The other naked chef: Graham Elliot Bowles
Fresh off his appearance on Top Chef Masters, Graham Elliot Bowles, the much-lauded chef/owner of Chicago’s Graham Elliot restaurant, is preparing to cook for a very different crowd: the revelers and performers at Lollapalooza, running August 7 through 9 in that city’s Grant Park. The oversized, heavily tattooed 32-year-old who’s known for serving culinarily sacrilegious combinations like foie gras and Pop Rocks chatted with us about his food philosophy (and bravely shared a couple of recent photos).
What’s your plan for Lollapalooza?
We’re going to have a booth serving things like lobster corn dogs, truffle parmesan popcorn and buffalo wings with micro celery, blue cheese foam and PBR bubbles. And then on the last night of the festival our restaurant will be cooking for Jane’s Addiction.
You’re a musician yourself, right?
I play guitar. I do record some of my own music and play it in the dining room but it’s never, like, announced. It’s always intermingled with other songs. I always say if you hear some really sad and depressing Morrissey-sounding shit at the restaurant it’s probably mine.
What was Top Chef Masters like?
I was nervous. I don’t want to speak for any of the other chefs but I think we were all a little scared that somehow we would come across looking poorly but it was a great time and I couldn’t ask for anyone better to be paired with than Wylie Dufresne.
There’s a short film of you online called Made in Merka which ends with a close-up of you in a g-string. What was that about?
We were asked to submit a movie for a film festival and I thought it might be 20 people seeing this thing but it was held in a huge theatre with, like, 500 people and I was mortified. But I will say we like to do things a little differently around here. This Monday I’m going to be a guest bartender at a place called Pops for Champagne and my sous chef and I are going to dress up as Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze from the Saturday Night Live Chippendales sketch.
So clearly you’re comfortable taking off your clothes in public.
If needed. We’ll do whatever it takes.
Where do you like to eat in Chicago?
On the high end, my favorite place is Alinea. I’m a huge fan of Grant Achatz. I also love Hot Dougs, Black Bird, Urban Belly and Avec.
Any culinary guilty pleasures?
I love ramen noodles, Cheez-its, candy… all the stuff that’s just bad for you, nothing organic or local or sustainable or anything like that.
And you work some of that junk into the food at your restaurant too, right?
We like to kind of laugh at that whole idea of “We just use the most seasonal, farm fresh stuff.” Everybody uses that stuff. Try something different. I’ve always viewed cooking as an art and so I look to someone like Andy Warhol making art out of soup cans and sort of mocking the whole art world in the process. I don’t think it’s any different putting Cheezits and Pop Rocks into a dish and charging $20 for it and having people say, “You’re a genius!”
So does the sacrosanct Alice Waters wing of the food world annoy you then?
Oh yeah! The soapbox kind of thing…Everybody has their own issues that motivate them through life. I’m very much into politics and everything that comes with that. But once it turns into preaching, I’m not a big fan.
Photos: top, Bill Milne; in costume, Jim Colombo.