And the award goes to Tom Ryan of Bartlett, just named “Chapter Chef of the Year” by the American Culinary Federation Chicago Chefs of Cuisine. A certified executive chef, the Lisle native is director of food services at Resurrection Retirement Community in Chicago, where he oversees a staff of 75, including six cooks and two assistants. They prepare 750 meals daily for the 500 residents.
What drew you to a culinary career?
It was by accident. I’m one of seven children. While growing up, each of us took a turn cooking dinner for everyone. It really goes back to that. That’s how I got my feet wet. In high school … a career counselor suggested I go to a vocational school in culinary arts. I enrolled in that my senior year (and) liked it. The teacher took a liking to me, and encouraged me to get a culinary degree.
What’s a specialty of yours?
I enjoy making entrees and soups. One of my signature dishes is a Swiss onion soup: a cream of onion soup finished with grated gruyere cheese and topped with toasted rye croutons. It’s unusual. I learned to make that in Switzerland. I studied there a few years.
How do approach the menu at Resurrection Retirement Community?
We have a five-week-cycle menu. I’m constantly changing (it), putting new items on the menu to keep the residents excited and looking forward to (the dishes).
What’s the biggest challenge?
There are only five or six proteins, when it comes to entrees. We have the same population who come here day in and day out 365 days a year. That’s our biggest challenge. Pick any of your favorite restaurants. If you go there five or six times a week, after three or four weeks, (you’ll ask,) “Is that all they have?” That’s why I add new menu items constantly for them.
Do you get to hang onto the trophy?
That’s the traveling trophy. I get to keep it for a year. It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity.
What’s most satisfying about your role?
The residents. Knowing that I make a difference in their life.
What are some of your personal favorites to prepare?
In the summertime, I love grilling — baby back ribs or brisket. And during the winter months, chilies and stews and soups. Good old comfort foods.
(Note: Involved in the local, state and national culinary communities, Ryan is also a certified dietary manager and a certified Illinois food service sanitation manager instructor. He currently serves as treasurer of the Chicago Chefs of Cuisine chapter of the American Culinary Federation and is on the national Audit Committee for the American Culinary Federation.)
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