Since taking over the kitchen, Sandoval has been busy revamping Between’s menu, ditching Radhika’s Indian-fusion in favor of his own Southern-inflected culinary style. While it’s been available for a few weeks, Sandoval’s cooking — including his signature venison carpaccio with peach, rosemary, arugula, and juniper — makes its official debut tonight, at Radhika’s going-away party at the restaurant. (Free drinks!)
We caught up with the new toque in town to find out a little bit about what makes him tick.
You’re not from around here — how did you wind up running a restaurant in Chicago?
I was an executive chef before, in Richmond, Virginia, at a place called Verbena. It was kind of the same type of food I’m doing now at Between, but it was my first time running a kitchen. I’m from Virginia, but I’ve lived a lot of different places — military family and all that. I cooked in New Orleans for a few years, went to culinary school down there. It was fun - too much fun!
So why Chicago?
I came to Chicago for the food! I’d been visiting here for a couple of years, always eating places around town. If you’re going to come somewhere to learn, it’s Chicago. I mean, Paul Kahan — Blackbird is one of my all-time favorites. I had a friend in Richmond who was the bar manager at Otom for a little while, what they were doing was great — I really like that place. I like The Bristol now, it’s a fantastic restaurant. Before I started at Between I worked at C-House for a while. And there’s just so much great food: San Soo Gap San, Tank Noodle, oh man. Living so close to Piece is the best thing ever.
Of course, I came here for the music too - I go to a lot of shows at Empty Bottle. I love really good, local stuff. I saw Neko Case at the Chicago theater not too long ago, it blew my mind.
How did you wind up at Between?
I moved to Chicago and immediately started living in this apartment I’m in now [which is directly above the restaurant]. I always walked past, and I was like “oh what a cool place.” But for some reason I never went in. Still, Between was always so full, so busy, and then I found out Radhika was working here. I never watched Top Chef much, but I started coming in anyway.
One day I saw there was a Craigslist posting for the sous chef job, so I came in and sat at the bar, I talked to [Between owner] Carl Anderson, and he was really friendly, really up front about what the place was about. And that was that — it’s the greatest place to work, to learn. It’s the perfect environment to be in.
When did you realize you’d be taking over the kitchen?
Well, I found out about two months ago that Radhika was leaving. I was just talking with Rad and she was like “I’m going to be going to New York,” and I was like “Well I guess i’m going to be taking over!” I was ready for it — I really like Carl, I really like the restaurant. It was an easy decision.
What’s going to be different at Between now that you’re running the kitchen?
I completely changed the menu about two weeks ago, and right now I’m updating it to the complete, final menu. I also imported my old sous chef from Virginia, Chris Voccia, to come be my sous chef here. That’s made my life so much easier — he’s been nothing but complete support. It’s really nice to be in a situation where you can bring someone in from another city who you completely trust.
As for the menu, I’m doing a venison carpaccio that I’ve been doing for a couple years. Actually the guy that’s my mentor, David Shannon, it’s one of the things he let me do at a restaurant in Richmond that I was at a long time ago. i’m really proud of that dish, I’m excited to show it to Chicago. I’m putting prawns on the menu today, we’re doing it with kiwi and coconut, lemongrass. Carl asked me what I want my style of cooking to be called, and I thought about what my old boss suggested: “a modern approach to classic cooking.” But I’m always going to be doing Southern cooking — I can’t get away from it. Even if I try, I can’t get away from at least one Southern element on the plate.
Are you looking forward to being in charge?
Running my own kitchen is all I know how to do. I’m so happy to do it. I’m really happy to be in the neighborhood I’m in, at the restaurant, I’m really confident about it. I’m so excited to get in and fine-tune everything and really start taking the food seriously.