After 'Hell's Kitchen,' Wheaton Chef's Focus is Local, Sustainable Food
Chef Patrick Cassata has overhauled The Bank Restaurant menu with local, sustainable and socially responsible foods at lower prices after his run on Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" and work at the award-winning dining program at Wheaton College.
He's revamped the menu to feature meals with local, sustainable products at almost half the price, with 14 lunch choices under $10 and 11 dinner entrees for $15 or less.
In a conversation with Patch, Cassata mentioned a few of the dishes, including his top seller: Hawaiian Style Arctic Char. Part of the seafood watch program, char is in the salmon family and looks and tastes just like salmon, Cassata said.
The dish is served with Hawaiian purple sweet potatoes, which are a "velvety purple" color, high in potassium and "ultra sweet." It’s then topped with a sesame soy glaze.
"People absolutely love it," he said.
Now, fresh from his run on Hell's Kitchen, Cassata is excited about The Bank's new menu and cooking with local, socially responsible products for the community.
Wheaton Patch: You were the chef when The Bank first opened in 2007. What made you decide to return?
Patrick Cassata: On Hell’s Kitchen, you have an opportunity to do more with your career and build on that. At Wheaton College, that wasn’t really going to be an opportunity for me. There’s nowhere for people to come and eat my food… let alone the opportunities that happen outside of where you work.
I also wanted to get back into cooking. I really like the restaurant side of cooking—for people individually, and taking what I’ve done at Wheaton college and bringing it right here to a restaurant where it’s all focused on local food, as well as sustainable seafood and being socially responsible with our choices.
Patch: What was it like to be on Hell’s Kitchen? What did you take from the experience?
Cassata: It was awesome—it was crazy. It was an absolute blast. Chef Gordon Ramsey was intense and intimidating, but he was great to be around. As much as he beat us all up, in the end he’s a good guy.
It changed me, because it made me realize that I really enjoy what I do. I want to take it to the next level and talk about it—the sustainability issue. I’ve always had it in me—but these last three years has made it so much more of who I am as a chef.
Patch: You’ve totally overhauled the menu here, with local foods and lower prices. Tell us about it.
Cassata: Everything here—our cheese, our charcuterie, all of our proteins, including the shrimp, are all from within Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. And everything else is bought regionally—even our flour is organic flour from North Dakota.
On the back side of the menu, we've listed all of our farmers.
All of our meat, for instance, is from Heartland Meats, which is American Humane certified beef... it's leaner, so it's better for you.
(The menu) also gives you (information about) the Seafood Watch Program, and why we've followed it... Our bread is from Z Baking out of Morton Grove. There are no preservatives—It's all natural, old school breadmaking.
Patch: Why local—and why the lower prices?
Cassata: Most times, when you hear the words ‘local, organic, (and) the green movement’—you think ‘wow that’s going to be expensive.’
The reality is: it doesn’t have to be, if you do it correctly.
This is a community. And when you go to these farms and you see these farmers, they’re really involved in their community. Everybody helps each other out—everybody’s got each other’s backs.
In a town like Wheaton, I feel like I am part of this community… I've been here for five years working in this town. I wanted to bring this great local food to this community at a family friendly price, because they were just way overpriced (at The Bank).
This is bigger than just The Bank Restaurant. ...We’re trying to take a stand for social responsibility and sustainability and say ‘this can be affordable—and it is affordable.’
When you go and meet these folks, and you see their farms and you eat with them and you watch their kids washing and cleaning... you get an appreciation for it. There’s a lot of hard work involved.
Patch: What kind of feedback have you heard since changing the menu?
Cassata: We’ve had people here three times a week. The feedback has been absolutely positive.
(Once customers start to see explanations of where their food is coming from on the back of the menu, they’ll really start to learn about using sustainable products.)
Education for all of us is the important thing… I was educated in socially responsible and sustainable eating. Now it’s my job to pay that forward.
Patch: The local products are more expensive—and you've practically cut prices in half. How are you going to make this work?
Cassata: You've got to push it. It’s really, really good food. The menu is outstanding. The feedback has been tremendous ... I crunched all the numbers before we did those prices … and I went for the absolute rock bottom that I needed to. Once the information gets out, and people come in and eat it—they’ll see they’re getting this phenomenal local meal at a really reasonable price, it’s going to catch on and we'll get busy.
Cassata also mentioned the T.O.M. Pork Chop ($17), a 12 oz. center-cut Twin Oaks pork chop with a T&J free range fried egg, mashed cauliflower and navy bean puree; the Fried T&J Free Range Chicken ($15), a free range pastured chicken coated and fried in seasoned breading, creamy mashed potatoes, chicken gravy and Bank slaw; and the Hell's Kitchen t asting menu ($45) a three-course dinner of seared scallops, shrimp risotto and beef wellington.