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Chefjw.com :: Biography :: (2) Cutting edge cuisine from a chef critic's call 'imaginative'

Cutting edge cuisine from a chef the critics call 'imaginative'
Like a modern-day Marco Polo, executive Chef James Wierzelewski has traveled the world in search of gustatory excellence. But instead of peppers and nutmeg, Chef Wierzelewski's journeys on the legendary spice route have yielded riches of another kind - a priceless training in diverse culinary traditions.

With years of experience working in London and throughout Europe, Thailand, Malaysia, Micronesia and the United States, Chef Wierzelewski brings a truly global perspective to his dynamic culinary creations.

Beyond nourishment and entertainment, food is also an emotional trigger. This emotional aspect is what Chef Wierzelewski taps into with his signature creations at Aria, his casual restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel, Chicago. The restaurant's tagline says it all: "Culturally inspired. Comfortably American." "The menu is all about 'new takes' on comfort foods from around the world," Chef Wierzelewski says.

The Chicago Sun-Times termed Aria "a virtual culinary United Nations" and described the food as "interesting and innovative." The Chicago Tribune called Chef Wierzelewski, "a chef with the skill and imagination to give this hotel restaurant a prominent spot on the foodie radar."

Chef gingerly pulls fresh-baked naan from a traditional tandoori oven. He offers diners this Indian-style bread with several different sauces as part of the dining experience at Aria.

Every dish is rooted in traditional flavors and cooking techniques - triggering a guest's food memory - which is then enhanced by adding layers of complimentary flavors. For example, his "French onion soup with Normandy's twist on tradition" adds apples, a port wine reduction and Camembert cheese to the French classic.

"I stayed at a farmhouse in Normandy, which is a huge apple-producing region, and the woman who owned the home made her onion soup with grated apples," Chef Wierzelewski says. "Port wine is traditionally added to the stock, but I use a port reduction instead. It's a sweet contrast to the rich cheese and crisp apples. I also use Camembert cheese instead of the traditional Gruyere because all the farmers in Normandy make Camembert - they love to argue about who makes it best." The Chicago Sun-Times called it "a soup that is running at full throttle when it comes to flavor."

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© James Wierzewlewski 2010