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