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The history of Foss

How El chef Phillip Foss went from Le Cirque to Meatyballs and back to fine dining again.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Phillip Foss

 (Provided by Meatyballs)
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Provided by Meatyballs

Phillip Foss's Meatyballs food truck

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Saffron arancini with cattail hearts at Phillip Foss's El restaurant

This week, Phillip Foss opens the doors to El, a ten-seat restaurant serving an 11-course prix fixe with only one seating (6pm). Short for “elevated,” El and its chefs (Foss and Andrew Brochu, the former chef of Kith & Kin) will traffic in food that is at times unexpected (such as saffron arancini with cattail hearts). The restaurant is housed in the kitchen that handles production for Meatyballs, Foss’s line of meatball food trucks, at 2419 West 14th Street—otherwise known as the middle of nowhere. How did one of the city’s most vocal chefs, whose face was once draped on the side of the Palmer House Hilton, arrive there? A quick review:

1970 Phillip Joshua Foss is born in Milwaukee. Seventeen years later, when he is completing his second senior year in high school (“I have always been a rabble-rouser,” Foss says—more on this later), he gets a cooking job at a diner.

1989 Encouraged by a mentor, Foss decides to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He graduates 21 months later.

1991 Foss lands his first job at a classic New York French restaurant, Lafayette. He doesn’t last long. He moves to the legendary Quilted Giraffe. Here, he lasts a little longer. He gets a job at Oceana. He doesn’t last long. “I was not nearly as good as my CIA diploma would have had me believe,” he would later write on his blog, thepickledtongue.com.

1993 Finally landing the job of his dreams at Le Cirque, Foss decides to buckle down. He stays with the company for several years, rises through the ranks and eventually makes sous chef.

2000 Foss moves to Chicago and obtains a sous chef position at Tru, a job he says “definitely didn’t fit my persona.” He doesn’t last long.

2001 After an executive chef stint at Bistro Margot, Foss leaves Chicago for Brazil, where he lives and cooks for two years. “I left for Brazil a boy, came back a man,” he says.

2003 After a short stay in Milwaukee, Foss moves to Hawaii and works at the Four Seasons in Maui for two years.

2005Foss makes plans to travel around the world. His first stop: Israel. In Tel Aviv, he becomes “absolutely taken with the electricity of the street and the beauty of the women.” So he sticks around, cooks at the King David Hotel and meets his wife.

2007 Foss and his wife move from Bermuda (yes, somehow they had moved to Bermuda) to Milwaukee. Foss reads a job ad on Starchefs.com for a position at the Palmer House Hilton. He drives to Chicago and knocks on the kitchen door. He is hired.

2010 After repeated warnings and suspensions relating to opinions expressed on his blog, Foss is finally fired from the Palmer House for tweeting, “Can’t we all just smoke a bong?”

2010 Two weeks later, he starts Meatyballs, a food truck slinging all manner of meatball sandwiches.

2011 His truck fleet having been expanded to three, Foss decides to get back to dinner. Meatyballs is about elevated lunch cuisine, he says. El is about elevated dinner.

Reservations for El can be made at elideas.com.

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