An incredible pair.
Michael Kornick began working as a chef in 1985. Nearly three decades later, he’s one of Chicago’s longest-running restaurateurs along with his business partner, David Morton. The two specialize in ‘small box’ restaurants and feel there’s something “uniquely special about small places.” They’ve made it big with ‘small’ spots like DMK Burger, Fish Bar, Ada Street and Mr. Kornick’s original restaurant, MK, which opened in 1998 and is a favorite among Chicagoans. And according to Ada Street Executive Chef Zoe Schor, Mr. Kornick’s “an encyclopedia of knowledge.” In this interview, oh did they dish!
Where did you get the idea for Ada Street?
MK: David and I are always trying to think about ways to enhance communities and neighborhoods we serve with concepts relevant to our lives and the lives of our guests. There are a lot of great gastro pubs, but one thing we thought we could add was a mix of music played on vinyl, a higher level of hospitality and, most importantly, reservations.* We’re at a point in our lives where we have disposable income but not disposable time.
And the type of food?
ZS: Contemporary American food with an eclectic background.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
ZS: The octopus.
MK: Octopus, gnocchi, duck confit, butternut squash soup and salmon tartar.
What makes Michael and David successful restaurateurs?
ZS: Michael worked his way up through restaurants, so he’s very relatable as a boss. He’s done it all. He has an unbelievable amount of knowledge. With David and Michael, working for people who really care like that sets them up to have a staff that really cares about them.
Any plans for a new restaurant?
MK: A barbecue place on Taylor Street early next year, and there’s another DMK on the horizon in Naperville. We’re also trying hard for River North.
Best advice you ever received?
ZS: When I was a really young cook, in a job that was really challenging, we had just opened this restaurant. I was feeling really beaten down, thinking about leaving, when my sous chef said, ‘Great! Quit. The next time it’s going to be that much easier to quit.’ He basically convinced me to stick it out. When you’re in something difficult, just keep going a little but further. Eventually it’s going to get easier.
MK: The best advice [Richard] Melman ever gave me was to get into therapy. That was the most life-changing thing I experienced as a young adult. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises had this one therapist who saw everybody and it was almost an unwritten rule that you couldn’t be partner unless you went to therapy.
Favorite hidden gem?
ZS: Sapori Trattoria on Halsted.
MK: Lula Café is my favorite restaurant. Jason [Hammel] is my favorite chef in town. My new favorite restaurant is Yusho. I’m digging everything there. Hema’s Kitchen on Devon, Sun Wah BBQ, XOCO.
Next food trend…
ZS: Small plates and even smaller, more concentrated bites of food representing whole dishes. The best thing is you’ll still want more.
MK: I think people will continue to look for both local and exotic ingredients. For example, you get fermented garlic from Southeast Asia and put it on rapini grown 20 miles from Chicago. I hope we see less of a desire for pork-centric menus and a greater desire for what I’d call diversified cookery. Hopefully, we’ll also see a trend toward a new awareness of sustainability when it comes to seafood.
Any guilty pleasures?
MK: My therapist says I don’t feel guilty enough. I eat and drink too much, and have too many salty/fatty foods. I love popcorn.
ZS: Pizza, chicken fingers and gummy bears.
*Editor’s Note: DMK Burger Bar doesn’t take reservations.
Ashton Ray Hansen Photograph