Thursday, March 14, 2013

Erling Wu-Bower Talks His Heritage, New Menus & First-Ever Cocktail Program At Avec

Erling Wu-Bower photo via Time Out Chicago.

Since taking over as chef de cuisine at avec last summer, Erling Wu-Bower has been pretty consistent with changing the menu on a regular basis. He works with his team of chefs and cooks to come up with at least three to five dishes every other week to keep the menu fresh and the staff inspired.

"The restaurant's menu does not just reflect my thoughts," Wu-Bower says. "The more people contributing helps the menu stay creative."

It's nice to know that a place as busy as the Mediterranean-focused avec (it's open daily at 3:30pm and stays open late) doesn't rely on its popularity and the fact that diners don't mind ordering the same items every visit.

Wu-Bower gets his creative juices flowing by reading online menus and a set of recipe books meant for the avec staff. It also helps that he brings a diverse ethnic background to the table; he's half Chinese, half Creole.

"I grew up cooking with my parents, and a lot of my technique and style are based on those experiences," he says. "My mom taught me a lot about braising meat and how to make stocks in the Chinese tradition." He adds that his father taught him the art of the roux, which is flavor based and helps with spices.

"The key to Creole cooking is black pepper, vinegar and salts. ... and heat, of course, which I use all the time," he says. "I also use a lot Tabasco, which I love a lot. We don't venture into Asian ingredients at all here (at avec)."

With a new chef comes a new focus, and on Thursday, March 14, Wu-Bower introduces cocktails into the mix of the very wine-focused eatery.
He says that he's not trying to compete with the award-winning cocktail program at sister restaurant, Blackbird, which is located next door. He just wants the "the entire dining experience to be as memorable as possible."

The cocktails, he says, are "hyper seasonal," and will be based on classics such as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sazerac.

Avec bartender Josh Perlman is charged with creating two cocktails at a time for the menu, and the first two will be his renditions of the Champagne cocktail and Negroni (!!!!) at $12 each.

"I just wanted to elevate the beverage program," Wu-Bower adds. "Come spring and summer there will be a strong push for interesting and seasonal drinks."

Look for the new cocktails and Wu-Bower's latest dishes during the fifth-annual Chicago Chef Week, which runs March 17-22.

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