Observers of the national restaurant scene were intrigued when Steve Hanson, founder of the New York City-based restaurant company, B.R. Guest, entered the Chicago market a few years back. After all, Hanson was entering the turf of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprise’s Rich Melman, whom many believe Hanson has patterned his career after. Nevertheless, Chicago is a big city and there is certainly room for Hanson’s Blue Water Grill. Besides, Melman and Hanson are pals.
And that’s not likely to change, even though Hanson has lured the executive chef of Tru (one of Melman’s fine-dining restaurants) away to Blue Water Grill. If not, the two can always settle their differences at a steel-cage match on Michigan Avenue. The good news for Chicago is that it will retain one of its finest young chefs, Joel Dennis.
Dennis is now the executive chef of Blue Water Grill after working for three years under two of Chicago’s most highly regarded chefs, Gale Gand and Rick Tramanto. Just that time spent at Tru makes him a prize any top restaurateur would covet, but his credentials go much deeper.
Born and raised in Rochester, NY, Dennis is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. From there he went to New York City to work as saucier at the Waldorf Astoria. That job led him to Aureole, where he toiled as a sous chef under one of the country’s great chefs, Charlie Palmer.
Dennis spent three years working for Palmer before accepting the job as sous chef at Alain Ducasse at Essex House, also in New York City. Ducasse was the first chef to earn three Michelin Stars at three restaurants, one in Monte Carlo, one in Paris and the one in New York where Dennis spent four years. He credits Ducasse for his focus on ingredients and the simplicity of dishes.
Two of his signature dishes at Blue Water Grill are line-caught cod with morels and fava beans; and halibut with chickpea puree, chorizo, espellete peppers, onion and tomato. Blue Water Grill was the talk of the town when it arrived in Chicago, but it had fallen off the radar. But with Dennis now in place, Hanson can step out of the big shadow cast by the man he emulates.