The Chef with a Wandering Soul: Vagabond Chef Ryan Poli Wanders Again, This Time Away From Restaurants Altogether


It’s no secret that Chef Ryan Poli has nomadic tendencies–that’s what made Tavernita so successful. Built from a deeply rooted love Poli has for Spain, Tavernita showcases French, Italian and Spanish small plates, but Poli’s name is no longer on the bill. Poli left Tavernita in October, and all other restaurants for that matter, claiming he was taking a break from the restaurant industry, for now.

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Tavernita, located in Chicago's River North neighborhood. Photo Courtesy of Isabelli Media Relations, LLC./ Mercadito Hospitality.

On his blog, Poli said:

“Leaving the restaurant scene for now. That’s where I feel like now, like I’m getting lost. Lost in this race of who can have the most restaurants, or how many can we open in one year. What’s wrong with just having one restaurant and making it great?! Facebook and Twitter clouds my memories of why I became a cook in the first place, which was to learn and provide joy thru [sic] food. Now it’s time to work on getting back to that place and I’ll do that by spending time with a group of my peers whom [sic] inspire me.

“So I’m hitting the road, traveling and staging in innovative kitchens across the country and world. I have never been more prepared in my life and I am ready for journey and when I come back to Chicago I hope to inspire my favorite city with all I’ve learned.”

Since 2005, Poli has worked for a variety of successful restaurants, so if any chef has had enough of the restaurant industry, Poli is a legitimate candidate. Starting at Butter with Jason Chan in 2005, he moved to Perennial to Mercadito all the way to the opening of Tavernita in January of 2012, before leaving the business on a hiatus this past October. Guillermo Tellez took over his spot as head chef, although Poli remains on great terms with the members of Mercadito Hospitality, which includes Tavernita.

Hailed as busy to some, overpriced to others, and sceney for most, the topic heavily agreed upon in regards to Tavernita is how delicious the small plates actually are.

The rave reviews have remained consistent throughout Poli’s departure and Tellez’s transition in two months later, although not much time has passed since Tellez has taken the reigns and the chef’s hat.

From the parmesan gnocchi, to the pork belly sliders and the French and Spanish cider, there are enough popular items on the menu to satisfy anyone’s palate, if those choices do not prove to be overwhelming. Poli has a personal attachment to the Spanish culture and daily life, but he actually began his career with a background in French cuisine, with Jean Banchet at Le Francais..

“I only hope I learned enough from him,” Poli posted on his blog of his first mentor. “I wish I could have asked more questions during our time together, but one thing I will never forget is how he put me on the proper road to become successful by teaching us how to cook things the right way.”

In the midst of what appears to be an existential crisis; a doubting of what it means to truly cook things the right way; one can only hope that Poli keeps his promise to return to Chicago once again with what he learns from his travels. And, that he misses the ‘biz too much to stray for very long.

About author

This article was written by Katlyn Keller

Katlyn Keller is research reporter for the St. Louis Business Journal. She is a volunteer journalist for Felix Magazine with the Aparecio Foundation, and her work can be found at the St. Louis Business Journal, Vox Magazine, Boxx Magazine and her travel blog. She loves live music, sloths, autumn and alliteration.

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