Chicago chef, Michael Taus, is the new culinary director of Gemstone Café Group, which was founded by veteran restaurateur Branko Palikuca, co-owner of The Dawson and several other spots in Chicago and the suburbs.
In that role, Taus leads the kitchens at Palikuca’s restaurants Citrine, Topaz Café, Amber Café and the newest, Papa Cenar. The Logan Square restaurant is inspired by the cafes of 1920s Europe where Ernest “Papa” Hemingway and other writers and artists kept company.
Taus has cooked and eaten across Europe and counts those experiences among the most formative and pleasurable of his 30-year career. He brings that passion to Papa Cenar, which Palikuca opened in October 2019 at 2445 N. Milwaukee Ave.
“There is so much creativity and such a strong sense of community in this neighborhood and in our restaurant. I’m thrilled to be a part of both and to cook the foods I love in a way that makes people feel welcome and happy,” says Taus.
Taus’ heart lies in straightforward, ingredient-driven cooking, which comes through in his menu of shared plates and platters, many of which are cooked over the restaurant’s wood-fired grill. During the growing season, he will tap into his network of local farmers to showcase produce and create dishes made exclusively with products from the Sunday Logan Square Farmers Market.
Taus’ rustic menu features dishes such as wood-grilled oysters with chorizo butter; lamb ribs with Calabrian chili honey and goat yogurt; and Papa’s Griddled Burger, topped with Manchego and smoked paprika remoulade. Larger plates including wood-grilled Amish chicken with white bean fabada, a Spanish stew, and whole branzino served with mole roja and charred lemon. For pulpo, or octopus, he uses a technique he learned from the matriarch of a tiny restaurant in Spain: He puts wine corks in the braise, which give the dish a meaty flavor.
Taus grew up in west suburban La Grange Park and began cooking at Riverside Brookfield High School, where he remains a mentor in the school’s culinary program. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, he trained under such chefs as Pierre Pollin, Joachim Splichal and Charlie Trotter before opening Zealous, which enjoyed a nearly 20-year run as a vegetarian/vegan-friendly destination.
Taus most recently was culinary director at the restaurants Untitled Supper Club and City Hall as well as several event venues. He is a co-founder and vice president of The Trotter Project, a nonprofit that carries on the late chef’s legacy of culinary education and youth mentorship.