Dale Levitski served it up on Bravo's Top Chef as a contestant and is now the executive chef at the Chicago restaurant Sprout. The out gay Levitskiwho was recently announced as a semifinalist for a James Beard Awardsat down to talk about his career and current culinary endeavor before a busy day of cooking.
Windy City Times: Hello, Dale. How would you describe this restaurant?
Dale Levitski: We are a chef-driven restaurant. Our whole concept of what we do here is we take fine dining and neighborhood a la carte dining and we smack them together! We take all of the pretense and pageantry out of fine dining with food quality and innovation still there. I hate pretentious attitude and don't think it has a place in a dining room. My whole thing is we are very friendly and educated in the front of the house. That is one of our main things because the menu is so ambiguous that every server knows every detail of every single dish.
Windy City Times: Sounds like a tough place to work.
Dale Levitski: There is a lot to know. It is fun experience to eat here. It is a Choose Your Own Adventure dining experience. We have grown. We opened a year ago this past November. This part we are sitting in was an outdoor patio so we built all of this. I am building a chef's table in the back with a porthole from a ship so you can see into the kitchen and watch us cook.
Windy City Times: That is a great idea.
Dale Levitski: It is really fun. We are in the middle of decorating it. We are wallpapering and having a custom made table. For eight people or less it will have a special menu. I had a chef's table when I was the executive chef at Trio in Evanston. I missed having that.
Windy City Times: So you are always changing things.
Dale Levitski: Yes, I have two new dishes today. We really try and rotate but this is the time of year when nothing is available due to weather.
Windy City Times: How would you describe the menu?
Dale Levitski: This is a place where you bring people that have not been here before. We have a set price at $65 per person. They pick one item out of each category so appetizer, entrée and dessert. These are not just tasting size portions, they are Chicago a la carte size so you roll out of here. In between the first and second and the second and third you get two free mini courses as well so it is actually a five-course tasting.
Windy City Times: That is a lot of food!
Dale Levitski: In the winter we do a mini soup. In between the entrée and dessert I give everyone a grilled cheese sandwich that was named one of the 30 best sandwiches in Chicago.
Windy City Times: Excellent. You actually took over Sprout after the opening, correct?
Dale Levitski: Yes, it had been open a month or two. An acquaintance of mine was managing at the time and some chefs were not working out. This was shortly after my mother had passed away and the other restaurant that I was planning fell through. I got a phone call and decided to take it over. It was the best decision in my life that I have made.
Windy City Times: So the crowds have been good?
Dale Levitski: It has been amazing and we are just growing. Every month we are getting more people in the door. We are a little off the beaten path. We are on Lincoln Park and a destination place.
Windy City Times: Reservations are accepted?
Dale Levitski: They are very highly recommended. We book up Friday and Saturday nights a week out. Adding fifty percent to the restaurant with the remodeling has been important. We have permits for a rooftop garden. We are going to find a way to grow all of our own herbs, flower arrangements and figure out what we are going to do for the first month.
Windy City Times: Do you eat at other restaurants ever?
Dale Levitski: I don't go out that much.
Windy City Times: Cook at home?
Dale Levitski: Never. I take out or starve! I love avec or else I am happy with Soupbox or Chicken Hut. Chicken Hut is remarkably amazing.
Windy City Times: It has that yummy grilled chicken!
Dale Levitski: I can't get enough of it.
Windy City Times: Are you single?
Dale Levitski: Yes, I have dated here and there but I have been so busy lately. Out Magazine just put me as one of their 100 Most Eligible Gay Bachelors, which is kind of funny.
Windy City Times: Do you go out to the bars?
Dale Levitski: I stopped in the past year. If I do then Cocktail is my favorite place, GeNo is a really good friend of mine. It has been in business a long time and had a renaissance in the last three years about getting people in the door.
Windy City Times: The back of the bar has expanded. His birthday party was fun.
Dale Levitski: I missed it. He came here last year for his birthday.
Windy City Times: Would you do more reality shows?
Dale Levitski: It's one of those things that I say never again but then I always wind up doing it again. I just got back from L.A., filming some stuff for Toyota. Top Chef always calls to do little things.
Windy City Times: They love you!
Dale Levitski: I was so disappointed to go home so early this time around but it is what it is. It's a game show although life experience wise you can't beat it!
Windy City Times: And the exposure is good.
Dale Levitski: Being one of the more prominent gay chefs in the country and having an image that is so different for Bravo. I am not the screaming queen that when I open my mouth a purse falls out.
Windy City Times: Like in that Glee episode!
Dale Levitski: Yes, I like breaking the stereotype of gay reality show contestants. It's fine that there are sometimes flaming people on the design shows but having that being constant representation of our community is a misrepresentation. We are not all the same. We are well-rounded people and I happy to represent that.
Windy City Times: I think that is very important to have in the media.
Dale Levitski: People can say whatever they want but everyone watches these shows no matter what the genre whether it is So You Think You Can Dance or American Idol. Everyone is the biggest couch critic known to man.
Windy City Times: People tend to think they would act differently in the situation.
Dale Levitski: I can't watch a lot of it now because I know the ins and outs of editing. Five minutes into the shows I can tell you who is going to win or lose just by the editing.
Windy City Times: The shows are all out of order in time of when they really happen as well.
Dale Levitski: Yes. It is an amazing feat to pull these shows off. We received the Emmy last year and beat The Amazing Race. It is the hardest competition on television. It is brutal. We are all crazy enough to be addicted to watch.
Windy City Times: Have you made good friends from it?
Dale Levitski: I have been texting with Casey all morning. My Sous Chef Sara Nguyen here was on season three with me. At least half of that season I talk to on a regular basis. Jamie is not as bad as you would think.
Windy City Times: What do you think of Ted Allen?
Dale Levitski: I do love Ted Allen. He's a hoot. After the season three finale I had a lot of fun with him and Andy Cohen. Andy is a nut but super fun.
Windy City Times: Are you doing Taste of Chicago this year?
Dale Levitski: No; I do smaller charity events like cystic fibrosis or the Farmers Market Barbecue. Also, breast cancer, AIDS charities and I think we are signed on for a seal fundraiser so puppies, boobs and kids is our format! I try to do as many of the charity events that I can.
Windy City Times: You taught yourself how to cook?
Dale Levitski: Yes. I went to University of Iowa to be an athlete. I started off as a sociology major. I started cooking in school and fell in love with it. I bought textbooks and magazines to do research. I read about it every single day.
Windy City Times: So you are always learning.
Dale Levitski: That is one thing about food you can never know everything. You can learn something new everyday so that is what's fun about being severely ADD, it makes your life a little easier and challenging!
Come see Sprout Restaurant grow from top to bottom at 1417 W. Fullerton. Call 773-348-0706 or visit www.sproutrestaurant.com to make reservations.