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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.