Guildhall — an upscale restaurant in downtown Glencoe — opened it's doors last month to rave reviews.
"Can I tell you how happy I am that Guildhall has opened in Glencoe," Yelp user Alex B. said on the user-review website, giving the restaurant five out of five stars. "Finally, a city-worthy dining destination here in my backyard."
Yelper Jody B. echoed the same sentiment, giving it five out of five stars.
"Ok... maybe I'm giving it 5 stars (instead of 4) because there hasn't been a place this good to go for dinner in Glencoe in the past 20 years! Or, ok, maybe NEVER!" said Yelper Jody B.
Christian Ragano, the executive chef at Guildhall, is largely behind those rave reviews, with a menu that blends both simplicity and creativity.
"We make things like homemade pastas with simple preparations and we have a simple roasted half chicken," Ragano said. "I'm not saying people here have siple tastes. But our menu could go either way, so we do feel we're broad enough to appeal to a variety of people."
Ragano became interested in cooking after his dad opened a restaurant in his home state of New York.
"My father was an attorney and I thought that I'd take over the family business," he said. "I started studying political science and law, and I absolutely hated it."
In the meantime, Ragano's father purchased a restaurant and Ragano found that he liked spending time there. He stated out working as a busboy in the front of the house before getting transferred to the kitchen.
"The restaurant failed, but I started to work in other restaurants," he said.
He took a job at Tuscany, which was the highest Zagat-rated restaurant on Long Island.
"They had these really fancy plates, and I wanted to learn to make plates that looked like that."
On a whim, his best friend and him went to visit the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), which he fell in love with. He applied and was accepted.
"In culinary school, you learn the basic skills and the foundation to cooking, as well as about different international foods," he explained.
At CIA, Ragano developed an interest in French cooking, and spent eleven out of his thirteen years in restaurants working in French kitchens.
"French restaurants are definitely different," he said. "There's a definite hierarchy. It's very disciplined. I worked for one screamer, but he taught me a lot about food."
From downtown New York City to downtown Glencoe
Ragano has previously worked at the NoMI in the Park Hyatt and at Tru in Chicago, and was most recently the executive chef for New York Central at the Grand Hyatt in New York.
"[Working in Glencoe] doesn't differ that much from working in hotels," Ragano explained. "You have to try to accommodate every guest as best as you can and you have to offer options."
Guildhall is also very family-oriented, which differs from some restaurants in more urban settings. In fact, Guildhall even offers a kids menu, featuring an upscale take on some kid-friendly favorites. (Such as Mac & Cheese with elbow macaroni, parmesan, Gruyere and garlic breadcrumbs, and Market Fish 'n 'Chipss' — cornmeal and buttermilk-battered chips with lemon aioli, English peas and kale chips.)
14+ Hours Per Day, Seven Days Per Week
But starting a new restaurant, unsurprisingly, doesn't leave Ragano with a lot of free time.
"I'm walking in the door around 8 or 9," he said "I start writing prep lists and ordering for the next day. I prep the cooks at 9 a.m. Then, me and my sous chef do the butchery in house — we bring it in whole. Then we brine the chicken and the pork chops. We take a few breaks to help the cooks and make sure everything is going correctly."
The staff has a "family meal" at 4:30, with service beginning at 5 p.m.
"We go through the service and then service wraps at 10 or 11. We clean up the kitchen and go home...and we do that seven days a week," he said.
When he's not working, Ragano spends time with his three-year-old daughter who already loves baking cookies.
"Her mom's a chef as well," Ragano said. "She's at home now, but she'll be starting as a chef instructor at the French Pastry School."
While Guildhall is still relatively new, the restaurant is already thinking up new ideas to try in the future, including a weekend brunch, pairing up with different brewers and mixologists and even opening another restaurant in Hubbard Woods.
"It's going to be a surprise!" Ragano said when asked about the plans for the Winnetka restaurant.
Guildhall is open Mondays through Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, visit their website here.