Ian Davis might not be a household name (yet), but he has ambitious plans for Band of Bohemia, the Michelin-starred gastropub in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood. The brewery/restaurant opened its doors in 2015 and earned a Michelin star within its first year.
Founded by brewer Michael Carroll and sommelier Craig Sindelar, Band of Bohemia is a fully-functioning brewery first. The fact that it has a highly talented kitchen doling out "boundless small and large plates, which defy expectations with delicious success," according to inspectors, is an added bonus.
Speaking of talent, Davis's extensive resume includes a bevy of the who's who in the restaurant world. While enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, he traveled to London and worked at the now shuttered one-Michelin-starred Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Davis then moved to New York City and gained experience at both Union Square Cafe and Jean-Georges. Looking for a change of pace, he moved to Chicago for stints at Tru and Blackbird before being summoned back to the Big Apple by David Chang to be on the leadership teams at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Má Pêche.
Over the course of these experiences, Davis evolved into the chef he is today thanks to a number of mentors accumulated along the way.
The biggest influence thus far? Matt Rudofker of Momofuku for his attention to detail. "He's a psychopath. I catch myself scrutinizing the smallest things and I tell myself, 'You sound like Rudy right now.'" Davis credits David Posey, currently of Elske, with getting him into reading. "You don't have to travel the world to learn, you can just read about it. You can learn a lot that way."
Having fallen in love with Chicago and seeking a different quality of life, Davis moved back to the Windy City and joined Band of Bohemia as executive head chef in June of 2017. With a menu that evolves every few weeks, the food Davis prepares is what he calls "progressive American." The dishes he creates all touch him in some sort of way and are the things that he would like to eat.
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Davis's creative process is a little different at Band of Bohemia compared to other restaurants. With beer being the primary focus, that is the starting point for all of his dishes. Once Carroll decides on a new flavor to create, Davis has the six to eight weeks of fermentation to use Carroll's tasting notes to create dishes that should pair well. Once the the beer is ready, he and the co-owners test the pairing, and from there Davis will fine-tune as necessary. It's only after the dish is perfected that Sindelar will then find a wine to complement the food.
Though it's been less than a year with Davis at the helm, he says that the team is starting to click. Eric Vollono also recently joined the team as sous chef following years working in New York City and Chicago restaurants. "It's exciting to see everything coming together," says Davis.
What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
When I was in London working at Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. The restaurant had one star and the drive to maintain and push for two was intense. You work tirelessly day in and day out. Because you're not sure who the inspector is, you have to always be at the top of your game. Then at Jean-Georges in New York City, it was exciting when they retained three stars. It was a party and then back on the grind.
What were your thoughts when you knew you received a star?
Wow. It was surreal. It took a little bit to let it all settle in. Then I realized we did it. I was happy for the team and the hard work they put in. I know I'm not an easy person to deal with. It's validation, especially for our style.
How did you celebrate?
A Champagne toast with the entire staff, and Craig opened a few magnums. After service I took the whole kitchen squad out to Oakwood 83 and we partied. I told everyone that this was well deserved, but will only get better if we push harder.
How much influence does the MICHELIN Guide have on your career?
It weighs heavy. It's why you play the game. It's a dream. You look at the great chefs and you want that achievement.
Are you striving for another star?
At the end of the day, I would love to have two, but I'm happy being one of the best one-starred restaurants in Chicago. I want it to be no doubt that Band of Bohemia is that place, and I understand that we have work to do to get there.
What advice do you have for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars?
It's about teamwork. It's not about a certain individual, but truly the team. I wouldn't be able to do anything without the team I have. They're the true reason we're starting to become great.
Also, be patient and have fun with it. Do you. Don't try to emulate anybody else. Be comfortable with what you're putting out and tell your story. Each chef finds their own voice and tells their own story, and that's a beautiful thing.
Photos of Ian Davis by Kristen Mendiola.