Giant Cheetos puff-up bar menu at art-inspired, Michelin-starred Esmé in Chicago’s Lincoln Park

CHICAGO– The whirring sound of grain exploding under pressure isn’t what you’d expect in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but at Lincoln Park’s Esmé, chef Jenner Tomaska ​​says it’s crucial to pick up a house favorite bring the bar menu: Flamin’ Hot Cheeto.

“A friend helped me build the machine,” says Tomaska. “It’s basically this extruder attached to a flywheel with a 10 horsepower motor.”

Standing 3 feet tall, Flamin’ Hot Cheeto comes to the table in a bouquet and is seasoned with home-fermented peppers and cheddar cheese. The dish is indicative of Tomaska’s witty and whimsical approach to fine dining, as well as his appreciation for art.

“Tasting menus and art can be intimidating, but this space isn’t about that,” says Tomaska. “It’s very inviting and welcoming, and that’s what we’re trying to convey with the food and the experience.”

Esmé’s menu changes quarterly to match the art installed in the restaurant. Last winter’s first featured artist, Chicago photographer Paul Octavious, describes the experience of his photos interpreted through food as stunning.

“Not only can you look at it, you can eat it,” Octavious said. “You eat in a place that has a Michelin star and is like a museum.”

Tomaska ​​describes Esmé’s current tasting menu as childish and nostalgic because it’s about empowering children. The dishes, inspired by the artists Griffin Goodman and Zelene Schlossberg, are colorful and playful.

“We’re currently working with Kitchen Possible, a programming group for young people,” Tomaska ​​said. “A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales goes back to this foundation.”

Standout dishes on the current menu include a piece of cod dressed with corn chips to look like corn on the cob called “Resourcefulness” and a multicolored fruit-flavored drink served with crazy glass straws. Tomaska ​​says guests don’t need to be trained in food or art to connect with the experience at Esmé.

“I think it’s a little intimidating to put myself on a blank canvas,” Tomaska ​​said. “For me, the fun part of it is the connection with others and especially in the arts; how they get from point A to point B in their craft is inspiring and also very relatable.”

For more information on Esme, see Giant Cheetos puff-up bar menu at art-inspired, Michelin-starred Esmé in Chicago’s Lincoln Park

Laura Coffey

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