Time Out Market Chicago takes shape later this month by unveiling a full-service restaurant, a departure from the casual stalls that populate the three-year-old food hall. From two weeks, guests will be able to ascend to the second floor to reach Valhalla from SKY Chef Stephen Giillanders, a restaurant offering an 11-course tasting menu.
“It’s not forbidden,” says Giillanders. “It’s the best food I can do right now as my career progress so far.”
Vahalla will provide the food hall with its first premium option with table service. Reservations will be required through Tock for the 66-seater with a 14-seat chef’s counter that offers both a tasting menu and a la carte options. The hope is that the laid-back environment downstairs can attract curious customers who aren’t normally interested in fine dining.
Gillanders does not focus on any specific region or type of cuisine. Gillanders wants Valhalla to complete the Food Hall. If the venue is hosting an Octoberfest event, it can tap into its repertoire to serve a German dish or two to play around with the theme. But the restaurant is an independent entity. The opening menu will include plates like Japanese-style scallops with browned butter, bonito and enoki mushrooms, as well as smoked ricotta cappelletti with sea urchin, quail egg and nori tuile. But Gillanders isn’t looking to overload diners with exotic ingredients: “We don’t let the archaic insistence on luxurious ingredients take the place of things that are inherently better for certain things,” says Gillanders. If pork belly works better than foie gras, he says he feels no reason to use the latter.
There will be wine pairings, but no cocktails; Time Out does not want to cannibalize the business of other bars in the food hall. Desserts will arrive from SKY Pastry Chef Tatum Sinclair.
Vahalla also gives Gillanders the stage to cook something he’s never served: a Filipino dish. He says his mother wondered why he hadn’t embraced this side of his heritage on his menus, and although it’s not a traditional take, Gillanders will serve a less porrid version of arroz caldo, replacing the crab. royal by the traditional chicken.
The problem with Filipino cuisine for Gillanders was that he felt he could never cook versions up to his grandmother’s. But his confidence has grown and chefs like Tim Flores have challenged perceptions. Gillanders says he appreciates how Flores and pastry chef Genie Kwon “recognized how delicious and beautiful Filipino cuisine can be” by opening Kasama, the world’s only starred Filipino restaurant.
Time Out Market is near Michelin-starred restaurants like Ever by Curtis Duffy, Oriole by Noah Sandoval, and Smyth by John and Karen Shields, and Gillanders thinks Valhalla can shine just as well. The California native moved to Chicago and worked for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ Intro Chicago. It was to be a short stint in the Midwest, as he had long planned to return to the West Coast to open his dream restaurant. Before that, Gillanders also worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten for 10 years.
On the first floor of Time Out, patrons occasionally saw the restaurants’ top chefs associated with the food stalls. Gillanders wants to assure diners that he will be a staple in Valhalla. He has since delegated the chef duties at SKY and Apolonia to other staff members. Additionally, in August, he left his position as leader at Somerset in the Gold Coast, a gig he had been holding since September 2020. The departure, says Gillanders, shows how committed he is to Valhalla.
For Gillanders, Valhalla is in tune with food trends around the world. He notes that Geranium, ranked No. 1 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking, is in a football stadium in Copenhagen. He also mentions former Alinea chef Dave Beren’s restaurant in a Los Angeles strip mall. (Michelin awarded a star to Pasjoli). “Nobody in Chicago did that,” Gillanders says. “It’s all been traditional brick and mortar.”
Valhalla also marks the end of Time Out’s long journey to fill the vacant space on the second floor. The pandemic disrupted initial plans to host chef demos. With Fulton Market real estate priced high, it didn’t make financial sense to keep the area empty.
Gillanders is a chef who has come through a few bumps in the road. He was greeted by protesters in Pilsen who welcomed SKY to the neighborhood before the restaurant opened. There was also the recent controversy surrounding the Prix Jean Banchet. Apolonia in the South Loop faced a tough road on its April 2021 debut during the pandemic. But now comes a challenge he’s ready to take on: Valhalla will compete in the West Loop and Fulton Market, neighborhoods where esteemed chefs Stephanie Izard and Grant Achatz have dominated.
“I wasn’t looking to open another restaurant,” says Gillanders. “But Time Out approached me. Of course, when Time Out calls you, you take the time to listen to what they have to say.
Valhalla, on the second floor of Time Out Market, 916 W. Fulton Market, slated to open Sept. 21.
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