The rehabbed City Hospital power plant lights up with a dream team of chefs.
Every chef worth his toque has a menu’s worth of ideas under that tall white hat, waiting for the right time and place to give them a try. Sometimes these musings get tossed around for years, jotted in notebooks or drawn on napkins, hashed out over an after-hours beer. Sometimes the resulting dish is a revelation. Other times it’s totally scrapped. At Element, Executive Chef Brian Hardesty and four of his chef colleagues—Jerrid Scholten, Chris DiMercurio, Michael Foley and Sam Boettler— kick this process into overdrive. They collaborate every week to critique, revise and refine. Contrary to the old proverb about too many cooks spoiling the broth, Hardesty lives by the mantra of power in numbers.
Periodic Table Like chemical elements, food ingredients are perfectly fine in their pure form, but it’s the combinations that get really interesting. Since Element’s September opening, the flavor profiles featured on its menu have been vast: tangy house-made pickles, venison with root vegetables and grapes, chipotle lobster, scallops with chorizo and watermelon, coffee crème brulee. The fried chicken is a case in point with its notes of chili, burnt honey and duck fat. A side of Napa cabbage slaw cuts the chicken’s potentially overwhelming richness, and voila—before you know it, you’ve eaten all three pieces and every scrap of cabbage. Although local and seasonal ingredients are high on Element’s agenda, unmistakable international and regional influences bubble up in almost every dish. Hardesty says he wants his chefs to have the freedom to explore, and it’s clear that they do. That freedom takes the form of creations like goat loin with harissa; beef cheek with celery, lime, chili and mint; and duck confit with molasses, grits, collard greens and red-eye gravy. Oh, to be a fly on the wall while the culinary team debated the merits of petit ice plant, black garlic or mizuna. Or, even better, the components of the Dirty Elvis: banana bread, peanut butter ice cream, candied bacon and bourbon caramel.
Liquid Matter Element’s third-floor lounge and terrace offer a new perspective on Downtown, as well as craft cocktails. Beverage director Meghan French may not have four high-profile mixologists to draw upon each week, but her team has just as much fun debating the merits of absinthe as a mixer—as in the heavy-hitting Royal Baby, alongside rye, cassis, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, or the refreshing Savoy 75, with gin, lemon, mint and sparkling wine. Element isn’t trying to be a destination for wine or beer; its lists are balanced, if not expansive. The beer list, for instance, hits on some favorites from local microbreweries, supported by standbys from the Anheuser-Busch InBev portfolio, such as Goose Island. Culinary teams often join forces on onetime- only meals, but to extend that creativity into a successful business plan—in the volatile restaurant industry, no less—is an interesting endeavor. Hardesty, a longtime industry veteran who co-owns the popular Guerrilla Street Food truck and recently kicked off a fundraising campaign for a new Filipino restaurant, has also dealt with frustrations like his short-lived venture, Root. He has the perspective and guts to mix elements and see what happens. And we have the pleasure of watching his new compounds react.