When Oliver Poilevey’s mother Susanne was dying of cancer in 2019, Poilevey would cook for her. She loved BLTs, especially in the summer, so he made her plenty while satisfying her craving for stews in the winter, even as she struggled with her appetite, only managing a few bites.
“It helped me knowing that I could help her in some way,” Poilevey says. “Nothing was going to cure her, so I was just kind of escaping that and enjoying a meal. I love to cook. That’s why I cook.”
Poilevey’s mother, who died in September 2019, was Chicago restaurant royalty, along with her husband, Jean-Claude, who died in a car accident in 2016. The couple brought French food to the forefront with Le Bouchon in Bucktown and La Sardine, which closed in 2020 after 22 years in River North. They inspired their son to open Taqueria Chingón and Obelix, the latter a French bistro that simultaneously honors the past while advancing a more modern approach to French cooking.
So when Poilevey read Eater’s 2021 story on Culinary Care, a nonprofit that works with Chicago-area restaurants to feed cancer patients, he immediately connected with the cause and founder Courtney White, who lost her father to cancer in 2006.
“It’s like the community that you hope that no one ever is part of, but we can relate to each other and understand to some degree what we’ve been through,” White says.
Poilevey quickly embraced the community by using the Taco Tuesday guest-chef series at Taqueria Chingón to raise money for the organization. Next week, he’ll be one of 26 chefs providing food for Culinary Care’s annual gala on Thursday, November 10. He’s also hosted three cookoffs for employees of Culinary Care’s corporate donors. Their largest-ever event brought 40 people from four companies to Obelix, where they tried their hand at making beef Wellington, one of the restaurant’s standout dishes.
Attendees nibbled beef tartare and cheese puffs while drinking free-flowing wine poured by Poilevey’s brother and business partner Nicolas before gathering for a demonstration conducted by Obelix pastry chef Antonio Incandela, who Poilevey says has the best beef Wellington technique.
The dish is a variation on the beef Wellington served by Jean-Claude Poilevey at Le Bouchon, where foie gras is used instead of mushrooms. Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey took over both Le Bouchon and La Sardine after their father died.
During the demonstration, Incandela brushed a sizable beef tenderloin with mustard, laying slices of prosciutto on plastic wrap, and spreading finely diced mushrooms on top like mortar. The sheet was then folded over the beef, tied off in such a way that it resembled a meaty hard candy, and the bundle set aside to rest in a cooler. Incandela then guided attendees through wrapping the meat in the house-made puff pastry and painting it with egg wash.
Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey would take over responsibilities for their parent’s beloved restaurants. Losing both parents in a three-year span was difficult for the brothers, including a third, Henri Poilevey. More than 1,000 people attended Jean-Claude Poilevey’s funeral. “It was kind of crazy because my dad was so loved,” Oliver Poilevey says. “Everybody knew him and people would come in crying and telling all types of stories. I was like, ‘Oh shit, what do I do now?’”