Chef Mathew Wiltzius of Chicago’s Lockwood Restaurant Feeds Nostalgia with Carrot Cake
For his first official attempt at cooking for others, then-8-year-old Chef Mathew Wiltzius prepared a hot dog with homemade batter, and way too much liquid smoke. He said he thought it was “real kitschy,” but that it turned out horribly.
“I was going to make these corndogs for my mom when she got home,” said Wiltzius, who is now the executive chef at the Palmer House Hilton’s Lockwood Restaurant. “It was disgusting. Nobody would really eat it.”
Thankfully, Wiltzius has since improved his culinary abilities drastically, but he does still try to stick to older classics at the Lockwood Restaurant while giving them a new, creative flair. Wiltzius said the hotel’s historian, Ken Price, will often bring Wilzius recipes from 80 years ago that he can then update and add to the menu.
“That’s kind of how I like to cook, is from my memory and to evoke memories from other people by making things that you maybe had as a child or from old recipes that we’ve maybe updated,” Wiltzius said.
For example, Wiltzius said the Lockwood Restaurant serves a burger, which might sound bland and boring in the advent of inventive tasting menus and creative cook offs. But the burger at the Lockwood was inspired by Wiltzius’ hometown — Sheboygen, Wisconsin.
Growing up, my grandmother and my grandfather owned a bar and they just sold burgers,” Wiltzius said. “And it was on a traditional Sheboygen Kaiser roll … from the Sheboygen Bakery. It was the only place to get burger buns in a small town like that. We ate those burgers all the time. … I wanted to recreate that burger from scratch all the way.”
And though Wiltzius’ dishes might sound classic and American, his use of herbs and spices is what makes the courses different. For example, when I dined at the Lockwood, Wiltzius served a burrata and tomato salad with compressed persimmon, honeycomb, burnt sourdough, and “herbs n’ floral” from the hotel’s rooftop garden. The result was a delicious, earthy salad with a fresh flavor that wasn’t too sweet for fall. Other dishes Wiltzius served, like the sea scallop, had inventive additions, like a citrus-heavy yuzu foam.
The Lockwood’s dessert menu also features carrot cake, which Wiltzius said seems to have disappeared from menus everywhere because chefs want to go for more “cutting-edge” desserts. He said he doesn’t understand that aversion, and that carrot cake is perfect for the nostalgic quality of his dishes. He serves it with carrot chamomile sorbet and pistachios.
“It’s not your traditional carrot cake, but everybody grew up and they had carrot cake at one point for a family get together or for a birthday or something like that,” Wiltzius said. “In my eyes, you just take something that’s from the heart, you change it up a little bit, you add a different garnish and it’s just as good.”