Chef Stephen Gillanders Keeps the Pilsen Restaurant Revolution Rolling with S.K.Y.

By J.P. Anderson | March 12, 2018 | Food & Drink

Jean-Georges protégé and former Intro chef Stephen Gillanders flies solo with new Pilsen hot spot S.K.Y.

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Chef Stephen Gillanders

Stephen Gillanders has shown serious chops as a chef for hire—the L.A. native trained under the legendary Jean-Georges Vongerichten for a decade and served as chef-in-residence at Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You pop-up concept, Intro. Now, with his new Pilsen restaurant S.K.Y., the 34-year-old is calling the shots, and he couldn’t be happier. “I’m [certainly] not embarrassed about where I came from,” notes Gillanders of his time in the world of haute cuisine, “but I think the food we’re doing here is much more personal.”

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Cheesecake brulee with blueberries and satsuma oranges

S.K.Y. is certainly a family affair: The restaurant’s name is the initials of his wife, Seon Kyung Yuk (who conceived the long room’s sleek, stripped-down decor), and the menu is inspired by Gillanders’ experiences as a globe-trotting chef. “There’s been a lot of transportive experiences that I’ve had,” Gillanders says. “When I was in Sicily, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I want to do something like this.’ The same thing happened in Beijing, same thing happened in South Korea.” The menu pays homage to those worldly influences—think caramelized diver scallops with brown butter dashi and maitake mushrooms (“I’m in love with that dish right now,” Gillanders enthuses), and short rib and foie gras dumplings with five-spiced bone broth— but thanks to the chef ’s deft touch, manages to avoid what he refers to as “fusion-confusion syndrome.” “We just have to find flavors and techniques that will be cohesive, so anyone can pick anything off the menu and still have a focused meal.”

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The raw-but-refined space was conceived by chef Stephen Gillanders' wife, whose initials give S.K.Y. its name.

Response from the neighborhood, where Dusek’s and HaiSous have also found success, has been heartening. “We really anticipated the worst-case scenario—no business, no walk-ins,” admits general manager Charles Ford, “and it’s become the best-case scenario.” The pair are even more excited for what’s to come this spring, as Gillanders gets to flex his creative muscles with the new season’s produce. “This’ll be the first time in Chef ’s life where he’s not handcuffed to a structure that requires levels of approval for every dish,” says Ford. “The gloves are off for him.” As far as goals go, Gillanders laughs off the ideas of opening another place or going for a Michelin star. “I just want to have a successful restaurant that we’re proud to go to, where we’re able to do exactly what we want and have people appreciate that.” 1239 W. 18th St., 312.846.1077



Photography by: Photography by Lara Kastner