“It was all because of a breakup with my girlfriend,” says Don Young of how he landed the role of executive chef at Temporis, the newly-minted Michelin-starred restaurant in the MICHELIN Guide Chicago 2019.
At the darling Temporis, Young executes an 11-course tasting menu, desserts included. His colleague, friend and co-owner, Sam Plotnick, runs the front-of-house. The two met while cooking at Les Nomades, the Streeterville stalwart famed for its impeccable French fare.
But it wasn’t until the aforementioned heartbreak where Young found himself couch-surfing at Plotnick’s converted two-bedroom apartment with an additional roommate. The two both eventually found their footing with the help of one another, Young finding his own place and aiding Plotnick with pop-up dinners that would eventually lead to the opening of Temporis. “Then it kind of came push to shove, the last chef wasn’t working out, and it made sense for me to jump on board,” Young recalls.
Temporis opened in January 2017 in Noble Square, offering only 20 seats and an ever-changing menu comprised of local ingredients—some even coming from the custom-built tables outfitted with mini hydroponic gardens. “Each dish is a personal expression of [the team's] passion, vision and a clear representation of their highly intellectualized approach to cooking,” state Michelin inspectors.
Young looks to his French training—he cooked at Simon Scott’s Les Saveurs de St Avit in Castres, France—to create his menu, with dishes like escargot with brioche, kombu and dill, and duck with chanterelles, Swiss chard and corn. “It’s always very hard to describe a culture shock like that, to see how much the French appreciate food,” he says. “To see where it comes from and how it’s made is truly something to see. You can’t explain it. Learning that appreciation for food has helped me in my life and in my career.”
His time in France also pushed him to discover more about pastry arts, making it easier for him to tackle both sides of the kitchen. “I’m really excited for citrus to start rolling in,” he says, hoping to incorporate it into a new dessert that’s centered around trick candles brought in by the dishwasher for birthdays. “It’s really fun—I’m doing a cake based on tropical flavors.”
Since Temporis received its star, Young and Plotnick have seen a huge influx in business; the team is hoping to hire more staff in the coming months.
Here, we chat with chef Young about what it was like when he got the famous phone call.
What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
I went to Kendall College straight out of high school and told the adviser I wanted to go to France. I pushed and pushed and got denied. Thankfully, the person who denied me was [let go], and the woman who was hired into the position pulled me into her office and said she was going to make it happen. I went to France for a six-month internship at Simon Scott’s Les Saveurs de St Avit in Castres. It was very intense.
What were your thoughts when you knew Temporis received a star?
We were anticipating it, so we had to get ready. Once it sank in, it was a lot of excitement.
How did you celebrate?
Some of the regulars came in and brought Cristal. We were at the restaurant until 6:00 a.m. because we had a busy day to begin with. I’m sure our neighbors upstairs hated us.
How much influence or inspiration does the MICHELIN Guide have on your career?
It reinforces what I’ve been doing for years and what my training [has been]. I always live my career [by] doing what I love and putting out good food, and it’s nice to have someone recognize that.
Does having a star change the direction of your restaurant?
It’s still very early to see what it’s going to do, but I can already imagine. Having this is going to help down the road; we were barely making it by with what we were doing before, and now we’re like, “How do we accommodate all of the reservations?” It’s exciting. The future is bright now.
And we’re definitely shooting for two. When this restaurant was first under construction, we had a tight budget. A lot was done well, but there are some little things that we need to structurally update. One is getting more staff and more experienced staff in the kitchen. We’re focusing on the food, refining it and then everything else will stay the same.
What advice do you have for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars?
First and foremost, stay humble. And work as a team with anyone and everyone. Research—we have so much power at our fingertips now, and I don’t think people use it to its full potential. I try to use the power of Google for any question that I have in my head.
Photos courtesy of Temporis.