A Conversation With Chef Anthony Martin of Chicago's Tru
Chicago is home to the world-renowned restaurant Tru, a fine-dining experience nestled in an art-filled destination. The ambience is inviting and modern, as you dine surrounded by the works by Gerhard Richter, Peter Halley and Andy Warhol. The artistic creativity also flows elegantly from the kitchen. With precision and a passion for presentation, Tru inspires guests with sublimely delicious contemporary French cuisine.
Tru’s Executive Chef/Partner Anthony Martin recently spoke with Pursuitist and give us some insights into his history and creative process.
Christopher Parr: Please tell us a little about how your background in the visual arts informs and influences your work in the culinary arts.
Anthony Martin: I have always loved to draw and was planning on going to art school, but when I went to check the school out in Pittsburgh there happened to be a culinary school right next door and I was automatically enthralled. I still draw-by-hand all of my dishes as I am creating them. Having the artistic background allows me to view things from a different perspective, and to create from an aesthetic point of view as well.
CP: Is the Tru menu influenced by its Midwestern location? Specifically, in terms of available ingredients, cultural references or your own Ohio upbringing.
AM: The menu is only influenced by the Midwest in regards that it is more seasonal here than it is out west, like in Las Vegas. But the great thing about Chicago is that the restaurant scene is very open and you do not feel like you have to be tied to one style.
CP: You have an impressive display of contemporary art in the restaurant space. How does the Tru art collection affect the experience of the diner? Do you feel that there is a special relationship between contemporary art and your food, in contrast to artwork from other periods?
AM: The art collection at Tru is very contemporary and very visual and sets the tone for the evening. Guests realize they aren’t going to see basic presentations. My food is unique in style but with a classic foundation.
CP: The service at Tru is seamless, professional and warm. What does service mean at Tru?
AM: Great service is simply anticipating the guest’s needs before they are needed. It is making every guest comfortable. Anyone can pour water. We seek to make an impression.
CP: Magically floating bites, reefs of balanced caviar, fairy-like terrariums, tell us a little about your process of developing the presentation of your plates.
AM: Presentation is a passion and I look for ways to showcase ingredients in a natural way. Sometimes I will spot an ingredient or a serving piece and it automatically dictates what the dish is to be or how the ingredient will be used. I love the element of surprise. I created Levitation to wow our guests at the very beginning of their experience. It reflects the jumping off point of where their evening with us will take them and is the perfect metaphor for where I want to go as a chef– surprising, luxurious, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it and it hasn’t-been-done-before.
CP: What’s your earliest memory of creating something unique in the kitchen?
AM: My earliest memory is making really original and crazy pancakes with my mom, incorporating sausage, bacon and a multitude of other ingredients. I also used to make salads for her using various cereals as a foundation.
CP: What inspires you when creating and planning your meals?
AM: Nature. The changing of seasons direct both the use of ingredients and also the presentations at Tru. Currently, my English Pea Soup is inspired by fields of blooming lavender.
CP: What is exciting you in the kitchen right now?
AM: White asparagus ice cream.
CP: What, and where, do you eat on your night off in Chicago?
AM: Bub City, and I always order the BBQ Combo. It includes hot links, pulled pork, brisket, coleslaw and pickles.
Tru Reviewed: There is magic in the kitchen of Tru. The impression left after a visit to this Chicago restaurant is an experience of masterfully balanced contrasts. The serene, contemporary dining room eliminates distractions, while cooly preparing you to expect something special.
Executive Chef/Partner Anthony Martin certainly delivers. While there are fun moments of pure culinary showmanship, such as a levitating potato crisp topped with caviar and crème fraîche. The most lasting impression of the experience is the naturalistic exactitude of the presentation. Such care has been taken to build plates that delight the eye and prepare the appetite. Combining modern, precise techniques with organic forms and elements we are reminded that our food, no matter how skillfully and radically transformed by the kitchen is still a product of nature and that origin is respected and invoked in its presentation.
Beautifully composed, tiny glass orbs containing delicate, impeccable bites, suggesting a woodland terrarium. A glass slab balanced on a halved log holds a fragrant trio of Cervena venison, black trumpet faro and gooseberry puree. This, pared with a wine rich in leather, surrounds the senses with a warm, hunting lodge atmosphere: curious to experience in the clean modern space.
The flavors of the meal are fascinating in their complexity and subtlety. The mind and tastebuds are continually and playfully tested with contrasting textures: a crackling shell, a luxurious melt, a brittle airiness, a disappearing foam with lingering richness.
Compared to the bustling Alinea, the innovative Tru is a cozy, quiet fine-dining destination ideal for special occasions and private moments. Like our meal, the waitstaff at Tru is remarkable: personable, attentive and phenomenal.
Tru is Pursuitist Platinum.
676 N. St. Clair Street
Chicago, IL 60611