La Grange’s Wild Monk and its head chef have something in common. They’re both young, and they’re both dreaming big.
At 25, Franke De Vasquez has only been able to legally drink for four years, yet he spends most every waking hour searching for new ways to pair the year-old La Grange restaurant’s fine dining with an extensive list of unique brews—a philosophy at the core of Wild Monk’s “gastropub” branding.
“Working here at Wild Monk just gives me so much freedom with the menu and the food,” De Vasquez said. “I like what we’re doing with the food and the beers, and how we’re introducing food-to-beer in more of a contemporary way, where the beer is actually being used in focus and is showcased, but the food is also good and even better with the beer.”
De Vasquez’s goal: help Wild Monk gain acclimation as one of the finest gastropubs in the region, a goal towards which he works constantly and with immense fervor, frequently sacrificing his days off to check a menu or cover a shift.
Born in Puerto Rico, De Vasquez learned self-described “rustic” cooking early from his family, including his farm-owning grandfather. He moved to Wheaton at the age of 12 and graduated from Wheaton North before attending the Technology Center of DuPage and graduating from the New England Culinary Institute.
He has interned both with the Michelin-starred Vie in Western Springs as well as the now-defunct Sequel in Lombard, and worked at a Latin-contemporary restaurant called Santos in Stowe, Vermont, before returning to La Grange in the summer of this year to start at Wild Monk. [Disclosure: De Vasquez currently rents his residence from this writer.]
Starting as Wild Monk’s sous chef, De Vasquez has risen in just half a year to take sole command of the restaurant’s kitchen and menu—a perpetual challenge, he said, but one he dearly loves to tackle. Whenever possible, he prefers to make his dishes as much from scratch as possible, including drying his own spices and preparing his own ingredients.
“Working at Vie has always taught me that you don’t go into your refrigerator and say, ‘oh my God, I’m out of ketchup,’” said De Vasquez. “I can make ketchup! That’s what my mentality is: why buy it already-made? Like, the Worchester sauce for the chili, I make it here in house. People buy cases of Worchester —I don’t need cases of Worchester. I need a good Worchester!
“We’re taking something like a chili and making it complex enough where it would be considered a specialty, a great meal that someone is investing a lot of time in… We’re making very common foods more complex.”
For an introduction to the gastropub style of treating beer as an accessory to food, De Vasquez recommends Wild Monk’s upcoming beer dinner, his second at the helm and his recent obsession. The beer dinner features a five-course meal paired with a selection of beers, ostensibly paired for maximum enjoyment of each. The dinner will take place on Nov. 13 at 6:00 p.m. and requires an advance signup here or by calling 708-255-2337.
“It introduces people who don’t normally associate beer with food [to the restaurant,]” suggested De Vasquez.
Wild Monk is owned by the Maglaris family (the same as Prasino across the street) and is located at the corner of Cossitt Avenue and La Grange Road. The restaurant also has a second location in St. Charles. The La Grange location opened in September 2011.