The Consumption of Style: The Blanchard
Name: Jason Paskewitz
Title: Chef & Owner
Hometown: Queens, NY
Dish Featured: Carre d'agneau—Rack of lamb, ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato, eggplant caviar, natural reduction
When and where did your passion for French cooking start?
I’m not sure what exactly inspired me to follow this career path, but I definitely got bit by the culinary bug. I attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where I learned classic French technique and dishes.
How would you describe the atmosphere at The Blanchard?
The Blanchard is upscale, yet still casual enough to make people feel comfortable. The décor is old-meets-new, with modern lines, Edison bulbs, a marble-topped chef’s counter, and plenty of natural light from the large windows. The dining room is lively and inviting. We want people to come in, have a good time, feel comfortable, and want to come back again soon.
What is it about French cooking that you love most?
I always wanted to do a straight French restaurant. It was a no brainer. I've had this idea, this thought running through my head for the last 10 years. I wanted The Blanchard to not be just a bistro, more than just steak frites and crème brulee, so we created more of a brasserie menu. French cooking just what I've loved to do throughout my entire career.
What’s something notable about French cooking that you wish you could share with everyone?
I wish more people knew how simple French cooking really is. That it isn’t (and shouldn’t be) intimidating. At the core, French cooking is about using seasonal ingredients at their prime and cooking them simply—braising, roasting, grilling, etc. French dining has a reputation of being stuffy and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be, and we hope that comes through at The Blanchard.
What were you looking for in terms of location when opening The Blanchard?
I wanted to stay in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I didn't feel like leaving Lincoln Park would've made sense, especially given the client base that I had built over the last five years at my last restaurant. Our space sits on the west side of the building, and doesn't face the street, it's kind of hidden, but that was the whole thing that I loved about it. It's very private.
What was it like winning so many awards for The Blanchard so quickly?
At the beginning, it was slow. But being that I opened so many restaurants in the past, I knew that would change. A few weeks later, Phil Vettel’s 3-star review came out in the Tribune, and we haven't slowed down since.
I've never been involved with a restaurant that has gotten so many awards like this out of the gate. It was nuts. Each one that came out I was expecting to be bad, like someone's going to write something bad just because they can. But they didn’t—and we are immensely grateful for the love that we have gotten.
What makes The Blanchard different than other French establishments in Chicago?
I'm making French food approachable. I am making it more fun, I'm lightening it up, taking the more serious side out of it and bringing some life and some energy to it. That's why we've really taken off and been successful is because not only was there a calling for it, but people enjoy it. People are getting tired of the over the top dining experiences at some new restaurants — at The Blanchard you come in, sit down, order a cocktail, have an appetizer, an entrée, then dessert, then you go home. It’s normal and comfortable.
Do locally sourced ingredients ever play a role in your dishes?
Yes, we source a number of our ingredients from the Green City Market, which is located across the street from The Blanchard. My team and head over there each Wednesday morning to shop, talk with the farmers, find out what’s good, what they are excited about. Many of those ingredients end up on the plate. We are a seasonal restaurant, changing the menu about 4-6 times/year.
How would you describe the dishes at The Blanchard?
The Blanchard serves French brasserie-inspired fare with a contemporary spin. We try to keep the dishes classic and recognizable, but like to add modern touches. However, you can’t go too far, or else they aren’t classic anymore!
What’s the significance of the horse head statue?
Blanchard is an antiquated French word for “white horse.” So we thought the white horse head statue would be a perfect fit for the restaurant. My wife, Nichole, is an equestrian, so it is a nod to her as well.