How Local Chefs Tell Shakespeare’s Tales Through Food

Special Features   While Greasy Joan Doth Keel the Pot: How Local Chefs Tell Shakespeare’s Tales Through Food
It may surprise you to realize that Shakespeare and food are inextricably linked, but these Chicago chefs fought over which of the Bard’s works they would represent through food as part of the Culinary Complete Works project.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Hamish Linklater and Emily Bergel  in <i>A Comedy of Errors </i>at the Delacorte Theatre
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Hamish Linklater and Emily Bergel in A Comedy of Errors at the Delacorte Theatre Joan Marcus

Cakes and ale, wild boar and beef. Food —arrayed on a table or merely dreamed of — figures repeatedly in the works of Shakespeare. And like a good cook who never overlooks anything in her larder, Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) is adding a culinary component to Shakespeare 400, the massive, city-wide observance of the playwright’s passing in 1616.

Launching this month, Culinary Complete Works pairs one chef with each of Shakespeare’s 38 plays. “The great part about this project is how animated each chef has been,” observes Shakespeare 400 producer, Doreen Sayegh. “The research, creativity, and enthusiasm we’re seeing around Culinary Complete Works is exciting and a perfect articulation of why these stories have lived with the world for 400 years and will continue to do so.“

Restaurateur and master sommelier, Aplana Singh, first heard of the project last fall, seated at an event with CST’s executive director, Criss Henderson and the company’s creative producer, Rick Boynton. “They talked about bringing a culinary component to Shakespeare 400 and I jokingly said, ‘Oh, like turkey legs at a Renaissance Faire?’ I was trying to envision how you pull Shakespeare into food. But when you really look at the plays, food is a natural tie-in.”

Singh took the lead, spreading the word in the restaurant community and seeking out chefs who felt strongly enough about Shakespeare to participate. “I was really surprised,” she laughs, “some chefs fought over certain works. John Manion of La Sirena Clandestina said yes right away and he really wanted Othello. Rick Bayliss had dibs on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This really shows how we’ve all been affected by Shakespeare one way or another.”

Tony Mantuano (Cafe Spiaggia) was drawn to Romeo and Juliet, Art Smith opted to plate King Lear, and Carrie Nahabedian (Naha) will portion out Measure for Measure. Ashlee Aubin of Salero is a fan of the history plays, and has pegged his dish to Richard II. “It has such great drama and surprise and I love the way Shakespeare reveals his characters’ motivations,” shares Aubin. The chef’s offering — truffled soft scrambled eggs, crown of potatoes, and roasted beets — serves “as an homage to the cost of the battle for the crown.”

Chef Ryan McCaskey of Acadia’s dish, featuring Hiramasa, Rancho Gordo Beans, Smoked Mayonnaise, Lardo, Chilled English Pea Dash
Chef Ryan McCaskey of Acadia’s dish, featuring Hiramasa, Rancho Gordo Beans, Smoked Mayonnaise, Lardo, Chilled English Pea Dash Ryan McCaskey

Taking his cue from The Winter’s Tale, Chef Ryan McCaskey of Acadia has fashioned a plate composed of hiramasa, rancho gordo beans, smoked mayonnaise, lardo, and chilled English pea dashi. “The Winter’s Tale has psychological drama, comedy and a happy ending, so what inspired me were flavors that contrast, but with a finish that is pleasant. The smoked mayonnaise and beans, along with nice acid from some lemon zest, counterbalance the fatty lardo and creamy fish. Then, there’s the finish of crisp English pea, with flowers and pea tendrils.”

Chef Tanya’s dish from The Boarding House
Chef Tanya’s dish from The Boarding House Joseph Fandel

Singh and Tanya Baker, her executive chef at The Boarding House, have taken on The Taming of the Shrew. They’d hoped to comment on the show’s misogyny by serving capon, but the unsexed rooster, a Christmas tradition on many tables, isn’t readily available year round. “Shrew is set in Padua in the Veneto and that part of Italy is known for risotto, grana padano cheese, white and green asparagus, and also a particular type of hen called Padua hen,” relates Singh. “We couldn’t get that hen either, so we’re using poussin, basted in foie gras, which basically tames the flesh, making it more tender.” Bon appetit, Petruchio!

For more information on Culinary Complete Works, visit

Actor Daniel Breaker gets into the food game:

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