a chef?
PS: You really learn from each one. You develop relationships, first of all, and I think that's the best part about it. [Mike and I] both brought a lot of previous relationships to the restaurant in terms of vendors, farmers, and being able to talk to our colleagues in the industry. It's good to know people who are willing to provide advice and suggestions. When you are the owner, you have to be a teacher for all areas of the restaurant. So it's good that we took our time to hone our skills as managers and in the craft of cooking.
BCA: You've received degrees from the French Culinary Institute and Michigan State. How has your degree in hospitality and your culinary education been valuable in the culinary profession?
PS: A lot of my education from Michigan State helped with cognitive thinking and the social aspect of learning how to relate to people outside of the kitchen. The kitchen community is an incredible culture in and of itself. For lack of a better term it’s a band of pirates. Some people don’t always understand that. My education has allowed me to have better conversations with those in tune with "the real world." I’m not the best on the job learner. Some people are more adept to seeing the entire picture; I need to be able to focus on one thing at a time and cross it off my list. For me, school was a great path to learn how to do this, and I think a college education gives chefs and cooks an opportunity to talk about things outside of the kitchen. I don’t think culinary school is a necessity. I wanted to learn more about the why, rather than "do, do, do” without an explanation. Culinary school gives you a forum to figure out the why. I needed the structure to ask questions and learn.
BCA: What are some things that chefs may not anticipate as an entrepreneur and tend to learn the hard way?
PS: People struggle with the administration portion of the job. You definitely have to create structure for your day. You need to have time to train the cooks, and document the process very well. There are steps you can take to ease the frustration of playing telephone. You have to write directions down, work through them with your cooks, so that everyone is at least a little closer to the end stage. And then, you've got to look at your bank statements and make sure everything is going well on that end. It's important to have someone that you’ve empowered and you trust to help take care of all of the little things, licenses and taxes that can put a business under if you don’t pay attention.
Beets with burrata, pistachio, black olive and nasturtium
Farro with pistou, zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomato and herbs
BCA: Where do you gather inspiration for menu items?
PS: Walking the farmer's market, especially this time of the year. I'm always seeing new things, always reading, seeing what’s going on online, and even looking at my cooking school notebooks; taking an old school recipe and putting a twist on it with a modern style. I like looking at a dish and trying to replicate the flavors and textures without preparing it the same way it was cooked 100 years ago.
BCA: If you could prepare and enjoy a meal with any 3 people who would they be?
PS: My grandma. I’d love for her to see where I’ve gotten in this life in terms of cooking. She was a major inspiration early on; she had a huge garden and taught us a lot about preserving and pickling. Second would be Thomas Jefferson, because he felt that you could meld science with the natural, and he applied that to his home and his incredible gardens. He was one of the original bio dynamists. He was very innovative. Third is Chef Robert Nelson. He was an early mentor for me while I was at Michigan State University. He taught me a lot about what it is to truly provide hospitality.
BCA: What are some things you find are lacking in the culinary industry that you would like to see in the future?
PS: Honestly, I think it’s in schools. I think we need to get back to reality. This is an industry where people don’t make $150 grand off the bat. People struggle. I think it needs to be more focused about developing a craft. It’s the pursuit of excellence and the craft that creates the art.
BCA: What does being included in Best Chefs America mean to you?
PS: It’s really humbling. Every day is an opportunity to get better. It’s much appreciated that my work is recognized. I’m excited that people feel this highly of me and the work that I do. It’s definitely inspiring to keep pushing and improving.
Original Interview by Bethany Kocak