A Proper Introduction

Hamachi Sashimi from Chef Stephen Gillanders.
Hamachi Sashimi from Chef Stephen Gillanders. Anjali Pinto

At LEYE’s most surprising concept yet, visiting chefs, mixologists, and other culinary professionals turn out contemporary hits in a fine-dining setting.

Owner: Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Location: Chicago
Description: Rich Melman’s innovative concept provides a prime-time stage for up-and-coming chefs across the country.
Opened: February 2015

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises founder Rich Melman refers to himself as “part artist.” In that case, it would be difficult to find a more appropriate culinary canvas than the powerhouse company’s rotating-chef concept Intro, which debuted in February 2015 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area.

“Intro has been a lot of fun for me, and it has worked out well for Lettuce,” says Melman, founder and chairman of Chicago-based LEYE, a privately held restaurant company with about 90 restaurants, 40 of which are in the Windy City.

“I thought it would be very interesting to introduce new talent to Chicago,” he adds. “We wanted to bring these young chefs in and teach them our methodologies. They become our partners for three months. That was the start of the whole thing.”

During the first year of operation, four chefs were given the opportunity to redesign Intro’s 90-seat, finely appointed space, its music, menu, and even the uniforms. The restaurant would close for a week between guest chefs to accommodate the changes. Unsurprisingly, the recurring opening costs cut into profitability. 

“For the first month and a half of a chef’s time with us we didn’t make any money because we spent it all on opening costs,” Melman explains. “So I decided to make some changes.”

One of those changes came toward the end of year one when LEYE named Stephen Gillanders, then current chef-in-residence, to the position of executive chef/partner and made his à la carte menu a permanent fixture at Intro. The chef's program will continue, featuring a tasting menu that will also be available to guests in addition to the à la carte items. 

Before his October arrival at Intro, Gillanders worked with renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Jean-Georges Management in New York City, where he oversaw nine restaurants.“What surprised me most about Intro is the outpouring of support that I received as an in-residence chef,” Chef Gillanders says. “I was in shock at the staff’s work ethic and passion for cooking. Now, as I move forward, the idea of working with four different chefs creating four different restaurants every year is another opportunity for an unparalleled learning experience.”

Aside from Gillanders, two of the three other first-year chefs-in-residence are now also employees in the LEYE system—one in Chicago and another in Minnesota. Jessica Largey, who won the 2015 James Beard: Rising Star Chef of the Year for her work at Manresa in Northern California, became Intro’s fifth chef-in-residence in February. 

Sue Kim, general manager and partner for Intro, agrees Intro’s structure is unlike anything else she’s witnessed in her restaurant career, which includes seven years with the LEYE group.




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