Every Renzell Restaurant offers unique and balanced experiences. And each chef is an artist, creating dishes with inspired flavor combinations, innovative techniques, and traditional approaches.
Chef Mark Hellyar of Momotaro in Chicago spoke to Renzell this week, giving us some insight in his passion for fresh, seasonal ingredients, and where he finds his inspiration to create new dishes.
Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?
Chef Mark Hellyar: The first dish I learned to cook with confidence was braised ossobucco with risotto. By doing this I learned the complicated process of braising along with sauce work, and the ever-challenging risotto.
R: Describe your ideal food day.
MH: I try to eat healthy, so my ideal food day would be lots of fresh shellfish and a simple strip steak executed well. Basically, lots of protein to be turned into lots of energy. I also love cooking outdoors over a fire pit at my parents’ house during the holidays, where I build a stove top over the fire and cook root vegetables buried under the wood coal.
R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?
MH: My favorite ingredient varies a bit—it is whatever the best fish species we can find at the moment—and nearly always shellfish. Recently, we received live baby snow crabs from Hokkaido that are amazing and there's nothing quite like live king crab cooked and eaten as is. Basically, anything pristine and unique and tasty.
R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?
MH: Inspiration comes from everywhere. Your team, your friends, family and, most of all, nature. Creative spells come on strong at times and run their course, but it's knowing and being comfortable with the fact that at times you do not feel creative at all and realizing it will come back to you in another surprising version.
R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?
MH: My favorite dish to cook is sausage and kraut, basically my take on a wood fire choucroute. I love all forms of sausage making. For this dish, I like to build a fire and get smoke on an assortment of sausages from knockwurst to brats and blood sausage along with boudin blanc and smoked kielbasa. Then I have a pot on the stove full of beer, kraut, and potatoes that has been cooked in the fire along with mustard. I place all the sausages in the kraut and simmer over the fire until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Then I grill bread and put it on top of the braised sausage kraut to absorb the smoked juices and then serve with pickles and mustards.
R: What other cuisines do you enjoy cooking?
MH: I like cooking an array of foods from old school French to Turkish to Lebanese. Cooking on a whim with very seasonal products is always a lot of fun.
Stay tuned for more Q&As with the chefs of Renzell!