Next in the series, we sit down to chat with Chef Jess Deguzman, executive chef at Sunda. We met Chef Jess a few weeks ago on Windy City Live! and were blown away by his tasty, delightfully outlandish creation, the Sumo Mary, which also topped our Thrillist list for Chicago’s most ridiculous(ly awesome) bloody marys. Grab a seat and read how this soon-to-be-legendary brunch cocktail was born.
How long have you been a chef at Sunda?
I’ve been the executive chef here for about two years. I started out as an executive sushi chef here, which was about five years ago. Proved I had what it takes and moved my way up through the ranks here.
Where did you work before here?
I worked at a few other places. I worked at Coast on Damen. The chef is a good friend of mine. I helped him open his other restaurant, South Coast. I had my own place a while back too. I was just having fun. I had the best schedule, working Monday through Friday and I was very comfortable. Then I came here. It all changed but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
You created the Sumo Mary. Now, have you created other bloody marys?
Bloody marys are something I personally love to drink, and wherever I go, I’ll get one. It all started when I’d go to other places, and they have a different selection of stuff. For me, I like spicy. People just started getting crazy with their bloody marys. Almost ridiculous with what they were doing. So, I was just like, “Why not just make one and add bits and pieces of the menu with it?” So that’s what happened.
Did you pull your inspiration from elsewhere?
It was just from within the restaurant because we have so much to offer here. There are so many types of cuisines. I knew it was going to be completely original. It’s crazy how it kind of took off. I was pleasantly surprised. The mix itself is very unique, too… There’s a lot of texture in the actual drink because we’re blending all these flavors together. Some of the things in there like Nước chấm, a Vietnamese style dipping sauce. It’s usually sweet, garlicky and spicy, so there are a lot of elements to it. We use our garlic vinaigrette, which is another dipping sauce for one of our dishes. Yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus fruit, is very unique. They combine it with pepper to make it a little spicy. It’s very pungent, so a little bit goes a long way. That’s what gives it a unique flavor. So looking at how we were doing our bloody mary, I was just like “Let’s do something else.” We have our bloody mary cart, but we just wanted to do something different.
What have been people’s responses to the Sumo Mary?
They’re literally wowed. Everyone is getting crazy with their bloody marys. That’s fine, but ours is about doing something different and not being too serious about it.
How often does it get ordered on the weekends?
That week I was on Windy City Live, there were like 30 of them ordered. It was crazy.
Has anyone ever ordered more than one?
[Laughing] I don’t think so. I once saw a table that ordered six, but everyone had their own.
Do you have any plans for a 2.0 version of Sumo Mary?
Definitely. One thing about me and this restaurant is that, I involve my staff and sous chefs just as much. I give them the ability to create their own stuff. That’s what they enjoy about it. Maybe I’d have them create a different one for each season.
We drink a lot of bloody marys, so it’s getting harder to find ones that actually stands out. This one certainly does.
The mix is a combination of sweet and spicy. You got the cilantro, cucumber and and other things that make it so different.
So, what exactly is in that garnish?
The sushi purists are going to hate me, but I put a sushi roll on top. Below that is a Chinese duck bao bun, a piece of thick braised pork belly, tochino, which is a Filipino sausage put in a grilled cheese sandwich. Then comes all the side items, oshinko a Japanese pickled radish, roasted potatoes, shishito peppers, a Filipino egg roll loompya, Chinese broccoli and bacon. I think it’s great because it’s something that can be evolved.
How do people usually approach it? Do they treat it as a brunch and a drink? Or do they usually order a meal with it?
Sometimes, people share it and they order other things too. It’s so much that you might not order anything else.
Bin Cafe used to have one. But there aren’t many restaurants doing Asian-inspired bloody marys.
Maybe they will be soon! But then there are the people that say, “You’re just goofing around.” Exactly yes. I’m not going to say no.
When you’re not working, what are you drinking?
I love a dirty martini. It’s something my wife and I both drink. In the industry, we all drink a lot of Jameson. Here in Chicago, everyone seems to love it.
What other bloody marys in the city do you like?
I like Rockit. And I used to go to Twisted Spoke a lot. I really stick to the dirty martinis.
Check out Chef Jess’ artistic bloody mary creation and amazing Asian-inspired cuisine at Sunda, 110 W Illinois St, Chicago.