"There's just as much juice creating an amazing pastrami sandwich as there is behind a 12-course tasting menu," Kahan said. "At this point in my life, I rarely want to have a serious fine-dining menu — almost never, to be honest. I feel like my time is too precious."
(Regarding time: Kahan turns 50 this year. He could not care less.)
Kahan appreciates yoga's central tenet of being present in the moment; it's why "fame" strikes him as a four-letter word.
He was asked to compete on "Iron Chef America" and "Top Chef Masters" three times each, but turned down all six invitations.
He has started and stopped on his cookbook project twice, because he thought the end product would be mediocre.
Shortly before President Barack Obama was inaugurated, Kahan was invited to Washington to interview for the White House chef position. Kahan was flattered, but declined. He said he'd rather cook for his wife.
Back at Big Star, sous-chef Dennis Stover returns 20 minutes later with a report on green chili burger, Take 2.
"You're right about the technique," Stover said. "I just did it. You are so right."
Kahan makes the parabolic noise of a baseball flying onto Waveland Avenue.
"There's one over the fence," Kahan says.
A fitting illustration of a dude, as told by Kahan: "I remember going to the South Beach Food & Wine Festival three, four years ago. It's super scene-y. I went once; I'll never go again. Anyway, they're doing this event called the Burger Bash, where chefs create a burger and people would vote for their favorites. Like a thousand people at this thing. I was helping my buddy Michael Schlow cook burgers on the grill, whose burger won the year before.
"So I see Guy Fieri walking around with his camera crew, tons of guys with sunglasses on their necks, this big entourage with him. He's interviewing chef Michael Psilakis. Then he walks by our booth, and he must have thought Michael Schlow isn't enough of a hotshot, so Fieri walks around him and interviews Bobby Flay!
"Now this was one of those giant tents that's 70 feet tall. I took two hamburger buns and some grease and wadded it up as tightly as I could. Fieri was off to the side. I launched it in the air, and on the first try, I swear, it went all the way up to the top, came down and bonked him on top of the head, and exploded. Crumbs went everywhere. He went crazy. Guy Fieri was calling his guys over, trying to figure out who hit him in the head with a burger bun. Look, he's probably a great guy, probably does a lot of charitable stuff, but I just had to settle the score with him. I'm a (expletive)-head, I'll admit it."
Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander and Eduard Seitan — the foursome behind One Off Hospitality — are already several projects into the future. They're in talks with a Rick Bayless-spearheaded project that would bring a Publican burger bar as part of an all-star Chicago chefs food court to O'Hare's international terminal. Urban Belly's Bill Kim is also in talks to participate. One Off is also considering opening an Avec in New York. Avec chef Koren Grieveson would head that kitchen as well.
The project Kahan's most proud of is Pilot Light, a collaboration with Chicago Public Schools that would introduce food science and nutrition into the school curriculum. For the last year, Kahan and program co-founder Matthias Merges (Yusho restaurant) have tested a pilot program at Disney II Elementary Magnet School in Old Irving Park. The selling point is chefs cook lunch for students using ingredients discussed during class. The program hopes to expand to six schools this year.