Central Illinois has a bounty of natural assets and sometimes some very delicious ones at that. With the farm-to-table craze in full swing, it’s still not yet a regular routine for most diners.
The popularity of seasonal dishes, consumption of organic food, and the notion of supporting local farms is stronger than ever. In Peoria, there is one chef who continues to push the envelope of what today’s modern dining experience can be about. Dustin Allen is the Owner, Executive Chef, and main force behind his namesake restaurant – Edge by Chef Dustin Allen.
The food industry has been said to be a labor of love, however, integrating a fully immersive experience that takes you from the local farm where you know the family to a plate of food that is perfectly ripened for the pleasure of the residents of your city is a passion.
PEN sat down with Dustin to talk about his path to becoming the chef that he is today. We discuss how what’s growing around us can influence what is on the plate in front of us, and we even get to sample some of the creative cocktails that pair well with any dish.
Can you talk about your path to becoming an Executive Chef?
My path in becoming an Executive Chef in many ways emulated chefs of past decades working their way through the rank and file of the kitchen. I come from a restaurant family who started a diner restaurant 40+ years ago, so as a very young kid watching my grandparents and father work in the restaurant and make people happy with food got me hooked on wanting to work in the kitchen. At that time, I had no idea what a chef was or 30 years later. that I would be able to live my dream of working in kitchens.
At around the age of 15, I got my first actual paid job as a dishwasher in a restaurant that was directed by an American Chef who had trained at the French Culinary Institute and traveled through out Europe. Listening to his stories made me more intrigued of the mysterious world of restaurants. From there I moved into a prep positions and working on cold lines and cooking stations but always wanting to learn more.
I became an Executive Chef seven years ago by chance at a Steak House that was in the midst of change and they believed in me to give me the opportunity to lead the change and follow my own set of ideas and philosophy of food.
Was there someone who mentored you or played a role in helping you get where you are today?
Looking back I’ve had many mentors. From my grandparents who instilled the love of food; business individuals that I’ve meet who taught me what it means to be in business and how to think in a business mindset.
My family who ingrained a strong work ethic from an early age and said to chase your dreams and passion. And then there are the chefs I’ve meet and worked with who all have taught me different techniques and the process to be creative and make those ideas to come alive.
Also, our farmers who challenge me to think about all of the great product that is being produced and how to use it.
At what point did you decide that owning and running a restaurant was the next step?
The idea of owning a restaurant with my wife Ashley really only came about 4 years ago when an opportunity came together pretty much in an overnight stay in Peoria. Ashley and I were considering possibly moving for a change to be an Executive Chef at another restaurant. And we took a leap in faith from a secure future to believing in ourselves; my style and philosophy of food; to the dining experience that we could offer the greater Peoria area.
Explain your philosophy of partnering with local farms and serving the fresh, seasonal dishes?
I’m a small rural-town kid at heart who likes the big city style of food and dining. Family farming is a vital way of life, and I wanted to create a way as a chef to help small rural family farms and communities to have a reason to stay on their family farms and make a living.
My hope was to be able to help even one of them and today I work with over 60 family farms in a year, and I’ve been able to eliminate all national suppliers from our restaurant.
I wanted to be able to source the absolute freshest and most sustainable ingredients I could and build relationships with the producers to create menus that were every changing that we could produce with high quality and a progressive style. I wanted to make a difference in our food system and the way we view food and farming as a nation.
What are some of the local companies and farms you work with?
With an very growing list of sustainable growers Marty, Kris, and Will Travis of Spence Farms, Stewards of the Land ( network of 25 small individual family farms), Lyndon and Kimberly Hartz of Hartz Produce, and Garden Spot Vegetable Farm. Those are just a few of our local sustainable growers we use for our produce, dairy, grains, and proteins.
Is it more inspirational or more challenging to work with seasonal ingredients?
It’s both inspirational and challenging in one. The inspiration of watching things grow and realizing all the different opportunities to use products at different stages in growth to create new dishes and techniques is fascinating and to know you are at mercy of mother nature is interesting you feel as you are part of the ebb and flow of nature. The challenge is the same idea, but now you are trying to figure out how to create from the inspiration and make it come to life.
Food is obviously something people are very passionate about. What do you hope people experience when they come to your restaurant?
I want all of our guests to come in and enjoy a dining experience and allow themselves not only the opportunity to nourish but also the opportunity to stimulate the brain and ask questions about food, and how we are able to create a dish from these ingredients that many times are over look over or the thought of using them in another form.
Food is a lot like art. It can be very subjective and has the ability to tell a story or reconnect with memories and emotions. That’s what I enjoy about being a chef… creating dishes to experience and watching guests enjoy themselves!
To reserve your table at Edge by Chef Dustin Allen, visit edgepeoria.com. Take a behind-the-scenes look into the kitchen and find out what’s on the seasonal menu by following Edge on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.