One of Chicago's most legendary and pioneering chefs, the late Yoshi Katsumura (check out our profile on the chef and his restaurant Yoshi's), has left an enduring legacy in the city thanks to the likes of his daughter. Mari Katsumura makes the family proud as the recently appointed pastry chef of Acadia in the South Loop, where she's making a name for herself with some of the most incredible and beautiful desserts in town.
We spoke with Katsumura about her new role, her latest creations, and her family's restaurant history.
Matt Kirouac: How did you first get interested in baking and pastry?
Mari Katsumura: I grew up directly above my parents' restaurant, so food was an integral part of my childhood. When I had friends over, oftentimes we would end up raiding the kitchen downstairs for ingredients and become mad scientists. I always wanted an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas. Cooking was just an inherent desire.
What made you want to pursue it as a career?
Katsumura: When I was studying German and Art History at Bard College, I noticed that all my spare time outside of class was consumed by food. I loved making dinner for my dorm, baking cookies for my classmates, and watching culinary programs. I realized that cooking truly made me happy and it was also an outlet for me to express my passion for the arts.
What have been some of the most memorable learning experiences and career challenges for you?
Katsumura: My first fine dining position at Grace really pushed me the most physically and mentally. I worked with such talented individuals who taught me discipline, focus, and finesse. With that foundation, several years later I was able to work under Dana Cree. Dana taught me invaluable lessons on the creative process/recipe development, the art of plating, and running a pastry department as a whole.
How would you describe your pastry style and philosophy at Acadia?
Katsumura: Aesthetically driven with clean, focused, sometimes unexpected flavors. I also draw inspiration from ingredients or dishes that I have a personal relationship to and try to make it contemporary.
Tell me about your current menu and desserts. Any personal favorites?
Katsumura: I really love the coconut pre-dessert on the 10-course tasting menu. It was inspired by a layered custard you could order at any generic mall in Japan. It is a coconut panna cotta with jasmine jelly, basil seeds, green apple sorbet, and shiso.
I am also pleased with the banana dessert that is currently on both tasting menus. I went to NYC with my mom a couple months ago and observed a real renaissance of classic French dessert. So this is my homage to a Napoleon. It has puff pastry, white sapote pudding, honey parfait, banana ice cream, citrus, and chai.
What desserts are you thinking about making for the upcoming season? Summer? Anything else new you're working on?
Katsumura: I am currently working on a coffee and avocado dessert that will be on the menu soon. One of my favorite things is an avocado and Vietnamese iced coffee smoothie with tapioca from Chinatown. So, the dessert is a play on those flavors. Otherwise, I hope to work with Japanese knotweed soon. Spring and summer produce is always a breath of fresh air for pastry.
THE ESSENTIALS – ACADIA
1639 S. Wabash Avenue
- 5-Course Tasting Menu, 10-Course Tasting Menu, and Bar Menu available
- Dinner only; closed Mondays
- Reservations encouraged: book with OpenTable