Chef Philip Foss, Owner of El Ideas

My NativeAdVice:

How did you get into the restaurant industry?

It was completely by accident that I became a chef. I really had no idea what I wanted to do until I started working in a diner. They taught me the technique behind a good grilled cheese sandwich and it just took off from there.

What partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented which have attributed to your restaurant's success?

Our marketing strategy has been to try and do things differently from everyone else. We like to put a sense of humor into a normally stoic and pretentious fine dining arena.

What are the most popular dishes at El Ideas and which are your personal favorites?

Although this is like asking which child do you like best, it would have to be our take on the fast food staple of French fries dipped in a Wendy's frosty. To begin, it is primarily potato, leeks, and cream - staples in any kitchen. Additionally, it is nostalgic for our many guests who grew up or still enjoy this guilty pleasure. It is also a show stopper in the dining room that features the tableside combustion of very hot potato-leek soup, and very cold, liquid nitrogen poached vanilla ice cream. Most importantly for me, is that my two children are the source of the original inspiration.

How do you stay successful within such a volatile and competitive industry?

Maintaining an honest relationship with both our guests and the food we work with. It is not so much about making a million dollars, as it is the sacrifice to doing what it is that I love to do.

What is your life motto?

Laugh and love as much as you can.

How important does the design / architecture of your restaurant play into its success?

A lot, but only from an ironic standpoint. Guests need to take a leap of faith to even come into our restaurant. Though we are only 10 minutes from downtown Chicago, we are in an unknown neighborhood and on a dead end street. There is no signage on our door and an industrial feel to our dining room. The most important aspect of our decor is that there is no barrier between the chefs and the dining room. Guests are invited to get out of their seats during the meal and come hang out and converse with us in the kitchen.

How important is location in selecting the creation of a new restaurant?

Normally, very important. We have been the exception to the rule. If you don't have a great location, you better have an experience that is worth traveling for.

Your advice to an aspiring restauranteur?

Do it for the love, not the money.

What literature is on your bed stand?

Christoher Kostow's, A New Napa Cuisine


Who is your role model - business and personal?

My Mom. She founded the family business with her mom when she was 14 years old, and has kept it alive. She has a great sense of humor about herself and works very hard. The relationships she has built with her clients, and the way she loves what she does have definitely rubbed off on me.

Describe the ideal experience at your restaurant.

Guests come back to the kitchen. Lots of laughing and people enjoying themselves. The food will speak for itself, but we want our experience and fun atmosphere to give people a new outlook on what the fine dining arena can be.

What is your go-to travel destination?

New York City. As a single dad and restaurateur, it has been difficult to take much time away.

What’s next for El Ideas?

Today, followed closely by tomorrow. I try to keep things fluid. That said, hopefully our second Michelin star. And I am also working hard to get a book done.

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