A STEAKHOUSE. A RAW BAR. A relaxed fine dining restaurant. A swanky two-story nightspot.

Or as Chicagoans know them, Swift & Sons, Cold Storage, Boka and the brand new Somerset. What do they have in common, aside from being part of the Boka Restaurant Group? Meg Galus, who has made desserts for all of them since joining Boka in 2015. With the opening of their latest restaurant, Somerset, she now runs the programs for both of chef Lee Wolen’s restaurants.

“It’s really cool to work with such different concepts because, creatively, it’s really challenging.” Galus’ excitement is infectious as she discusses the shifting of gears in her daily work. “At Cold Storage, we had classic ice cream sundaes that we had fun with, but it’s never something we’d serve at Boka. At Boka, we push the boundaries of flavor profiles and combinations. It’s more outside the box.”

Graziano prosciutto

Galus started her pastry career baking at Chicago’s Vanille Patisserie, but soon rose up the ranks in the fine dining kitchens of Tru and NoMi before joining the Boka Group. Being a pastry chef for just one restaurant, let alone two plus a hotel, can be a challenging task. Pastry chefs have to work within much tighter frameworks than executive chefs. “I don’t dictate the style of the restaurant,” Galus explains when discussing how she incorporates her style into the menu. “It’s more about balancing what the restaurant is supposed to be and what the team’s vision is.”

Boka Restaurant Group

Ice Cream Sundae, from Cold Storage

At Swift and Sons, Galus worked with Chef Chris Pandel within a traditional steakhouse structure. “It has more framework and expectations from our guests. We looked at what sold well and what our guests responded to.”

At Boka, Galus describes the menu-concept experience with Chef Lee Wolen as more organic. “Boka is more intimate and with less strict guidelines. So, it’s really about Lee’s vision and the team’s vision.”

Somerset, being a hotel, comes with a whole different set of challenges. “Talk about never turning off!” Galus exclaims. She recalls her time working at Sofitel after having spent five years working under pressures and stress at Tru.

“I call it my year of hotel boot camp,” she laughs. “The biggest thing for me was the culture shock that there is always another service just a few hours away.” At hotels, the chef is working with bigger, broader teams and attempting to create harmonious experiences across banquets, restaurants, and room service. “Logistically, it’s more challenging because people are working very different shifts. Sometimes we never even see each other. But it’s a lot of fun!”

Sabrina Medora

Dark milk chocolate with earl grey, sudachi, black lime, from Boka

At Somerset, Galus will be focusing on creating a full pastry experience across every customer touchpoint.

“We’re still nailing things down for the Somerset [dessert] menu but I’m super excited for the line of breakfast pastries—croissants, pan au chocolat, danishes, etc. We’ll also be making a line of custom chocolate bars for room amenities and VIP gifts for the restaurant. We’re working on the custom packaging right now.” Additionally, there will be specialty cakes and pastries for pick up.

With the wide variety of work Galus does across Chicago, she insists that “Guests shouldn’t go into these restaurants and think, ‘Oh, this is Meg Galus’ work.’ It should really make sense [within] the restaurant.”

While Galus does always successfully reflect the atmosphere of the restaurant in her work, making it unique to the space and not the person, there are small touches here and there that do reflect her signature.

HP

“I’ve got French training but Midwestern sensibilities,” she says proudly. “I’m a corn-fed Illinois girl that brings strong technique but a hint of nostalgia…My biggest pet peeve is not being able to identify what’s on a menu. Guests shouldn’t have to work too hard to find something they want to eat. Even with the most abstract menus, there should always be something on there that you can recognize.”

Boka’s latest desserts all reflect this mantra of recognition with extreme simplicity. Menu items include options such as ‘Rhubarb’ and ‘Dark Milk Chocolate’ but it’s never that simple. “I like to find something people can identify with and surprise them from there.”

Sabrina Medora

Rhubarb with goat’s milk, thai long pepper, mint, from Boka

It’s her creative sense of playful simplicity that garnered Galus attention including James Beard and Jean Banchet Awards recognition. Galus’ flexibility, tremendous leadership skills, and consistent ability to surprise and delight has not come without its share of challenges.

“Interpersonal dynamics when it comes to chef changes can be tough [because] pastry chefs are dependent on executive chefs,” Galus elaborates. “If there’s a new chef, it’s like a whole new work marriage to figure out. New directions on the menu. A new culture in the kitchen. Sometimes, there’s also the battle between savory and sweet or even front of house and back of house.”

While interpersonal relationships seem to be the most challenging non-cooking aspect, they also seem to be the most rewarding. “We all go through phases where we’re at the end of our rope and the tank is empty,” Galus reflects. “That’s the great thing about working with strong teams. There’s always the opportunity to recharge and shake it off.”

Boka Restaurant Group

Crème brûlée, from Swift & Sons

As with any strong team and great talent, there will always be the occasional issue of microagression. “I’ve never felt held back in my career because I’m a woman. But I have spent a lot of time and energy proving that I’m not offended by things. It’s a weird dynamic. There’s a cycle of [women in the kitchen] not being able to speak up about things that aren’t really right because we don’t want to be labeled ‘the angry feminist.’”

Galus’ biggest piece of advice on dealing with work relationships? “Focus on the part you love and let the bullshit fade away.”

 


Sabrina Medora is the founder and author of Food Fiction Project on Instagram as well as the writer for Behind Chicago Food for ChicagoNow. In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys hot yoga, reading, exploring big cities, collecting Harry Potter books, and binge-watching competitive cooking shows like Top Chef and Chopped.

COVER PHOTO: Boka Restaurant Group


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