The National Restaurant Association Show is one of my favorite events of the year. Why? We get to celebrate amazing chefs, restaurants and innovation in the culinary space.
Plant-based foods are booming, and of course, Big Star, one of Chicago’s most popular taco eateries, is teaming up with MorningStar Farms®. I had the pleasure to interview Chef Paul Kahan, Chef and Partner at One Off Hospitality Group, who owns Big Star, and Nation’s Restaurant News “MenuMasters Innovator of the Year” and Three-Time James Beard Award-Winning Chef.
Here’s our Q&A:
Why did you decide to partner with MorningStar Farms® for the vegetarian option at Big Star?
MorningStar Farms® offers more than just plant-based protein burgers to Chefs. They have a versatile product portfolio with 26 menu items making them a great culinary partner. We chose the MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Crumbles for the MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Taco recipe because it is a really flavorful plant-based protein product with great texture that’s easy to work with – even for cooks at home, too.
What’s on the plant-based taco? Is it completely vegan?
The MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Taco is a plant-based taco that is unique because of the flavor and texture of the MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Crumbles. Using this product as the foundation of the recipe made it easy for us to create a menu item that is really delicious. The MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Taco features the MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Crumbles and includes pasilla salsa, frijoles charros, Oaxacan crema, green onions, and cilantro wrapped in Big Star’s fresh, house-made tortillas. The taco can be made vegan by removing the crema.
Do you have plans to add more plant-based menu items at Big Star or any of One Off Hospitality Group’s other locations?
We currently offer four other vegetarian items at Big Star. I’m a working Chef and obsessed with menu innovation, so we are always open to culinary collaborations and expanding our plant-based menu selection with items that will accommodate both meat- and veggie-lovers alike.
What’s your prediction for plant-based menu items in the next 3 years?
At all of our restaurants, the desire to eat healthier food has been on the rise and is going to continue to grow. With the addition of the MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Taco being our fifth vegetarian item, we at Big Star know that they all sell very well. I think it’s going to continue to grow without a shadow of a doubt. With the success of plant-based brands like MorningStar Farms® and the overwhelming landslide success that the MorningStar Farms® Chorizo Taco is going to have is why I see it as a huge growth category.
Why is it important to have plant-based alternatives?
It’s important as a working Chef to deliver menu items that people love, so that they come back again and again. People want flavorful, plant-based menu items with great tastes and textures, and the products in the MorningStar Farms® portfolio make them a culinary go-to for Chefs looking to innovate and create signature dishes. It’s also more sustainable – in March 2019, MorningStar Farms® made a commitment to be 100 percent plant-based by the end of 2021.
What do you want to see change in the restaurant industry?
To be perfectly honest, our prime directive with our restaurant Blackbird, which we opened 22 years ago, was sustainability. So, we’ve lived that – we walk that walk. We’ve approached our industry from a charitable standpoint all along. A couple of other Chefs in Chicago and I started a program called Pilot Light. We’ve touched thousands upon thousands of kids with food-based curriculum. They learn about nutrition and what’s related to all the common core subjects in Chicago Public Schools, so that’s been very effective. We also want to give back and I think a smaller foot-print is one way of doing it. Certainly plant-based diet contributes to that.
What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
I interview tons of young chefs all the time. The first piece of advice and the first question I ask aspiring chefs is are you passionate about food? You need to really have a true passion for food. The second piece of advice I give for aspiring chefs is work hard. Because there’s no “ifs, ands, or buts” – being a chef is really, really hard work. The third piece of advice, which I would relate back to what I’m doing here at the National Restaurant Association Show with MorningStar Farms®, is trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Big Star is a bourbon- and tequila-focused, taco-slinging, late-night honky-tonk in the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park and Wrigleyville neighborhoods. Executive Chef Paul Kahan and Chef de Cuisine Chris Miller’s menu, inspired by authentic Mexican street food, is complemented by an extensive house-selected single barrel bourbon program. Located in Chicago’s classic Lakeview neighborhood, Big Star’s second location is just steps from Wrigley Field.