Grayson Schmitz moved here to find a better sense of community… and create a special kind of space that was more than just a restaurant. And here comes another acclaimed chef who sees Chicago as a place where those kinds of ideas can find a more receptive audience. He’s Gabe Moya, currently the chef of New York’s Calyer, in Williamsburg. The New York food press, including our mothership, announced his upcoming replacement but had nothing to say about his Chicago plans— which are by far the more interesting part as far as we’re concerned. The Puerto Rican-born chef is not only out to bring us Latin cuisines we haven’t seen before (at least at this level of execution), but to do so in a way that builds and feeds back into the community and takes in multiple art forms in the process. We talked to him to find out what it’s all about, when it will begin, and why he thinks Chicago is the place to do it.
We hear you’re moving to Chicago. What’s the story?
Wow, I wasn’t expecting you guys to pick up on me that quick. I’m still at Calyer to the end of August. But yeah, I’m moving to Chicago in September. I’m going to do some popup dinners, and I’m working on finding a space. I’m going to Puerto Rico in October to see family, it’ll be my first break in a while, but I hope to be able to do a couple of pop-ups before then. I’m looking into gallery spaces with a couple of friends who are artists, things like that.
Are you from Chicago, or did you work here?
I lived there for a short time before moving back to New York when I got a job offer. I’ve never worked there. That’s part of why I want to start with the pop-ups rather than try to open a place— I know a few people in the industry, but really, I’m coming from the ground up, I want to get to know the suppliers, earn the respect of the community first.
What kind of food are you planning to do?
It’s Latin-based food, very vegetable-driven, driven by the markets and the farmers. It’s seriously authentic Latin food, executed with new techniques and better ingredients. I want to do Peruvian dishes, beyond just ceviche, Argentinean dishes— I’m Puerto Rican but my dad is from Argentina and I’ve traveled a little in South America.
I’ve been working in New York for six or seven years, I started out cooking French and Italian food, and the last two places I’ve done contemporary American. I really want to do Latin food. I want to cook the food I grew up with. And I don’t think you can do that in New York right now. New York has become too pragmatic, it’s really difficult to work outside of the box.
Where Chicago tends to be more open about food. I feel like there’s more freedom here, and it’s more possible to use foragers and be sustainable. People in Chicago are more accepting of these things, more willing to come be part of something like that. And the industry in Chicago is more welcoming, more willing to say, hey, show us what you’ve got, and give you a hand. It’s more dog eat dog in New York.
The other part of it is building communities. It’s bringing other people into the mix— my friend’s an artist, I have friends that architects and carpenters, we would get a space that would be multipurpose. It’s really a community project for Humboldt Park, where we’d be helping the Puerto Rican community, giving back to the community. My friends are talking to a lot of community leaders as we look for a space. It’s not just about me as a chef, it’s about bringing everybody into it.
That’s what I like about pop-ups. You’re bringing people to a table who don’t know each other and you get them discussing food and other things and getting to know each other in a new way— through a dinner.
Do you have a name for your pop-up yet?
We don’t have anything, man (laughs). We’re just kicking stuff around. I have a collaborative dinner at Calyer on August 30, that’s my last day. Then I’ll start figuring the rest of this out, but hopefully I can do a couple of dinners before I leave for two weeks in October. I’ll keep you posted as I figure everything out.