Chicago's Got Talent
Chef Doug Psaltis has worked with some of the best in the industry and now reigns over the kitchen of Chicago's RPM Italian.
Long before Doug Psaltis stepped into the kitchens of culinary greats such as David Bouley, Wayne Nish and Alain Ducasse, he stepped into the kitchen of his grandfather's diner in Queens. "I got my start helping him out as a kid, more or less as a favor to my parents," reflects Psaltis. This is where the chef at Chicago's RPM Italian discovered his love for food.
From there, every job Psaltis had was at a bagel shop or a pizza joint. "[Each] person I worked with showed me some things, and then I learned from there," he says. "The next job I took was more challenging and more competitive and I just worked my way through the kitchen."
Psaltis has come a long way (in a very short time) since those early days at the diner. In New York City, Psaltis honed his skills at some of the most acclaimed restaurants of the time, such as March Restaurant, Essex House and Mix and then journeyed west to run the kitchen at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry. Following his run in California, Psaltis returned to New York to open Country with Geoffrey Zakarian. At this point, Psaltis was only 30 years old.
The market crash unfortunately led Country to close, but also led Psaltis to Chicago, a new city with new opportunities, where he helped open Paris Club, RPM Italian and Bub City alongside Rich Melman. "In New York, and one of the reasons I was ready to move on was because I realized I wasn't really cooking for my peers," explains Psaltis. "I was cooking for 55-year-old people in business suits who were very serious, and here in Chicago, I had a chance to work in a very high energy restaurant, [RPM Italian], and have a lot of fun cooking for young people like myself [who] go out in a great pair of jeans and a nice shirt and just relax and have a good meal."
RPM Italian resulted from the collaboration of more than just Melman and Psaltis. E!'s Giuliana Rancic and husband and entrepreneur Bill Rancic also came in as partners on the project. "They add a lot to us," explains Psaltis. "They are really dynamic and add style to our restaurant." Giuliana's mother actually has an item on the menu, "Mama DePandi's Bucatini Pomodoro." Giuliana explains, "It is the same recipe I grew up eating and is one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant. [My mom] actually came in and taught Chef Doug exactly how to make it!"
The E! star still looks to her mother for culinary advice. "My mom is the greatest cook I know," she says. "She taught me two very important things: One, cook from the heart. It makes the food taste better. And two, always make more than enough food for everyone. No one should ever go home from a dinner still hungry!"
Mama DePandi wasn't the only important woman to be spotted at RPM Italian; First Lady Michelle Obama also visited the restaurant to celebrate a friend's birthday. "She had short rib pappardelle and a little pizza to start," recalls Psaltis. "It was really simple. She was a lot more low key than some of our other guests. It was really just fantastic to meet her." Giuliana agrees, adding, "It was an honor! We would of course be thrilled to host her any time."
Bill has also played a big role in RPM Italian, choosing Chicago, his hometown, for its location. He looks forward to their next venture, RPM Steak, which the team plans to open in coming months. "Guests can expect some modern touches that will steer away from the traditional steakhouse that you are used to seeing here in Chicago," says Bill. "Also, our restaurant will be among one of the first chef-driven steakhouses."
Check out the slideshow above to pick up a few tips from Chef Psaltis.