Peter Coenen, the executive chef of, well pretty much the whole lobby level of The Chicago Athletic Association, is a pretty busy guy. The former chef of the Gage, which is just up the street from the hotel, teamed up with the Land & Sea Dept. to oversee the food at the iconic Cherry Circle Room, the Game Room, The Drawing Room and the forthcoming Milk Room. That means Coenen, who makes a mean griddled burger and lobster roll, spends a lot of time at The Chicago Athletic Association. But what does he do when he gets a day off? Read on to find out.
Chicago Athletic Association: What’s your typical day off like — what does it consist of?
Peter Coenen: I try and sleep in, just a little. I relax in the morning on my deck in Wicker Park with a cup of coffee, and just take in the nice morning weather while I read the news. Then I’ll usually go somewhere for a late lunch around 2 or 3 p.m. — something light, like a sandwich, or maybe some cheese and charcuterie with a cocktail or a beer. Weather permitting, I like sitting outside on a patio or at least near open windows.
I also try to do any errands I haven’t been able to get to during the week, including a stop at the grocery store. I cook out at least once a week at home, maybe grilled clams with some drawn butter, grilled vegetables or a marinated skirt steak. If I don’t end up grilling out on my deck, I’ll go out to eat somewhere. In the evening, I always try to catch up with friends over some drinks.
Chicago Athletic Association: Where do you like to eat when you’re not at the hotel and why?
PC: I try to eat out at new places and see what’s going on in the Chicago food scene. Of course, I do have my go-to spots that I always know will be a great meal. The restaurants I tend to go to over and over again are Gilt Bar (I always order the ribeye and a gin and tonic with splash of chartreuse and extra lime), Bistro Campange and Wasabi. With these spots, I know the food and service are consistently good. I can relax and have a good time there.
Chicago Athletic Association: What about going out for drinks — where and why?
PC: Late night, I tend to go to Big Star. It’s great and right in my neighborhood. I also enjoy Bom Bolla for a few beers and tapas. Drinks are always great at Sable Kitchen and Bar (sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name!).
Chicago Athletic Association: How do you spend time off with friends or family?
PC: I like to get out of the city every once in awhile and be around nature. I also love having friends over for cook outs and good old fashioned fun.
Chicago Athletic Association: Any favorite museums or parks — what about them?
PC: I enjoy going to the Planetarium. There’s so much we don’t know — always keeps you wondering.
Chicago Athletic Association: Do you have any favorite day-trip spots you like to hit to get out of town for a quick mental refresher?
PC: If I’m stuck in the city, I like walking the lakefront. I usually start around North Avenue Beach and finish up just past the museums. I put some headphones on, bring a notebook and take in the sights by the lake. I use it as a break from the city and a time to think, conceptualize, etc… it helps clear my head and I always find I jot down some new ideas.