Stephen Gillanders, the award-winning chef behind S.K.Y. and Apolonia, has a new culinary project in the works—and this time, he’s moving behind the confines of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
On September 21, Gillanders will debut Valhalla, an original fine dining concept situated on the second floor of Time Out Market Chicago. Named for the great hall of eternity in Norse mythology, Valhalla will offer an a la carte menu as well as an intimate chef’s counter tasting experience guiding guests through a 11-course menu that Gillanders says is equal parts decadent, globe-trotting and personal.
“This is going to be the best food I can make right now,” Gillanders says. “And what’s meaningful as well is that there’s a story for every dish, and it summarizes the entire evolution of my career.”
Gillanders, who says he’s wanted to branch into fine dining for several years, is aware that opening a high-end restaurant in a food hall might seem unconventional. The L.A. native spent his early culinary career opening restaurants around the world as a corporate chef for Jean-Georges Vongerichten before landing in Chicago for a stint at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. In 2018, he opened his first solo restaurant, S.K.Y. (which earned a 5-star review from Time Out for its Asian-inflected cuisine), in Pilsen, and followed up with Apolonia, a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient, in 2021.
Now, having divested from his other two restaurants as well as a position as chef at Somerset, Gillanders is aiming to break into new territory at Time Out Market, creating an upscale experience that melds into the Market’s energetic atmosphere—a tradition he says is on the cutting edge of global fine dining.
“Geranium, the best restaurant in the world, isn’t just in Copenhagen—it’s in the soccer stadium in Copenhagen,” he explains. “[Chef’s Table at] Brooklyn Fare is in a food market, and they have three Michelin stars. … I really saw a huge amount of potential to do something really cool here.”
Part of that endeavor includes creating a space that feels immersive yet integrated with the rest of the Market. Located on the second floor, Valhalla will accommodate 66 diners, including the 14-seat chef’s counter, in a partitioned space overlooking the Market’s main dining area. Guests enter on the second floor and are greeted by a host before being led to a seat within the dining room. Gillanders will be based at the restaurant full-time, and plans to interact with guests personally throughout their meals.
Valhalla’s menu is inspired by Gillanders’ time working for Vongerichten as well as his travels around the world, spanning a selection of dishes Gillanders calls “approachable and rad, but not overly stuffy or fancy.” Seared Japanese scallops will be served with brown butter, bonito and enoki mushrooms, for instance, while dry aged lamb comes dressed in berbere (an Ethiopian spice blend), tomato butter and artichoke. A roster of wine and beverage pairings will also be available.
Certain menu items have special personal significance—like crab arroz caldo, a variation on the traditional Filipino porridge. Gillanders’ mom, who is Filipino, has long urged him to put a Filipino dish on his menus, a venture he once regarded as intimidating.
“My grandma—whose name is Apolonia, who the restaurant is named after—she was the cook in the family,” Gillanders says. “So Filipino food was still very homey to me. … But then, as an adult, I look back on it and think, ‘Well, why was I so afraid to cook Filipino foods?’ And it’s because I have such a strong connection to my grandmother’s food, and I just can’t do it like she did.”
At Valhalla, the crab arroz caldo isn’t exactly like something Gillanders’ grandmother would make, but rather a pumped-up homage: Cooked in a manner that’s more akin to risotto, the dish is prepared with sushi rice, herb-infused tea and fresh crab, then topped with lemon, black pepper and crunchy garlic in hondashi seasoning. Like the rest of Valhalla’s menu, it’s an unusually luxe dish to eat at a food hall, but Gillanders hopes that guests will lean into the novelty of eating crab—or caviar, or sea urchin, or quail egg—in an unorthodox space.
“We will never say that we can’t do this because we’re in a food hall. On the contrary—we’re going to say we should do this because we’re in a food hall,” Gillanders says. “I think there’s going to be the expectation for us to make things a little lesser, and that’s where we’re going to double down.”
Valhalla, located at Time Out Market Chicago (916 W Fulton Market), opens September 21. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 5-10pm. Reservations are strongly recommended and are available now via Tock.