Last winter, a four-star review from the Chicago Tribune gave Blackbird a ticket to join the city’s crème de la crème. The clincher? Chef de cuisine David Posey’s daring bill of fare, praised by critic Phil Vettel for its unusual ingredient combinations. Here, the first-time Rising Star Chef of Year nominee tells us about his formative work experiences, cooking philosophy, and memorable meals.
JBF: You worked at Alinea before Blackbird, and you cite Grant Achatz as an important mentor. What were your biggest takeaways from that experience?
DP: I had the pleasure of working with chef Achatz at both Trio and Alinea. My externship was at Trio. I was a much younger and less experienced cook, which meant it took far more effort for me to focus on discipline and attention to detail. Whether it was folding towels, storing herbs, or setting up a station, there is a “good” way to doing things, and then there is a “great” way. Trio helped me always strive for the “great” way. I’m very grateful for the fact that these principles were instilled in me at such an early point in my career.
Alinea taught me to apply such energies creatively, and taught me that only my mind was stopping me from accomplishing things creatively. I was too young at Trio to truly understand the creativity surrounding me (or the significance that it would later have on me). But I will never forget the after-service meetings there: I remember hearing everyone talk about ideas—that’s where we talked about service pieces that weren’t plates, what people expected in a meal, what was a meal. Years later, at Alinea, I finally began to put the pieces together.
JBF: You worked at Whole Foods between your prior stint at Alinea and your current one at Blackbird. What was that experience like?
DP: I worked in the produce department, and just did menial stuff like restocking, cleaning lettuce, etc. Because of my kitchen experience, I was the guy that made guacamole for the display cases—this got me off the floor and it was kind of nice. It was just a job for me to make a little money until something opened at Blackbird. After staging at Blackbird a few times, Mike Sheerin said that he’d like to hire me, but he had no jobs available. I staged every other week to learn the menu and stay fresh in the kitchen, until my opportunity finally came.
JBF: How would you describe the philosophy behind the food you're doing at Blackbird?
DP: First and foremost, everything has to be delicious. Beyond that, we try as hard as we can to utilize local and seasonal ingredients, and to stay true to their essence in a creative way. My ideal Blackbird dish has only four ingredients, but they are prepared in multiple ways, with perhaps two or three focal points.
JBF: What's a dish that you're especially proud of or excited about that's on the menu now?
DP: We recently put on a dish of roasted foie gras with shaved kohlrabi, several forms of sesame, and a white grape–shitake dashi. It’s super delicious, and makes me really happy when I eat it.
JBF: It’s probably tough for you to find time to dine out, but can you tell us about a great meal you've had over the past year?
DP: I really enjoyed a recent dinner at Lula Café here in Chicago. It was really tasty and surprisingly creative; my experience stuck in my head for a really long time. Some of the most delicious food that my girlfriend and I have ever enjoyed was at a lunch at Jean-Georges a few weeks ago. I shed a solitary tear when I took a bite of nut and spice-crusted bass…
JBF: Last question: what are your favorite cookbooks?
DP: Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras and The French Laundry Cookbook will always be my top books. From there, it cycles quite frequently. Recently I really enjoyed Faviken, Japanese Farm Food, and a few of Paula Wolfert’s books.