The chef: By molecular-gastronomy standards, Chicago’s iNG (the name stands for “imagining new gastronomy”) is casual and low-key. Originally the project of Chef Homaro Cantu, the restaurant opened in March 2011 with a menu focused on “flavor tripping”—using miracle berries, or miraculin, to alter diners’ taste perceptions before dining. This year, Cantu stepped down in order to focus on a massive cookbook project, and he turned the reins over to 24-year-old chef Tim Havidic, a trained butcher and veteran of Cantu’s restaurants. The menu at iNG changes every six weeks to two months, and Havidic’s latest project is a Spanish menu suggested by the art—and, surprisingly, the culinary inclinations—of artist Salvador Dalí.
Asked for his favorite movie, Chef Havidic suggested Phillip Noyce’s 1999 thriller The Bone Collector, starring Denzel Washington as the ridiculously named Lincoln Rhyme, a former star police investigator who’s bedridden, almost entirely paralyzed, and seeking euthanasia after an on-the-job accident. When a serial killer starts committing elaborately staged crimes in New York, the police informally seek Rhyme’s input on the clues the killer is leaving behind, and he investigates via computers from his bed, with rookie beat cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) acting as his eyes and hands. It’s not hugely surprising that a chef would be drawn to the film: Rhyme is like an executive chef himself, making all the important decisions, but remaining deeply dependent on a crew of people acting as his surrogates. Chef Havidic linked the film—and particularly the killer’s periodic clues involving carved and shaped bones—with a savory slow-cooked oxtail dish from his new menu. While iNG serves it in a hollowed-out beef marrow bone, with a dollop of olive tapenade, a slice of sautéed fennel, and a scoop of puréed parsnip (the recipe for that is below, as well), it’s also a rich, delicious fall dish suitable for eating from a bowl while watching the film.
The Dissolve: Why is The Bone Collector a favorite film for you?
Tim Havidic: I like cop dramas a lot. They’re just interesting and fun. I chose that to make a dish out of because I used to be a butcher, so I’m used to seeing bones everywhere. With The Bone Collector and bones, they fit together and clicked in my mind. I associate bones and death closely because I’ve been working with those things together forever.
The Dissolve: Why did you initially become a butcher?
Havidic: I always thought that to be a great chef, you needed to know how to break down animals. I found out later in life that most chefs have no idea what they are doing. As I became a whole-animal butcher and helped open a butcher shop, I realized, “Wow, nobody really knows how to do as much stuff as I do,” which drove me deeper into that scene.
The Dissolve: How do you get to a point where you know more than anyone around you in a skill-based field? Were you experimenting on your own?
Havidic: I trained with a certified master butcher, which is a certification you get in Germany—it’s a 10-year apprenticeship where you spend your first year just scraping bones. It’s pretty crazy working at a butcher shop. Hans Sebald can pretty much just look at a hanging pig, and it’ll fall into pieces—he’s that good. I learned from him and several other butchers. They’re the most experienced people I know in any realm of cooking: They’ve been doing it since they were seven, and they’re 70 now.
The Dissolve: What about Bone Collector stands out for you over other police procedurals?
Havidic: Just the at-the-edge-of-your-seat sense of, “What’s gonna happen next?” And particularly the twist at the end. I like Denzel Washington. The whole movie was just very well done. It’s full of “Aha!” moments.
The Dissolve: People at home aren’t going to serve this dish the way you’ve prepared it, in and on stripped beef bones. But there’s a visual-art quality to your presentation. Are you predisposed to seeing bones as art at this point?
Havidic: Yeah, I think so. Salvador Dalí often used bones in his artwork, and that might be one of the contributing factors leading into my Salvador Dalí-based Spanish menu.
The Dissolve: When I told people about this interview, virtually all of them said “Wait, The Bone Collector is somebody’s favorite film?” There’s certainly a perception that it’s low art, while Salvador Dalí is considered high art. But both of them speak to you equally?
Havidic: I tend to like—I don’t want to say B horror movies, but any not-very-popular movies. Part of the aspect of them is that they’re not perfect. Nobody can be perfect, and anyone who tries ends up failing. I love watching movies where you know you’re watching a movie, where it doesn’t have a fake polish. You know the new high-definition TVs, where the image looks like you’re looking through a window? That drives me crazy. I want to know I am watching something that isn’t real. Even a film that looks cheesy or corny, I usually think is fun.
The Dissolve: Does it bother you what other people think about a film? If everyone’s praising a film you don’t like as perfect, or putting down an imperfect film you love?
Havidic: Your opinion is your opinion. My opinion is my opinion. If you say this is the best movie in the world, and I hate it, so be it. If you think it’s the worst movie in the world and I enjoyed it—I just spent an hour and a half watching this, and I’m not mad. This was a good waste of time.
The Dissolve: What’s a great imperfect B-movie?
Havidic: Evil Dead. I love that whole series. It’s so not-perfect and cheesy that it becomes awesome. I don’t see The Bone Collector as cheesy, but it isn’t perfect, either. It’s more on the scale toward polished, vs. something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where it took $500 to make the whole movie, including the camera.
The Dissolve: The whole process seen throughout The Bone Collector is people beginning with scattered clues, then trying to assemble them into a whole. Do you do that with recipes? Start from elements, then build something bigger?
