A Different Type of Education

A Different Type of Education

While business school is a great opportunity to develop your expertise in a variety of professional areas, it is also a time to focus on personal pursuits. From running marathons, to traveling the world – the options are endless. For recent graduate, Austin Chen ’22, Booth was an excellent time to pursue his passion for cooking.

Fellow Foodie and TBE Guest Writer, Jessie Wang ’22 had a chance to sit down with Austin and hear more about his culinary creations. Check out the full conversation below.

Hi Austin, can you tell TBE readers a bit about you?

Hi, I’m Austin. I’m from Los Angeles, California and my background is in engineering. I’m making my way up the West Coast having lived in San Diego, LA, the Bay, and now heading to Seattle. My first attempt at cooking was making lemon shrimp when I was ten and absolutely butchering it – it ended up being a whole shrimp ceviche that I seared until it was rubber and then tried to salvage by adding copious amounts of five spice. Thankfully things are a bit better now.

What was your intention when you started cooking?

I grew up watching Food Network and wanted to see if I could make restaurant quality dishes at home. It was a fun challenge and a lot of mistakes to begin with! Over time it’s become a way for me to share great experiences with friends.

Can you share with us the first thing you made at the beginning of your MBA journey?

The first dinner I hosted was a very small gathering where I was testing out the logistics of hosting people, so I made a simple pasta ragu.

We know you did a dinner that summarized your cooking experiences over the last two years, can you share with us the menu and walk us through it?

Some of the friends I’ve made at Booth are vegetarian, so I wanted to create a menu that included them and was still delicious. I’d been experimenting with different elements over the last two years and the menu I landed on followed a philosophy of simple ingredients done well and done in an interesting way.

The first dish was compressed watermelon and grapefruit with basil aioli alongside pumpernickel soil, confit tomatoes, and microgreens. This was inspired by what you might see walking through a summer garden in the countryside and the wide variety of textures you can find there. The aioli works especially well with the watermelon.

Second, I had a beet carpaccio dressed with basil oil, a mixed leaf salad, curried couscous, and toasted hazelnut served with a sweet corn soup. Growing up I associated curry and corn as comfort foods and wanted to find a way to incorporate that into a dish that tasted comforting even for someone without that association.
The next dish was a way to take all the root vegetables that are widely available and showcase them as the stars of the dish. Here I had beet puree, radishes, roasted carrots, fondant potato, and a vegetable demiglace that incorporated every root vegetable you can think of.
Finally, a dessert that I’m particularly proud of in its simplicity, which is a saffron egg pudding served with ground caramel, lemon zest, and a jasmine oolong tea. It’s a very floral experience and has a delicateness that’s grounded by the texture and savoriness of the caramel.

What is your favorite type of cuisine? What do you value the most in appreciating a dish?

I love New American in its push to reimagine traditional cuisine, but staple Hong Kong/Cantonese dishes have a special place in my heart. What I value the most in a dish is the thought that’s put into the way the ingredients come together, accompanied by interesting ways to present familiar flavors, or a search for new flavors. 

What Chicago restaurant would you recommend for a first date? An anniversary? A first Michelin star experience?

I wouldn’t recommend a restaurant for a first date, but if I had to and both of us are foodies I would go to Haisous Vietnamese Kitchen in Pilsen. It’s good and interesting food in a relaxed atmosphere that won’t break the bank. For an anniversary, I would pick a new restaurant to keep things fresh, and for a first Michelin star experience – I went to Oriole recently and really enjoyed it. 

What is your pro cooking tip for beginners looking to grow?

Taste, taste, taste. If something’s not right, it’s easier to catch and fix when you’re still in the process of cooking.

How does cooking tie together with your life philosophy?

My life philosophy is to enjoy life. Food and friends are two things that bring me happiness and cooking has been a way for me to have both in my life. 

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