Rockit Bar & Grill’s River North location in Chicago is known for it’s tasty comfort food and fun atmosphere, and some of our favorite menu items are all thanks to Executive Chef Amanda Downing. A Chicago native, Downing has been in the kitchen since she was a child, and has a love for family style food. Under her expertise, the restaurant has earned “Best Burger” call outs from media juggernauts like Good Morning America and expanded to include a Wrigleyville location, with Downing now named the executive chef and operating partner of both locations. We asked the chef for her last minute summer recipes and entertaining tips, as well as how to make it big in the kitchen!
HOW DID YOU BEGIN YOUR CULINARY CAREER?
I began cooking when I was about six years old, practically every day was spent in the kitchen with my mom cooking or baking something. I went to culinary school right out of high school and worked in a couple small restaurants throughout high school. About half way through culinary school I started working at 160 Blue in Chicago. There I learned so much from the chefs and sous chefs that it really gave me hands on training in addition to culinary school.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG CHEF JUST STARTING OUT?
Find a restaurant you love and apply to work there! Start from the bottom and pay attention to the inner working of the whole kitchen.
WHAT IS A NEVER-FAIL FOOD AND DRINK PAIRING?
You really can’t go wrong with a beer and a burger. A nice refreshing wheat ale is great with a juicy burger.
WHAT ARE SOME TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THROWING AN AMAZING SUMMER PARTY?
Have fun first and foremost! It’s the summer and it’s a party so it shouldn’t be stressful. If you’re grilling, keep the grill hot, and use clean oil so that your foods do not stick.
WHAT IS A NEW RECIPE YOU’D LIKE TO TRY BEFORE THE SUMMER ENDS?
Grilling greens for salads. We have been playing around with charring different heads of baby lettuces and pairing them with the right cheese, toppings and dressing. Lightly grilling or charring greens adds another layer of flavor..
HOW CAN PEOPLE COOKING AT HOME PUT A PERSONAL TOUCH ON A TRADITIONAL DISH?
It’s in the little things. For example: If you’re grilling burgers and you have the traditional condiments, whip a little ketchup and sriracha together for a spicy ketchup option. It is easy to make all sorts of flavored mayos, ketchups or mustards that will compliment your traditional grilled burgers, sausages and chicken.
Or if you’re making mac and cheese, use an aged cheddar or smokey blue or even nutty fontina in addition to the traditional cheddar and jacks that go into the dish.
TO WHAT DO YOU CREDIT YOUR SUCCESS IN THE INDUSTRY?
Hard work. Being dedicated to creating, preparing, serving the best quality product and making guests happy.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE PEOPLE GET OUT OF THEIR ROCKIT EXPERIENCE?
An enjoyable meal that becomes (or has become) one of their favorites. That it brings comfort and is fun and fulfilling.