Havidic: How I make recipes is, I say, “‘Okay, what do I want the star to be?’ ‘How about beets?’ ‘What goes with beets?’ ‘Honey goes good with beets. Oranges go good with beets. Sweeter wines go good with beets. Nuts go good with beets.” Then I draw a circle and draw the branches extending out from the main ingredient. Then all those branched-out ingredients also have to go well together. Then I branch from those ingredients, and what goes well with them. Once I have a visual map, I say, “Okay, these are the ingredients. Now let’s start writing down what the applications are going to be.”
The Dissolve: You literally draw out these connections?
Havidic: Yeah, I draw an actual web.
The Dissolve: How did you get to that process?
Havidic: Just trial and error. I’ve done written lists, I’ve done different kinds of ideas where I start with, “Okay, I’m going to braise this!” “Actually, I don’t want to braise it, but I’m already halfway through the process. Start over!” You know, just through trial and error. Starting with the ingredients first you get an easier method for how a complete plate is made.
The Dissolve: Why did Salvador Dalí inspire your new menu?
Havidic: Well, food is art. Can’t deny it. Food is also a science. Salvador Dalí loved food—he even wrote a cookbook, which is very rare. We have a copy it in the restaurant. He loved food that was surreal, weird, and visually mind-blowing. You eat with your eyes first, so if you see something that’s crazy and you think, “Whoa! What is that?” you’re already hooked into it, you’re already interested. So that’s is one step forward for Dalí’s food. I wanted to do a Spanish menu. If you consider food an art, and the chef as the artist, this is one artist championing another artist—which is another thing Dalí did a lot.
The Dissolve: What interested in him in recipes and cooking?
Havidic: Luxury. He loved luxury foods, really rich foods, like caviar, lobster, things like that. But I’m the opposite. I don’t necessarily want gigantic dollops of caviar and giant loaves of foie gras, or anything like that. I’m more of a simple person. So I took my food style, which is simple—simple flavors, simple ingredients—and just added his surreal crazy element by basing all of the dishes off of his paintings, or quotes he’s made. This bone course is based off a painting called “Atavism At Twilight,” which is a painting of two farmers slumped over. He made several paintings based off of that one. In one of them, the two farmers were actually skeletons in the field, with a bunch of red accent marks, which reminded me a lot of running with the bulls—just the red—and then the skeletons reminded me of bones. Bulls, oxtail, skeletons, bone marrow: and then, Spanish food.
This dish isn’t 100 percent Spanish, but it’s seasoned with Spanish ingredients: Spanish olive oil, Spanish vinegars. Oxtail and tapenade, they use lots of these ingredients in Spanish cooking. It’s just an inspiration of Spanish flavors. With the egg-shaped dollops of parsnip and oxtail: Eggs were a big deal to Salvador Dalí. In his paintings, there are eggs everywhere. Sometimes hidden Easter eggs you have to search, and sometimes just there. He was all about contrast, too. A lot of his paintings are different contrasts of colors. One of his paintings that I’m actually making a dessert out of, there’s a contrast of a hand holding an egg, and next to it there is a hand holding a darker egg. And everything is split in half.
The Dissolve: How do you think he rated as a chef?
Havidic: I’d say he was a good home cook. He wasn’t exactly a chef. But you know, there are always those people: “Yeah, I can be a chef, no worries.” [Shrug.] “I’m gonna quit my day job and be a chef.”
The Dissolve: This is all a lot of information and inspiration to try to communicate through food while still trying to make it delicious and distinctive. How do you balance all that?
Havidic: I think the taste of the food will give you some leeway. The servers at iNG are very well educated about the paintings, so if anyone has any questions, they can go right ahead and ask. But really, the food on the menu isn’t really going to be the names of the courses, it’s just going to be the paintings that inspired the courses. So you’ll actually be look at them and think, “Oh! I get that now.” It’s up to diners’ own discretion to judge their take on how I created these dishes, and how they look.
5 pounds oxtail
½ pound fresh chopped tomatoes
1 ¼ pound chopped onion
½ pound chopped carrots
½ pound chopped celery
2 tablespoons garlic
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 ½ teaspoons saffron
beef braise or beef demi glacé, as needed
1. Chop the oxtails into segments at the joint, trimming off the fat. Season with salt and refrigerate overnight.
2. Roast oxtail segments with a little oil at 300° for three hours.
3. Brown the carrots and celery on the stovetop in an oven-safe pan on high heat. Add a small amount of water or beef stock to braise. Add garlic, paprika, and saffron. Bring to a simmer.
4. Add the oxtail and bring to a boil. Remove from the stovetop. Cover tightly and place in the oven at 300° for three hours or until meat is tender enough to fall off the bones.
5. Shred the meat from the bones. Strain out and reserve the liquid. Chop meat finely, adding a fourth to half of the liquid back in until mixture achieves preferred moisture. Add butter, saffron, and smoked paprika to taste.
2 pounds parsnips
1 pound beef fat, rendered
3 cloves garlic
Salt, sherry vinegar to taste
1. Sweat minced garlic and chopped shallot in a pot in rendered beef fat. Add chopped parsnips.
2. Cover with water or beef stock and simmer until tender.
3. Purée with salt and sherry. Strain and cool. Serve warm.
Photos by Jason Little