Chef Frank Mnuk joins Pensiero Ristorante; defects from Bistro Bordeaux
Is Evanston big enough for its two most classic—and what some may consider best—restaurants? The answer always seemed to be yes. But today's news may change that: Frank Mnuk, the former Executive Chef at Bistro Bordeaux, has taken the Executive Chef job at Pensiero Ristorante.
The shift happened abruptly, but Pascal Berthoumieux, Bistro Bordeaux's owner, says that he and Mnuk parted on good terms, despite some lingering feelings of disappointment.
"Frank is a very talented guy. I was the one who thought he was ready for the Executive Chef position. In this industry, you move from one place to another pretty quickly. [But] when you get an Executive Chef position, in my mind, the situation changes...in my experience, [an Executive Chef] has to stay in one place for a while...I was upset because I thought it was too fast...I didn't approve."
Still, Berthoumieux says, "I wish Frank a lot of luck. I know he's going to be a great chef."
Mnuk characterizes his time at Bistro Bordeaux as "an awesome, awesome time—that place was great." But "I saw this opportunity and I went after it."
"[Bistro Bordeaux] was my first Executive Chef job," Mnuk continued. "[But] I'm still a cook. I'm still a businessman, too...it was a hard decision to make, but I had to make one. It might seem selfish, but I had to do what I had to do. I'm young, you know?"
(For the record, Mnuk is 27 years old.)
Pensiero only opened this summer (it is a revamped version of the Evanston stalwart Va Pensiero), but it has already had it's share of chef drama. In September, Chicago Magazine reported that Christian Fantoni, Pensiero's somewhat-hyped chef, had left the restaurant after just a few weeks and was joining Portillo's.
Mnuk says he isn't phased by Fantoni's short stint. He was attracted to Pensiero, he says, because "Italian cooking, it's got a really old tradition, and that's what I love about food." He plans to keep things at Pensiero traditional Italian but incorporate "modern plating and modern techniques." (For example, he wants to add an antipasti plate, but he plans to make the charcuterie in-house.) His first night on the job will be tomorrow; he expects to have several new dishes on the menu by next week.
Over at Bistro Bordeaux, Tim Vidrio, Mnuk's former sous chef, has been promoted to the Executive Chef role. "I'm super happy for Tim," Mnuk says. Berthoumieux is also hiring other chefs to help out at Bordeaux as well as prepare for his next restaurant venture. "I want to come back to Lincoln Park," Berthoumieux says about his next restaurant. "Somehow, it's the desert now...I have a space in mind...if everything goes well, I'm hoping to sign the lease at the end of next year."
He wouldn't give any other details about the place, other than to say that it would be "completely different" from Bistro Bordeaux.
("Oh, so, like, Chinese food?" I asked. "Not that different," Berthoumieux said.)
"This is the end of a chapter," Berthoumieux said. "And the beginning of a new one."