Lee Wolen, Executive Chef and Partner at Boka, got his start at a vocational culinary school during his high school years in Cleveland. From there he went on to work as Sous Chef at Moto, Butter, and Eleven Madison Park, before joining Boka as executive chef and partner.
Ranked #5 in Chicago’s Preliminary 2018 Ratings, Boka’s quirky seasonal menu has proven popular among Chicagoans and laid the foundation for the Boka Restaurant Group. We had a chance to catch up with the award-winning chef.
Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?
Chef Lee Wolen: A ham and cheddar omelette. I used to make them when I was 7 years old for my mom for breakfast.
R: Describe your ideal food day.
LW: I would wake up and have a Cortado from Caffe Streets in Chicago and then have breakfast at Le CouCou in New York: avocado toast with poached eggs. For lunch, I’d stay east and head over to Xi’an Famous Foods for their cold noodles. Dinner would be my wife’s homemade turkey meatballs with steamed broccoli. For dessert, I would eat a chocolate chip cookie. I’m not a big sweets guy, but I can’t say no to a chocolate chip cookie.
R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?
LW: Eating out and cookbooks. We have walls of cookbooks at Boka. It’s my favorite part of the kitchen. I don’t drink, so occasionally guests bring cookbooks for the kitchen as gifts!
R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?
LW: It changes all the time, but right now I’m enjoying cooking with lamb tongue, which is currently corned and grilled at Boka.
R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?
LW: Pasta, from start to finish. I love how versatile pasta is.
R: Do you ever venture outside the typical cuisine of Boka?
LW: We will at our new restaurant Somerset when it opens in the Viceroy Chicago Hotel this fall!
Want to experience Chef Lee’s creations for yourself? Book an evening at Boka!