Spend some time talking to Chef Michael Lachowicz, and the word “grateful” pops up a lot. He is grateful for his family. He is grateful that he gets to cook the French food that he loves. He is grateful for good friends and business partners. And he is grateful for thirteen years of recovery. Tales of drugs and alcohol are not uncommon in the culinary world, but Lachowicz is grateful that for him it is in the past, and grateful for lessons learned. “More of my choices are good now. I’m better at taking suggestions. I focus on doing the next right thing, so I can stay on this path. And I’m grateful for what I have.”
Fortunately for us, though much has changed, one thing hasn’t: Chef Lachowicz is still preparing astonishingly good French food. His trajectory has been recorded in multiple articles that trace his time spent at the Culinary Institute of America, Les Deux Gros restaurant in Glen Ellyn, and the internationally acclaimed Le Français in Wheeling. “I was at Le Français for three years, but the partnership didn’t work. I blame it on ego,” Lachowicz admits. “And clearly, naming my restaurant Michael was ego.”
Started in 2005, Restaurant Michael became one of the bright stars of the French constellation with which Chicagoland was then blessed. But over the next decade, the stars began to fade and go out. Lachowicz felt that Michael was fading, too, but rather than close, he evolved. “We had great food and a great team. It was just time to do something new.” And so was born George Trois.
“My grandfather was George I, and my uncle was George II. These were the two most influential men in my life.” The new venture would become the third George, and Lachowicz would call his new place George Trois. In 2011, an addition was built on the south side of the original Winnetka restaurant to house his new venture, an intimate space where a splendid, changing degustation menu of modern French cuisine could be offered to a smaller audience. It was a smashing success, and in 2019, it became the first suburban restaurant to be named Restaurant of the Year by the Jean Banchet Awards (named for the chef who started Le Français).
On June 1, 2019, Lachowicz was ready to open his new, updated vision for the rest of the soon to be retired Restaurant Michael. The space was divided into two restaurants—Silencieux and Aboyer—with different décor and two different approaches to food. George Trois retained its glory, and the two new restaurants were soon garnering major attention from reviewers. But 2020 brought the COVID pandemic, shuttering all three. Silencieux would not survive—but Lachowicz was determined to not lose anything else. “May 21, the restaurant closed. May 22, it opened as carry-out only—but comfort food, not haute cuisine. We served my mom’s lasagna, meat balls. It was really hard, but we just did it.” However, it was not all determination and homey dishes that got them through. This was a restaurant that was truly loved. “No fewer than twenty customers stepped up and wrote checks to pay the staff.”
“About ten months into COVID,” Lachowicz says, “I decided we had to have something to plan. That’s when we started talking about Fonda Cantina.” The “we” in this case includes Miguel Escobar and Sergio Angel, longtime associates (Escobar, eighteen years; Angel, twenty-eight years) and partners with Lachowicz in the George Trois Group. After helping with planning, Escobar and Angel became key players in what came to be described as “a memoir of Mexico.” They are joined by chef de cocina Carlos Cahue, who worked with Lachowicz and Escobar in the kitchen at Aboyer. Lachowicz found a building in Evanston for them and remains part of the management team, but emphasizes, “You’ll never see me cooking at Fonda.” He wants Fonda Cantina to reflect the small towns in Mexico from which Escobar, Angel and Cahue came—though with classic French sensibilities. Now Lachowicz’s managerial focus is on the practical business of helping them find their audience in a neighborhood that is very different from the one where Aboyer is located.
Lachowicz is excited about Fonda Cantina and wants to see the restaurant and his partners do well. However, his heart is, he says, French. “If you want French food in Chicago, you come to me.”
Uncommon among haute dining venues, Aboyer is open seven nights a week and offers a Sunday brunch. By the time Aboyer reopened in April 2022, in addition to a more modern interior, it had added a handsome patio dining area, for those who prefer to dine en plein air. The Aboyer menu varies by season, while also preserving items on which regulars rely, and while there are influences from around the world (bok choy, chimichurri, Israeli couscous), it is still clearly anchored in France. From classics, such as escargots à la Bourguignon and salade Lyonnaise, to upgraded Americana, such as potato-dusted Lake Superior whitefish with lemon caper beurre blanc or the Aboyer burger (ground short rib and Wagyu beef, gruyere, crispy Thai pork belly, and caramelized onions), it’s all remarkable. And don’t miss the warm gougères. There are weekly specials (such as soft-shell crab, whole Dover sole, or short ribs Bourguignon), affordable midweek “Bistro night” menus, cigar dinners (on the patio), no-corkage nights, and holiday offerings, which is why you want to get on Aboyer’s email list.
Then there is George Trois. “I want to be able to cook at George Trois,” Lachowicz says. “It makes me a better person. It makes me a better father. Working is a good way to offer a good example.” As majority partner and guiding light of three restaurants, Lachowicz had to find a way to make this work, and so George Trois is only open three nights a week, Friday through Sunday. The intimate space hosts only ten people per night, which enables Lachowicz to offer “the best, most consistent, most awesome experience possible.” The tasting menus at George Trois change regularly, so there is always something new to experience. “This summer, I’m offering a menu that is a tribute to Le Français. Those who remember Jean Banchet will recognize some signature items, including the iconic saucisson de Lyon en brioche, with sauce périgueux.”
And so Chef evolves and grows. He cares for family, friends, partners, and customers. And he produces glorious food. Having been a fan since his days at Le Français, I am definitely grateful for that.