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Duck Sel
Photograph: Courtesy Duck Sel

A Michelin-starred chef revives his pop-up dinner series in Chicago

Donald Young melds Midwest cooking with French techniques at Duck Sel, his latest pop-up project.

Emma Krupp
Written by
Emma Krupp

Back in 2016—before earning a Michelin star at Temporis and leading the kitchen at Venteux—chef Donald Young used to host dinner parties for his friends in a pop-up series he called Salted Duck, an homage to his lifelong affinity for cooking and eating duck (especially the cute ones, he’s written).

Now, Young is bringing back Salted Duck as Duck Sel, a 12-course private dinner party and pop-up experience that fuses contemporary Midwest dishes with classic French cooking techniques. Hosted inside the cozy RLM Events space in Irving Park, Duck Sel invites guests to feast on dishes like omelette filled with Delice de Bourgogne and Jamón ibérico, duck dry-aged in house, and pasta in buttermilk and parmesan broth—or whatever else Young is experimenting with at the moment. 

“I’m working on doing a fun little palate cleanser as a popsicle with strawberries,” he says. “So it all depends on the season. The whole idea is to keep with the seasons, and to keep it interesting.”  

Young, who left his position as executive chef-partner at Venteux in late 2021, started Duck Sel earlier this year as a private dining experience before deciding to offer pop-ups dinners as a way to decompress from the pressures of restaurant cooking. He’d been clocking 100-plus hour work weeks at Venteux and felt creatively stifled, unable to incorporate Korean, Japanese or Mexican ingredients to offer some variety. 

“After Venteux, I realized being kind of forced to be tied down to just one cuisine, I shed a lot of walls of creativity,” Young says. 

The Duck Sel concept has given Young more freedom to play around with cooking and branch beyond traditional French dishes. His dishes for the 12-course menu are free-wheeling and frequently beautiful to look at: A dry-aged duck served alongside preserved red kuri squash, Concord grape and black sesame puree is plated with aggressive splatters, while raw langoustine gets topped with globules of its periwinkle-colored eggs and fuschia flower petals. 

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He’s also worked sustainability into his cooking practices at Duck Sel, using pickling and other fermentation techniques to use up scraps that would otherwise be discarded, as well as sourcing ingredients from local farms. And of course, there’s plenty of duck on the menu, which Young dry ages in a second fridge he keeps at home. Ultimately, he says, the Duck Sel experience is meant to be lighthearted—a way to experience high-end cuisine in a more casual setting, without the pretenses that often come along with fine dining.

“I’ve been to some higher-end restaurants across the country and they can be such uptight experiences that don’t have personality,” Young says. “I’d rather just have fun and have someone be able to joke with me.” 

Young’s first pop-ups will run April 1 and April 8, with additional dates planned for late May. Can’t make any of the pop-up sessions? Duck Sel can also be booked for private dinner experiences both at event spaces and at home.    

Tickets for Duck Sel are $250 and can be purchased via Tock. For more information about private dining experiences, visit Duck Sel’s website.

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