ROGERS PARK — Victoria Pharrow's passion for food and people is palpable.
While she went to cooking school, the owner of Chez Delisay’s Cajun Cuisine at 6621 N. Clark St. said her best training was from her mother, Gennie Vee.
"My mother taught me and gave me my passion for Creole and southern food. She said ‘You’ll learn everything I know,’ " said Pharrow, whose restaurant will celebrate its first anniversary in July.
During the week, Pharrow, who also lives in Rogers Park, is virtually a one-woman operation, cooking everything from scratch daily. On the weekends, her sister, Michelle, and a few others assist.
The restaurant has a New Orleans artistic touch with masks and drawings adorning the walls, but the focus is on food in the 36-seat, BYOB establishment.
Entrées include: chicken etouffee, chicken and waffles, cheesy shrimp and grits, grilled blackened catfish and Cajun smoked chicken. Four Po Boys — battered chunky thighs, classic fish sandwich, Domanai’s delight and shrimp — are always available.
Weekends offer a savory chicken gumbo with a dark roux and smoked sausage and also collard greens. Hearty soups change daily.
Another Pharrow original are her Cajun ribs served on Saturdays. Using her own mild spice dry rub, the ribs are marinated for 24 hours, then transferred to a smoker with hickory and cherry wood at 180 degrees for one hour. Then they are cooked for another three hours at 280 degrees for fall-off-the-bone tenderness. The ribs always sell out before the evening is over.
Working with her mother, Gennie Vee Pharrow, proved to be the ideal chef training program.
“I was always under my elders so I had the perfect tutoring,” said Pharrow, who lived on the North Side before moving to Harvey and attending Thornridge High School in suburban Dolton. “My grandmother Victoria emigrated from Nigeria to Baton Rouge in 1940. She taught my mother everything about Creole cooking, which was passed on to me.’”
It didn’t take long before Pharrow was preparing the same dishes for extended family and friends.
“You have to build the flavors, you can’t just throw it in the pot,” Pharrow said. “There’s a time and reason for everything; it’s how you prep and combine the seasonings. You saute the vegetables, you season and marinate, sear your meat; it’s a process. I measure all my Creole and southern spices. I marinate all my meats. This way, you build taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly."
And she adds another ingredient.
“[My grandmother] Victoria always cooked with a lot of love!”
Graduating high school in 1980, Pharrow got a degree in administration and prelaw from Roosevelt University. After a series of jobs, which included hospital supervisor for food nutrition at Northwestern Hospital in Evanston, she graduated from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago in 2002.
She started a catering business in 2003 serving dinners for up to 80 people at Northwestern University, including for fraternities and sororities.
“I was well versed in cooking, so that side of it I already knew,” Pharrow said. “I learned things from the business end about how to run a restaurant that were helpful. I learned a lot about making soups, sauces and pastries.”
Northwestern was an ideal training ground, and the students were crazy about her dishes.
“I made everything: vegan, Southern, Chinese, barbeque, Creole, Italian. I did the full circle,” she said.
Word of mouth and five pages of detailed reviews on Yelp have brought a contingent of Cajun food lovers to her eatery. A number of supper clubs have dined in along with foodies from the West Side and South Side along with people from the north and south suburbs.
On a recent Sunday night, Logan Square resident Rob German and girlfriend Arti Lakhani joined 12 friends to celebrate Ryan Maggid’s birthday.
“I thought the consistency and flavors from the gumbo, cornbread, garlic mashed potatoes, chicken wings and everything else was fantastic,” German said
“I’ve never had flavors that bold with a shrimp Po Boy before,” Lakhani said. “They have the best fried chicken in Chicago. ... Not only was the service outstanding, they made you feel like you were having dinner with old friends. Victoria sat down and chatted with us during the meal.”
Pharrow is pleased with the customer response.
“I love what I do, I don’t want to do anything else,” Pharrow said. “God’s given me a gift, I treat everyone with kindness and respect.
“It’s great seeing repeat customers and the response they’ve given me."
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