Stroll down Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue near Millennium Park, and it’s impossible to miss the area’s culinary anchor—300-seat gastropub The Gage, and its next-door neighbor and upscale-French sister restaurant, Henri.
The culinary success of both establishments can be attributed to Chef Dirk Flanigan, the 2011 StarChefs “Rising Star” award winner whose long list of critical acclaim includes “excellent” three-star ratings and “Best New Restaurant” from the Chicago Tribune.
So far, Chef Dirk’s had a busy year. With the success of Henri and The Gage firmly under his belt, he departed the restaurants in January. In February, he headed Down Under for an Australian Red Meat paddock to plate tour with Meat & Livestock Australia, Plate Magazine and the International Corporate Chefs Association. These days, Chef Dirk’s getting ready to kick off the next chapter in his exciting career—his own restaurant, a French-Italian concept called Il Coniglio. He’ll continue to showcase his “refined rusticity” style, and put his classical training and constant desire for innovation to good use.
We recently caught up with Chef Dirk to talk about Australian Lamb, his cooking philosophy and approach to sustainability, and any tips he’d offer for bringing sustainability and Australian Lamb into your home kitchen.
The Aussie Difference
“I was blown away by how green it is,” said Chef Dirk, of his trip to Australia, where he spent lots of time in SUVs visiting many of the country’s farms, including Ray Vella’s family-owned, 18,000-acre ranch at Bald Hills, in Marlborough, Queensland. “You hear the term ‘grass-fed,’ and here, it’s like really, really grass-fed.” Another thing that impressed him was the time-tested nature of sustainable Australian farming practices, aimed at making smart use of farming byproducts and minimizing waste.
Consider the Source
Beyond meeting farmers on his travels, Chef Dirk has made relationships with his product suppliers a priority throughout his career. “My relationships with some of my purveyors stretch back more than 20 years… to the point that some of them are now retiring and introducing me to their replacements.” Chef cites these close relationships and the ability to rely on high-quality products as being among the reasons for his success—and suggests that knowing where one’s food comes from is an important component of sustainability for the home cook.
Beyond the Chop
“I cook with a sustainable approach because that’s how I think,” says Chef Dirk. For chefs and home cooks alike, another way to maximize sustainable eating is to look beyond common lamb cuts like rack of lamb. “Using more economical or less common cuts of meat is an important component of sustainability,” says Chef. One dish recommendation: a savory Australian Lamb Navarin, a lamb shoulder stew.
Tip to Try
Many less common lamb cuts, like lamb shoulder, reward with marinating time. If the weather or your schedule aren’t ideal for a BBQ, Chef suggests that you can still create a grill-like flavor with one of his favorite Australian Lamb seasonings: charred herbs. Bruise or lightly crush a few sprigs of rosemary (to release their oils), then lightly char them over a gas burner. Add the charred herbs to a foodsaver bag with garlic and olive oil and marinate. The cooked Australian Lamb will offer a bewitching, smoky essence, and taste great as leftovers.
Read more about Chef Dirk Flanigan here.