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Intro Chicago spotlights next-gen culinary talent

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Chefs with a killer menu or restaurant concept but no clue how to bring it to life now have a way to test the waters in a serious way: a chef-in-residence gig at Intro. The project is the brainchild of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises founder Rich Melman and chef/partner Matthew Kirkley, who helmed the kitchen at the two-Michelin starred (now shuttered) L2O in Chicago.

How will it work? Located in the former L2O space, Intro will host an ever-changing program of chefs-in-residence who will spend two to three months working with Melman and other LEYE partners to create a concept that reflects their own style. The visiting chefs will have full license to make Intro their own, from the menu conception to the music, atmosphere and style of service.

The ever-evolving restaurant will be open to the public, with diners buying tickets at the website using the Tock platform. Depending on the menu, ticket prices are expected to range from $65-$95, not including tax, gratuity and optional pairings. Intro’s Twitter account will provide updates as the concept and prices change.

Intro has four goals: to introduce Chicago to new talent, introduce new chefs to a balanced way of running a business, introduce the LEYE kitchen and service staff to up-and-coming chefs/entrepreneurs and introduce LEYE to new talent. The chefs-in-residence will have a priceless showcase to demonstrate what they can do both for potential guests as well as investors and business partners—including LEYE itself.

Visiting chefs will collect a small salary and a percentage of the profits. “What we’re trying to do is mimic what it’s like to be in business, and the way it works is if you are just open and taking a gigantic salary, generally that doesn’’t work,” Melman observes.

Melman says he sees Intro as a true partnership between Lettuce and the visiting chefs. “They will work with us every step of the way, have a financial partnership stake in the concept they create and if they go on to open a restaurant of their own, they will have Lettuce senior partners as mentors.”

Intro formalizes a process that has been ongoing at LEYE. “The truth is, LEYE is a school for entrepreneurs,” Melman says. “I can’t tell you how many people have gone through the organization and gone into business for themselves. And I kind of enjoy that.”

Melman knows there is a need for some practical training for chefs. “Generally speaking,” he says, “the more artistic chefs usually are not as good at business.” He thinks exposing them to the LEYE system will help them understand how to succeed.

First up at Intro is Top Chef alum CJ Jacobson, who is already executive chef at Girasol in Studio City, CA. His guest-chef stint is expected to begin Feb. 4.

For future spots at Intro, the LEYE team is scouting the potential candidates and fielding inquiries. The requirements are straightforward.

“We want people with great talent who we like and think we can work with,” Melman says. “It’s easier to work with people if you like them."

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