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Chef Battle: Paul Virant

Chef Paul Virant grew up on a farm outside of St. Louis with a rather industrious mother. To make his favorite dish, chicken and dumplings, she would break down a whole chicken, slow cook all the parts, then add a biscuit dough to poach in the broth.

Eating that dish often, surrounded by family, inspired Virant to become a chef, he said.

Now Virant runs two restaurants, has earned a Michelin star, and is author of The Preservation Kitchen — a cookbook guide to “pickles, preserves and aigroux-doux.” He said his commitment to using preserves sets him apart from other chefs.

Like many modern chefs, Virant is focused on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Preservation comes in “to sort of build a larder of products that will be out of season that now you still have access to,” Virant said. “I loved all the fermented stuff: the pickles and the relishes and the chutneys. Those flavors that add brightness, adds a little acidity that helps balance out the richness of the dish.” 

Though Virant said his main motivation now is his customer’s gratification, he’s no stranger to competition.

“It’s always a competition whether it’s official or not.” Virant said. “This one’s official; I’m excited about it.” he said of the Chicago Chef Battle. As a former contestant on Iron Chef America, he should prove a force to reckon with at the event.

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