After scoring with S.K.Y. and Apolonia, chef Stephen Gillanders aims to pull off a culinary hat trick with his most ambitious restaurant yet, Valhalla.
Aged Midwestern beef with caramelized carrot and miso butter and charred brassicas
Chef Stephen Gillanders has been on Chicago foodies’ radar for a solid seven years, and what a résumé he has built up since 2016. From executive chef/partner of Lettuce Entertain You’s ahead-of-its-time fine dining pop-up concept Intro to earning raves with his first solo venture at S.K.Y. in Pilsen and then a Michelin Bib Gourmand with South Loop spot Apolonia, Gillanders is on a roll. Now the lauded chef is aiming even bigger with his just-opened Valhalla, an approachable fine dining concept complete with an 11-course modern tasting menu that he calls his most ambitious project to date—and just might get him his first Michelin star.
A selection of dishes from Valhalla
Valhalla’s location is unexpected—the restaurant sits on the second floor of fast-casual food hall Time Out Market in the white-hot Fulton Market District—but for Gillanders, that casual vibe fits right into his plan. “It’s a very exciting notion to usher this style of fine dining, with a high-energy, casual yet upscale experience. Other restaurants are pivoting into these unique settings and garnering significant acclaim, such as the No. 1 restaurant in the world right now, Geranium, which is located in the Copenhagen soccer stadium. … To be able to capture the energy and social setting of Time Out Market Chicago while providing an 11-course meal to someone wearing a Cubs hat next to a couple celebrating their anniversary is totally badass.”
Mushroom kebab highlights locally foraged maitake.
Gillanders emphasizes that it’s the 66-seat restaurant’s tasting menu that sets it apart from his previous projects, noting, “While there is an a la carte menu at Valhalla that I absolutely love, the 11-course tasting menu is really the way to go. S.K.Y. and Apolonia do offer tasting menus, although the restaurants are a la carte in nature; Valhalla is the opposite.” Gillanders notes that sommelier Jelena Prodan curates three different beverage pairings for the menu (including a Champagne pairing), and pastry chef Tatum Sinclair features a chocolate she created in collaboration with Barry Callebaut that currently can only be found at the restaurant. “There are so many personal and outside-the-box touches that we’ve unleashed at Valhalla,” says the chef, “that not only is the experience significantly different than S.K.Y. and Apolonia, I can’t think of a restaurant similar to it in the world.”
Chef/partner Stephen Gillanders
As for the chef’s favorite dishes in the early going, Gillanders notes that the menu is already constantly evolving, “but I will say the one that holds the most personal meaning to me at the moment is the queen crab arroz caldo. It’s the first Filipino dish that I’ve ever featured at the restaurants. … My maternal grandmother, Apolonia, sparked my interest in food from a young age, so the self-induced pressure to do her proud has always deterred me from being confident with Filipino dishes. This dish, however, I love and am very excited about. While not traditional, as it typically includes chicken as opposed to crab, the rice porridge coupled with the crunchy garlic we top it with, along with the lemon and black pepper, bring me back to my childhood memories of eating my grandmother’s food.”
Kombu-cured fluke with green apple, nam pla and pine nut
While Gillanders’ attention is 100% on Valhalla right now, given his prolific portfolio, we can’t help but ask what might be on deck for the star chef. Gillanders stays coy but admits, “What I can say is that I’m not done yet. S.K.Y., Apolonia and Valhalla have only increased my creativity and have additionally opened my eyes to what’s possible. The current team we have in place is absolutely incredible and I feel like we can accomplish anything together, so stay tuned.” 916 W. Fulton Market, 2nd Floor
Photography by: PHOTOS BY JACLYN RIVAS