Neutrino physicist fixes a feast

Chez Leon guest chef Joe Walding talks to a table of diners including (from left): Leon and Ellen Lederman and Alvin and Janine Tollestrup.

Cooking is a science. Joe Walding would know. The neutrino physicist put his scientific skills to work on Friday, Feb. 11, making a French and African inspired three-course meal for a crowd of 50.

Walding, who normally works on the MINOS and MINERvA neutrino experiments, was the first guest chef in a new program at Chez Leon, Fermilab’s on-site gourmet restaurant. While Walding has always loved food and cooking, this was his first try at such a large-scale meal. Walding said the careful planning and organization he learned as a physicist, helped him prepare the decadent meal and serve it on time. He also had the expert guidance of Chez Leon’s head chef, Konni Barnes.

The Valentine’s Day feast began with moules mariniere served alongside freshly baked bread. A main course of honey and coriander marinated lamb chops followed, accompanied by a North-African style vegetable tagine. Dessert was a French blueberry and pear tart with an unusual but delicious thyme ice cream.

Walding began preparing for the meal days in advance, paying careful attention to every detail right down to the truffles served with after-dinner coffee.

His favorite part of the evening was talking to the many satisfied Chez Leon customers, including Leon Lederman.

“It’s not often you get to serve dinner to a Nobel Prize winner. It was pretty awesome,” Walding said.

Konni Barnes, Chez Leon’s regular head chef, thought the evening was a complete success.

“The food was fantastic,” Barnes said. “Everyone enjoyed themselves.”

Barnes plans to have a guest chef each month. On Friday, March 25, guest chef William Wester will prepare pan-seared duck breast with fig sauce. Check the Chez Leon website for more details.

To make reservations, call Chez Leon at (630) 840-3524. Dinner reservations must be made at least three days in advance.

— Cynthia Horwitz