John des Rosiers
“If I have an idea in my head, it almost always works.” This is only one of John des Rosiers’ guiding principles—and the chef and owner behind Moderno, Inovasi, and Wisma is never short on ideas. At just 34, John has parlayed his extensive culinary experience into the creation of these three concepts, including two full-service restaurants and a culinary/retail space that lets guests take chef-prepared meals, as well as wine and craft beers, home.
While his establishments offer guests different dining experiences, two aspects are common to each: John’s appreciation for ingredients and his insatiable curiosity. At Inovasi (the name of which means “innovation” in Indonesian), John creates contemporary American cuisine, but mixes into it a broad array of influences and techniques, including French, Italian, and Japanese. At Wisma, he utilizes local, organic, and sustainable ingredients in a menu that references cuisines from around the world.
At his latest restaurant, Moderno, John works with Executive Chef Phil Rubino to create Italian food that stays true to the spirit of the country’s culinary ethos while occasionally adding in accents from other cultures. “All kinds of things inspire me,” he notes of his cooking. “It could be anything from watching someone on the Japanese version of ‘Iron Chef’ to a song on the radio to a TV commercial. The bottom line is being creative, as well as having ingenuity and an open mind.”
A Waukegan, IL, native, John started his career working on the salad station at Gabriel’s in Highwood. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, in 1997, he staged at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and returned to spend six years at Gabriel’s, ultimately working as chef de cuisine. In 2003, John joined Bank Lane Bistro and soon found himself at a turning point in his career, looking for a new challenge that would nevertheless let him fully explore his creativity in the kitchen. He soon began laying the plans for what would become Inovasi, which opened in 2009.
For all of its quirks, John’s cuisine nevertheless remains straightforward, and he eschews techie trickery and unrecognizable ingredients. Approachability is an essential part of the dining experience at any of his restaurants—and this idea extends beyond just the menu. “One of the big things we want to create is a sense of community inside the restaurants,” he says. “We really want people to like spending time with us. It’s what most would call ‘casual,’ which I don’t think is a negative word; it simply means the spaces are very warm and friendly.”
Although he spends a fair amount of time in the kitchen overseeing not only the menus but also operations, when he has free time, John, a former Eagle Scout, is most likely to be found outdoors—whether traveling, camping, or playing golf.