At Pastry Chef Hsing Chen’s Chicago Restaurant, Food Tells A Story
“I grew up in an environment where food was very important. It’s the way you show love. It’s the way you gather with other people.”
One of Hsing Chen’s favorite memories is traveling in Northern Greece, a region filled with mountain ranges and monasteries, where herbs and chestnut trees grow in the shadow of Mount Olympus. It’s a unique place in the Mediterranean country, often overlooked in favor of the white beaches and nightlife of Mykonos and Santorini. But for the acclaimed pastry chef, Northern Greece is the best of what the country has to offer.
“I think a lot of people don’t think about Greece in that way,” Chen tells me as we chat near the kitchen of her restaurant, Andros Taverna. She co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Doug Psaltis, whose family has roots in the Greek Island of Andros. “There’s a whole different type of cuisine and food that comes from Northern Greece.”
Andros Taverna might be located in Chicago, in the heart of Logan Square, but its current seasonal pasta dish, wild boar macaroni, perfectly embodies the type of food you can find in this hilly part of Greece. During brunch and dessert, Andros Taverna also serves a wide array of Chen’s pastries and sweets; she combines French techniques with Greek flavors, creating some of Chicago’s most unique baked goods.
Chen started off as a food writer, which gradually evolved into a career as a pastry chef. She’s worked in prestigious kitchens, including the French Laundry, where she met her husband and business partner. But her formative experiences started much earlier, in the kitchen at home. “My mom is an amazing cook, she always wanted to have a restaurant,” says Chen. “Every year for Chinese New Year, she cooks a traditional Chinese banquet, which is hard.” Chen says, with pride and affection. “Even people in her generation often don’t know how to cook that kind of banquet.”
From her mother, Chen was also taught the power of a good meal in bringing people together. “I grew up in an environment where food was very important. It’s the way you show love. It’s the way you gather with other people.” That’s the goal at Andros Taverna, where both Chen and Psaltis vow to implement the Greek philosophy of hospitality, philotimo.
“There isn’t really an American translation of the word, but it’s the embodiment of caring for your community and sharing with your community,” Chen explains, as she carefully selects a few of her signature brunch pastries for me to try.
At Andros Taverna, you can feel the spirit of philotimo, as if you were invited into someone’s home. The plates are simple, with ample portions. The decor is understated, but beautiful. You could stay here for hours, eating huge plates of fresh simply seasoned octopus, beets and feta salad, tiny cretan lamb sausages, and a halva date shakes. “We really focus on bringing in the best ingredients and, and not manipulating them or the flavor,” says Chen.
Sourdough bread is made in-house; honey and butter smeared thickly on crunchy, salty pieces of toast. Chen’s olive oil lemon cake—moist with a burst of sweet, bitter lemon rind—is made with Iliada Olive Oil, which is harvested through traditional and eco-conscious methods in the Kalamata region of Greece. Thin spirals of koulouri, which Chen describes as a kind of “Greek snack that’s kind of like a bagel, but airier and lighter” are dipped into smooth taramasalata with cod roe the color of golden sunrises. Sweet and savory feta puffs, along with the apple pie bougatsa with semolina custard, leave plates covered with flecks of crispy, golden philo, like a pile of delicate coins.
Andros Taverna’s decor takes inspiration from Chen’s Buddhist upbringing, which remains a huge part of her life. The restaurant itself is simple, working in elements of nature. Stone-colored walls give Andros an elegant vintage feel—plants, natural woods with delicate grains, simple plates bring in modern and meditative touches.
“I love the mixing of the contrast between Old World and New World styles,” she says. “I always need natural materials, whether it’s plants or wood. It adds warmth to the environment. With food, I’m really inspired by classic plating. I don’t like a lot of things on a plate.”
An avid photographer (two things she can’t live without are her Canon EOS 5D MarkIV and Leica D-Lux 7 cameras), Chen takes all the photos for the restaurant. “I actually went on this culinary photography retreat in Paris, organized by [the late] Beth Kirby, who started a blog called The Art of Slow Living,” she says. “It was about 10 of us women, and a lot were business owners who wanted to take their own pictures.”
One of her biggest takeaways: Always take photos with natural light. “And have a reason for why you’re taking a photo of that image,” she adds. “What are you trying to capture? What do you want someone else to see?”
At Andros Taverna, Chen aims to capture a simple kind of beauty, a restaurant bursting with bright, elegant flavors, a welcoming spirit, and a commitment to both sustainability and community. A place where you can stay awhile. It is, after all, how she was brought up. “In Buddhism, there is the idea that we are all the same,” says Chen. “We’re all on this planet and we’re the same beings. No one is better than the other. I try to live by that.”