Chicago Gourmet: The Secret is in the Sauce: A Chat with Chef Jackie Shen

Chicago put itself on the front burner this past weekend with the inaugural Chicago Gourmet, a weekend-long festival of food and wine attended by chefs and sommeliers near and far. Special MenuPages correspondents Bridget Houlihan and Tammy Green, of the dining podcast Chicago Bites, were on the scene. From Sunday: Hitting The Bottle

Jackie Shen telling her story at Chicago Gourmet.

They say the secret is in the sauce, and folks rave about the sauce Jackie Shen serves on chicken at Chicago’s Red Light restaurant.

“Honey, it comes from a bottle!” Shen admitted, with a rather devious smile during her “East Meets West: Wok and Wisk” seminar Sunday at Chicago Gourmet.

Of course Shen does a ton of stuff to that bottled sauce before she serves it.

You need to have a good foundation in cooking to know what to do, she says. Inspiration doesn’t just strike. Finding the right balance of flavors is all about knowing what you’re working with — and trial and error.

Shen went on to talk about how her entire cooking career has been about finding that balance. Originally trained as a French chef, she got bored with the cuisine (especially the sauces) about seven years ago and decided she needed a change.

“My dad said, you’re not a chef anyway; you know nothing about Asian food,” she said. “I wanted to prove him wrong!”

So Shen asked her mom to visit and teach her how to make wontons. She started to focus on the food she ate as a child in Hong Kong but didn’t know how to make. And once she had a solid foundation in Asian cooking, she started to think of ways to fuse it with western-style food.

“I’ve had a good time going from fire to wok,” said Shen. “People are traveling more, and trying new flavors. There can be balance between them.”

Shen is currently exploring this further in a cookbook she is collaborating on in addition to teaching at Kendall College and working at Red Light.

One thing is for sure: I need to try that sauce from a bottle as soon as possible. Red Light here I come!—BRIDGET HOULIHAN[All photos by Tammy Green. All rights reserved.]

Chicago Gourmet: The Secret is in the Sauce: A Chat with Chef Jackie Shen