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Chef lifts retirement community food to new level

September 20, 2014

Oscar Leon is the chef at the Merion, a luxury retirement community in Evanston.
 

How did you start cooking?
 

I started cooking with my mother — she worked in a cafeteria and she used to take me when I was little.
 

Years cooking? I’m an executive chef and have been for eight years.
 

What made you decide to become a professional chef? It’s something that I really liked, from the beginning. I didn’t see myself doing something that I didn’t enjoy or have passion for. I went to St. Augustine College and took cook’s training and then transferred to Cordon Bleu in Chicago, where I finished my culinary degree.
 

Best skill you learned in school?
 

Baking was the best that I learned — pretty much everything else I was familiar with already, because I was cooking at the same time I went to school.
 

Signature dish?
 

I have a tenderloin filet served with potatoes — a croquette potato in the shape of a pear. And I do a truffle butter sauce — that’s my signature plate at the Merion.
 

Favorite cuisine to make?
 

I really like to practice everything. I have a big background in French food, because I’ve worked in a couple of bistros, but I like pretty much everything: Asian, Italian. Not one in particular.
 

What do you like to eat at home?
 

My wife cooks for my kids and I like to share with them —whatever mommy has for them, that’s what I eat.
 

Worthwhile gadget?
 

A combi-oven — it’s a steamer, a convection oven, or both. It’s a really, really good tool.
 

Favorite fruit or vegetable?
 

I grew up in the Caribbean, so papaya, mango, those are my favorites.
 

Least favorite food:
 

It’s liver. But I do cook it —it’s not my favorite.
 

Proudest of:
 

When I got a new position and I put everyone together and everybody gets together and respects together — and everybody works as a team. That’s what I’m proud of.
 

Most memorable kitchen incident?
 

One day we forgot to set up the pasta machine, so when people started calling orders, nothing was working, there were a lot of people in the kitchen, but no one noticed. That was kind of exciting.
 

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“I have a big background in French food, because I’ve worked in a couple of bistros, but I like pretty much everything: Asian, Italian.” | Oscar Leon

——
 

Merion Citrus Salad
 

In a bowl combine: 6 ounces spinach cut into a chiffonade, 4 grapefruit sections, 4 orange sections, 3 cubed strawberries, ¼ cooked and cubed pear squash, 1 ounce goat cheese and 2 ounces raspberry pomegranate vinaigrette. Mix together. Arrange remaining ingredients: 4 grapefruit sections, 4 orange sections, 2 cubed strawberries, ¼ cooked and cubed pear squash and 1 ounce goat cheese on top. Drizzle with 1 ounce of raspberry pomegranate vinaigrette to finish.
 

https://issuu.com/jwcmedia/docs/tnsw102_east

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