Chef Jared Wentworth is smiling. A lot. He is sitting in the back dining room of Longman & Eagle, his award winning gastro pub in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. It is just days after Michelin awarded him a coveted Star ranking for the third year running. He admits to having a bit of a “chef’s ego” but is otherwise humble about the ranking and other accolades. For him, the praise simply affirms that he has taken the right path in life, that he makes food people understand and enjoy. And yet, the Michelin Star is recognition worthy of a party, and partying is something they do well at Longman & Eagle.
“You can be loud as hell in this place,” Wentworth says. So when you come, come ready for a good time. The libation of choice at L & E is whiskey. It stocks nearly 150 varieties, 38 available on a daily basis. “If you put whisky in front of anyone, including myself, me or my cooks, we’ll drink it,” says Wentworth, “Like That.” The party pervasive attitude is just part of what makes Longman & Eagle increasingly successful.
The other is Wentworth’s emphasis on affordable, fresh and challenging food. For Wentworth, local and sustainable are more than catch phrases. He attempts to source as close to Chicago as possible, preferably within 300 miles. He admits that it’s neither easy nor the cheapest way to run a restaurant.
“At the same point, it’s the right thing to do,” he says “and it comes out in the food. The food tastes all that much better.”
Food cost hovers around 45 percent at L & E, higher than the 32 percent Wentworth cites as an industry average. It’s a cost that Longman & Eagle takes on the chin. Wentworth says no one involved in the restaurant is concerned about getting rich and they never pass along sourcing costs to customers.
But they are concerned with providing customers an amazing meal. As such, Wentworth buys only free range, preferring to procure whole animals and butcher them onsite. “There is no Sysco truck pulling up with just random parts of animals,” he says. “You definitely have more profound respect for something when you’re looking at it in the eye.”
Wentworth began to adopt his sustainable philosophy while working in the Pacific Northwest, but credits grocery store chicken as the impetus for whole animal sourcing. He recalls working all day with beautiful blue breast chicken only to get home and “slop this shit from the grocery store out, and I’m like I can’t even eat this. It doesn’t look like chicken. It’s just slimy, it’s gross.”
Wentworth doesn’t suffer gross, but he does enjoy challenging pallets with unique proteins. One of his favorite alternatives is duck testicle, featured each spring at Longman & Eagle. The dish exemplifies his “simple, harmonious and balanced” approach to cooking, taking three or four ingredients to build an entree.
“I think the challenging part of an ingredient is getting over the mind’s perception that it’s gonna taste yucky,” explains Wentworth. He prepares duck testicles like he would duck itself, using classic ingredients like cherries and reduction sauces. “They are really good. They taste like a little sausage, a little duck sausage. They’re delicious. The texture is great.”
Wentworth, 38, also enjoys challenging himself. His career, begun as a dishwasher in a Cape Cod clam shack, now spans over 20 years. This spring, Wentworth and his partners at L & E are opening The Promontory in Chicago’s historic Hyde Park. “We’re doing modern kinda takes on rustic peasant foods,” he says, “and turning them elegant.” The restaurant will feature a large open-hearth, a first for the chef, allowing Wentworth to create grandma focused and elegant rustic meals.
The Promontory will also feature a 600-seat concert venue above the restaurant. “We are running at the South Side full force,” Wentworth says, “and we’ll see what happens.” And chances are, whatever happens, there will be whiskey. Lots of it.