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By Richard C. Ross

 
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Executive Chef Doug D'Avico - photo courtesy Kurman CommunicationsIf I were to tell you that Doug D'Avico had begun his professional cooking career at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 1987 -- and stuck with it ever since -- some quick math would indicate his experience to be in excess of twenty years.  Twenty-four, give or take a few months, to be exact.  In anyone's book, that might seem like a long time.  But one would be hard-put to estimate a span even close to that length just by looking at the man behind the intricate and imaginative entrees at Bistro One West in St. Charles.

Having done a few kitchen gigs myself while in the restaurant business, I am familiar with the pressures that accompany the position of Executive Chef.  I've observed many a Chef with commensurate experience sporting wrinkled brows and upside-down smiles, courtesy of the years of long hours and "kitchen nightmares" that can accompany the job.  Not so with D'Avico.  He is as easy going as they come.  Which is definitely not to say that he doesn't run a tight ship... er, kitchen.

(During our conversation, it was interesting to hear him espouse the same mantra as a chef I once worked for in California: "don't do it that way because it's my way, do it that way because it's the way".  Easy going and still making certain things are done right: two traits that can work as smoothly together as a well-crafted beurre blanc.)

I first met the Chef at the soft opening of Bistro One West late this past winter, as he was was taking a short hiatus from his kitchen duties to see how the guests were enjoying his special samples of menu items (they were, by the way, a huge hit!).  The brief conversation, combined with the incredible eye candy being passed by the smartly-dressed wait-staff, told me that this was a man with whom I wanted to share some conversation; his story was a natural follow-up.

The Chef grew up in Upper Darby, a suburb of west Philadelphia, and originally started out to get a degree in electronics, cooking at various venues to pay for his education.  Turns out he enjoyed cooking more than anything else.  That eventually led to stint at The Culinary Institute of America, where "the competition was really tough", and he needed to learn a lot, very quickly as they "threw a lot at me"; the chefs there told him if he could "retain 10% of what we teach you, you're already at least 50% ahead of anyone else that you will come in to work with."  He loved to learn and absorbed the information like a sponge.  

Grilled marinated steak skewers at the opening of the deck!Over the years he has added to and enhanced his knowledge base immensely, gaining experience at restaurants of all sizes and types, having first worked at several restaurants in New York, followed by prestigious venues in Florida and Hawaii before landing at Trattoria No. 10 in Chicago as a Sous Chef, where he was quickly promoted to Executive Chef.  After a few years he left to pursue other opportunities, but found himself back at Trattoria No. 10, where, as fate would have it, he met then General Manager George Guggeis, with whom he would ultimately partner to create Bistro One West.  The chemistry between the two was natural, as both Guggeis and D'Avico are easy going, but both perfectionists who pay very close attention to detail.  

D'Avico likes the layout of Bistro One West, and enjoys the fact that, "from a diner's point of view, every seat has some sort of a window view, and you can't beat that; there's not a bad seat in the house."  As with any kitchen, the one at Bistro One West has its challenges: "spaces are a bit tight and the angles are small, sometimes making things difficult, but time will take care of that.  I've loved the spot from the moment we moved out here.  You've got the river there, the openness, and of course the deck.  And it doesn't get any better than that."

I asked about the pace of things so far at the restaurant.  D'Avico's reply was that it had started slowly but things were really starting to pick up now, especially with the opening of the deck.  Right now he is pretty much doing everything and, "some days are long -- right now working some pretty goofy hours -- other days feel like only a few minutes have passed."  The nice thing about food is that it's a team event, you're all working together.  I've got some good guys in the kitchen now and they're working hard.  To be the Chef and to have your team working... with your thoughts... is a great feeling." 

Carmelized Roasted BananaEschewing much of his past background with Italian cuisine, D'Avico has developed a unique menu that is "Fresh American"; selections are comprised of what he can obtain fresh from local and regional farmers.  "There are lots of seasons to cooking, and being able to utilize the bounties that come through... it's always a fun thing to do"  And do it he does, with a flair with which many chefs are not only unfamiliar, but uncomfortable.  When asked about his forte, the Chef just smiled and said he loves saut�.  "Just give me twelve burners, a bunch of pans and get outta my way!"  Those who have enjoyed dinner at Bistro One West have seen the Chef's saut� creations and know exactly what he means -- from pan to plate to palate, the results are exquisite.

As a final question, I simply wanted to know if Chef D'Avico had any final thoughts to share.  His answer came as easily as the menu ideas seem to flow from his head:  "I like what I do.  I like where I'm doing it.  I just want people to be able to have a nice, comfortable place to go where they can relax and have a great meal with great value.  I think that's what we have here."

From where I sit, that's exactly what Chef D'Avico and Bistro One West have; they should be there enjoying the view for a long, long time.

Please Note: Bisto One West is now closed.

 

 

 

 

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