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In the Kitchen with Ryan Pfeiffer of Blackbird

Blackbird’s new executive chef is continuing the West Loop Mecca’s history of excellence

After more than two decades, West Loop veteran Blackbird {619 West Randolph Street, Chicago; 312.715.0708} is still a food lover’s paradise, and for good reason. Under the guidance of the legendary Paul Kahan, Chef Ryan Pfeiffer has risen through the ranks and put his own stamp on Blackbird’s menu before officially being named executive chef of Blackbird over the summer. Pfeiffer has plans to transform the dining vibe of the restaurant, returning Blackbird to “the Rock ‘n’ Roll-meets-fine-dining attitude” that Kahan and his team have been pioneering since 1997. With Pfeiffer at the helm, diners can expect fresh flavors and updates to their famed tasting menus…and that’s only the beginning.

DiningOut: How does it feel to continue to rise at Blackbird?
Pfeiffer
: We, as a team, are constantly trying to make ourselves and each other better. Have we risen? Maybe, but we do not dwell on our successes. We try to get better, not for the sake of recognition, but for the sake of progress. We have so many talented chefs on our team and every day we are collaborating and pushing each other to elevate our game.

In what ways has your approach changed—or stayed the same—since you joined the team?
My approach has changed a lot! I have learned a lot about myself and the things I really appreciate while at Blackbird, including the autonomy to innovate and bring new menu offerings to our guests, like the Reserve Tasting Menu. This offering has allowed my team to tap into its creative side by creating new dishes for the weekly service, using rare ingredients and thoughtfully-sourced products. My food style has become much more minimalistic and focused. You’ll see this across both our à la carte menu and our Reserve Tasting.

What can people expect from the Reserve Tasting Menu?
The intention is to get a chance to educate my staff, and hopefully the guest, on ingredients and techniques that are usually not accessible in our style of service. We get to hone in on our sourcing as well, which is paramount in our quest to become a more sustainable restaurant.

How does the menu change each season?
The menu is delegated, for the most part, by what our farmers have available for us. We try to mold what we create based on what the season produces. This is a great test for us as cooks, because it always keeps us on our toes.

What are some of your favorite offerings for fall?
We look forward to continuing to learn about new products and how to pay them the utmost respect. Some of the things I’m most excited about are many different breeds of flat fish, live sea scallops, and king crab.

What else do you have on the horizon?
On the horizon, we will continue to find ways to push ourselves. As most know, Blackbird opened over two decades ago. The only way we’ve continued to stay relevant and receive recognition within the industry (including the recent 2020 Michelin Star nomination), is by challenging ourselves to innovate in the kitchen and consistently strive for a truly hospitable dining experience for all guests.

Additionally, I plan on starting another competition for my cooks based on the teachings of Auguste Escoffier, being able to pass on my knowledge of classic French and garde manger techniques is one of my passions.

Interview by Kaleigh Glaza | Online Editor