BellaNiecele will be designing their uniform and apparel collection for Chef Trevor Teich and the big Claudia opening!
Teich is in the middle of renovating the space, but he’s confident he’ll be able to get things finished soon. While no official opening date has been set, he plans to release tickets for the restaurant Aug. 15.
Teich’s dedication to Claudia is stunning. The Chicago native first came up with the idea for Claudia back in 2014. But after two rounds of his pop-up, with a brief job in Las Vegas in between, he’s ready to prove why he held on to this idea for so long.
If you were lucky enough to try the pop-up iterations of Claudia, expect some major differences. The ambitious project will feature three different menus spread across two floors.
The Tribune caught up with Teich to chat a bit about his ambitious plans for Claudia, and whether he’ll miss anything about the pop-up lifestyle. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to launch Claudia back in 2014?
When I worked at Acadia, I had gotten some dishes on the menu, and I was able to feel more confident flexing my muscles. That’s when the burning desire to do my own thing turned into a creative need, not just a want. Watching people enjoy your food, it’s such a fundamental reward in itself. There was no looking back for me.
Did you try to open your own restaurant back then?
I really wanted to open my own place, but nothing was sticking, so I went to work at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist in Las Vegas.
What did you learn in Las Vegas?
Pierre taught me about flavors. He was super innovative. He was breaking out of the nouvelle cuisine into using global ingredients. But I was feeling homesick in Las Vegas, and I had rejuvenated my feelings about starting the Claudia concept again.
Claudia popped up next in the conference room in a West Loop building.
This was the next step toward a permanent restaurant. We’d do service three days a week. It opened in October 2019 and Phil Vettel was nice enough to spend an evening with us and so did (now-former Chicago magazine chief critic) Jeff Ruby. At that point, we were trying to get a liquor license. We were honored to get three stars. Then the world turned upside down.
What did you do once the pandemic hit?
In March 2020, we all thought it was going to be two weeks. As week three and four came about, I saw it was time to re-evaluate. I negotiated my way out of the lease, packed up my stuff and put it in a storage unit. I was biting my nails for a good month. Then I started looking for a permanent home for Claudia. I knew it took a long time to get a real estate deal done. I finally had time to pursue a forever home.
Are there any advantages to having a pop-up over a restaurant?
No! (Laughs). Working in a restaurant is hard. But doing a pop-up means you need to convince people to come, while not knowing where your next paycheck for rent and food is coming from. Sometimes at 8 a.m. you wonder, “What does it all mean?” Then Phil Vettel reviews you. It’s an emotional roller coaster. It’s a lot of hard work, but it taught me a ton.
What’s the best part about having an actual restaurant?
Every chef says this, but it will be like welcoming people into my home. Claudia is named after my mom. She always encouraged me to be creative.
Tell me about the building.
The building itself is a gem. It really stands out in Bucktown because it’s been there for so long. I want to do honor to the space that was Takashi. The bones are fantastic, but we are definitely redoing all the seating. It will be different from previous incarnations.
What will the menu be like?
The menu is designed to tell a story through food and to be fun. Sometimes it will be interactive. So it will be an evening of not just food, but entertainment, excitement and delight. I’m going to draw on things from my childhood, things that are specific to Chicago. Now I’m really able to set into motion my ideas with a full team and design how it looks, sounds, feels and smells. It’s a multisensory experience.
Will there be only a tasting menu?
There are actually three menus. In the upstairs dining room, guests can get the 10-course menu, which will be the menu familiar to those who went to the pop-up. That will include the bento box, snails in the woods and other playful dishes.
On the first floor, there will be 12 seats with a view of the kitchen. That’s where there will be a 15-course chef’s menu, which will take the 10 courses and expound on that. It’s going to be filled with lots of fun surprises. Every dish has a point of view, and leads to the next course.
The third menu is going to be an a la carte menu at the bar featuring a lot of French classics. I’ve always wanted to do this. Think pate en croute, foie gras torchon and oysters, but with the Claudia twist. It’s a great chance to come in and have a cocktail or a glass of wine, and enjoy the things I love making so much.
With Le Bouchon next door, are you creating a little French food hub in Bucktown?
That would be very cute. The tasting menu will be less French. Yes, there are snails, which are super French, but also things like lasagna of crab with passion fruit. The dishes are also going to have some modern twists. The pate en croute might come with pickled ginger and daikon. We are not constrained to French cuisine.
You’re confident Claudia will be ready to open in August?
When construction is complete, I feel confident that the walls will stand up. We just need a couple more Lego pieces. But I’m very confident for the ticket release Aug. 15.