BY JEANETTE HURT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Jennifer and Jason Gorman make a formidable team. This married couple recently took over the entire food and beverage operations of the Ambassador Hotel. The culinary powerhouse didn’t just tweak the menus and call it a day — they started the concepts from scratch to create entirely new entities, transforming the lackluster Envoy into the energetic The Fitz, the ho-hum Envoy Lounge into the Gin Rickey, and the old breakfast café into the craveable Deco. The two sat down in the stylish dining room of The Fitz to talk restaurant concepts, raising their 10-year-old daughter, Eme, to be an adventurous eater, and the delights of gourmet soft-serve ice cream as well as truffle ketchup.
Tell us about The Fitz.
Jason: We truly started over, reimagining everything. We changed all of the vendors to people we have known for the last 15 years. The inspiration was a nod to the past, when going out to dinner used to be a grand event. The Fitz sounds like a throwback restaurant. We’re embracing the past, but pushing forward. Even the music is inspired by the idea of Quentin Tarantino making a soundtrack for a 1920s restaurant. We use that time period, (Art Deco), as an inspiration, and we love the idea of taking things you think are pedestrian, and then saying, “What can we do with good ingredients and looking at it differently?” For example, Jennifer takes the idea of peanut butter and jelly to her soft serve.
Jennifer: I make a concord grape soft serve, (with) a peanut butter drizzle, honey-roasted, crushed peanuts and dehydrated grapes. It’s the idea that everyone does peanut butter ice cream, (but) there’s got to be a way to do it differently. We have a lot of fun.
For husband and wife duo Jason and Jennifer Gorman, revamping the Ambassador Hotel’s food and beverage operations meant starting entirely from scratch — and adding a twist to each new menu item too, like the fried chicken and waffles’ Asian-inspired accompaniments pictured here.
The Fitz’s chocolate pie
Tell us about another dish — as clearly, the menu is filled with items that sound familiar, but there’s a twist.
Jason: In the 1920s, Chinese food was all the rage — it was exotic, like, “Ooh, soy sauce, ginger.” Then, Wolfgang Puck did it again in the ’80s. For our Asian chicken salad, I take tea-smoked chicken, crispy rice noodles and lots of fresh vegetables, really vibrant flavors. For the rumaki, which was popular (in the ’20s), it’s basically water chestnuts, chicken livers and bacon, but we use pork belly, and we make a Sprecher root beer soy caramel sauce. We’re trying to accomplish a lot on the plate.
Jennifer: Jason’s always putting a spin on things. There were about
15 revisions to the menu before it launched. Sometimes, he’d wake me up in the night (and say), “Jen, Jen, I’ve got a new idea.” It’s 3 o’clock in the morning, (but) every time he changes something, the idea keeps getting better and better. With every (dish), there’s got to be something magical about it.
Tell us about another standout dish.
Jason: The chocolate pie. It has chocolate crust, chocolate ganache, chocolate whipped cream. It’s our top-selling dessert. They might come here for my dinner, but they’ll come back for (Jennifer’s) dessert.
How did you two meet?
Jennifer: Jason and I met in Dallas at the City Café. He was the chef, and I was the pastry chef.
Jason: We worked together at Mangia (in Kenosha) and in Dallas, but this is the biggest project we’ve ever collaborated on.
Tell us about Eme, your 10-year-old daughter.
Jennifer: She’s named after Amelia Earhart, but her name is spelled Emelia. On the menu here, we have Eme’s waffles. She is a food-crazy kid. She eats everything and anything. I’ll bounce ideas off her. She loves helping in the kitchen, and she bakes a lot at home. Her dream is to go on one of those kids chef cooking shows.
Does she want to follow in your culinary footsteps?
Jennifer: No. She wants to be a marine biologist and save sharks.
What’s in your home pantry?
Jason: We always have fresh garlic, Vidalia onions, kosher salt, cracked pepper and fresh herbs. With those things, we can make anything good.
Jennifer: We always have chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
Jason: Hoisin, Gochujang Korean hot sauce made with fermented chiles, fish sauce.
Jennifer: Eme’s a fan of truffle ketchup.
Jason: The purveyor of Urbani Truffles gave us some. You can get it at Glorioso’s and Woodman’s.
Anything else we should know?
Jason: We have two certified sommeliers, which (no one else in town has) — Jason Wedner and Erik Mulberry. They have cultivated a small but exceptional 100-bottle wine list. We also have a fantastic executive sous chef, Brittany Greene, who is the third person on our team. She’s exceptional.