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Big Bowl is Betting on a 'Top Chef Master'

By Janet Rausa Fuller | January 7, 2013 12:38pm | Updated on January 7, 2013 2:18pm
 Boston chef Patricia Yeo is moving to Chicago to help develop menus and a new concept for the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group.
Boston chef Patricia Yeo is moving to Chicago to help develop menus and a new concept for the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group.
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Felix Cutillo

CHICAGO — Big Bowl is bringing in a "Top Chef Master."

The Lettuce Entertain You restaurant chain has hired Boston chef Patricia Yeo to "grow and evolve" the Chinese/Thai menu with Big Bowl executive chef Marc Bernard and develop a new concept for Lettuce.

Yeo also will help "with our expansion into airports and other nontraditional venues," Big Bowl President Dan McGowan said.

While Yeo's domain is Asian cuisine — her previous ventures in Boston, Om and Moksa, were pan-Asian — she said it's too early to say what the new concept might look like.

"One thing I am looking forward to is to spend more time baking," she said. "I hate baking. But I'll have the luxury of playing with it, learning about it."

Yeo, 52, one of the final four contenders on the fourth season of Bravo TV's "Top Chef Masters," said the opportunity to join Lettuce and move to Chicago came at the right time in her career.

"I'm at that point where I'm not that concerned about my colleagues, all these young whippersnappers who are looking to build a name for themselves," she said. "I'm looking forward to molding and guiding, and really learning the business of running restaurants."

That, she said, and when Rich Melman comes calling, you answer.

"He's like the Godfather" of the restaurant industry, she said.

Yeo, an Oregon native who has worked with Bobby Flay in New York and the late Barbara Tropp in San Francisco, was in Chicago last month to visit Lettuce headquarters, meet Bernard and eat around town. Before that, she hadn't been here since she was a teenager.

Wednesday is moving day for her. She said she's most nervous about fitting into Chicago's culinary scene.

"I've watched the New York press beat up out-of-town chefs, and I've personally felt Boston chefs not being super-friendly toward someone moving into their city," she said.

But Yeo is confident in what she can bring to Big Bowl's eight locations (four in the Chicago area). She and Bernard already have talked about playing around with goat cheese paneer and adding Asian winged beans and heirloom radishes to the crops at Bernard's Rustic Road Farm in far west suburban La Fox.

Bernard purchased the farm last year, where he raises chickens, turkeys and hogs and grows produce used at Big Bowl and other Lettuce restaurants.

In addition to her new day job, Yeo is working on her third cookbook on Asian street food. Next month, she starts shooting a new PBS show about artisan foods that will take her to different cities.