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Shawn Cirkiel

By Shannon Oelrich
Photography by Marc Brown

It might be surprising to learn that Shawn Cirkiel’s favorite place in the world to eat is IHOP. “My friends tease me about it, but three eggs over easy, hash browns, sausage and toast? Nothing’s better than that,” he says. As chef and owner of the understated and classic Parkside restaurant, Cirkiel explains away his breakfast-platter obsession with a nod toward making up for lost time.

When he was young, he says, his family was vegetarian and didn’t eat eggs. And the menu at Parkside seems to reflect a carnivorous backlash, too, featuring an assortment of oysters and other fresh seafood available at the raw bar, plus veal tongue, sweetbreads and even roasted marrow bones.

But that’s not to say that the food he ate while growing up wasn’t good. “My parents had a restaurant. There was an old-fashioned prep kitchen, and I would pull myself up to the counter and eat raw onions,” he remembers. “We always cooked from scratch.”
He liked it all, except for his mother’s beet casserole. “It was just shredded beets and carrots with cheese over the top, baked in a casserole dish. I hated it, but I had to eat it,” he says ruefully. “If I didn’t eat it for dinner, I’d see it again on my plate at breakfast.”
Recently, he’s had to resort to the same tricks with his own child. “My daughter would only eat beans, rice and cheese, and barely any fruit. We finally got fed up with it and just decided she could eat what we ate and that was it,” he says. “It worked. That Tuesday night she tried everything. She had a mini-tasting at Parkside.”

Shawn-with-kids-in-kitchen



Expanding the family palate is a big part of Cirkiel’s dedicated family night at Parkside. Every Tuesday, his wife, Bria, brings in their kids, Noah (age six) and Dylan Claire (age three), for an early dinner so they can all eat together. “It just became a way to extend our time together,” he says. “I’m more or less there depending on how busy it is. Sometimes we invite friends; sometimes it’s just us.”

Back at home, the Cirkiels keep it basic and do it together. “We tend to eat simply: pot roast, grilled steaks with salad, homemade pasta and sauce that I cook with my son,” he says. “Noah can be next to the stove, now. He can stir, and with the oven, he can open it and pull things out. We don’t let him near the big stand mixer at the restaurant. At home, though, it’s fair game. Noah’s a better cook than some people coming out of culinary school. If something’s not right at a restaurant, he’ll say it.” Dylan Claire also helps out by peeling garlic. “It keeps her little hands busy,” says Cirkiel.

Helping with preparation is one way Cirkiel gets his kids to eat healthful foods; another way is by letting them harvest it. “The most important thing with kids and food is to have gardens and cook with what you grow,” he says. “Kids’ll eat anything they grow themselves and anything they cook themselves.”

SHAWN CIRKIEL'S EVERYBODY-IN-THE-KITCHEN MACARONI

Serves 12 

2 qt. béchamel
3 sprigs thyme
3 c. grated Gruyère
3 c. grated white Cheddar
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 c. cooked macaroni
1 c. bread crumbs
½ c. shredded Parmesan  

Bring béchamel up to a simmer in a large pot with the thyme. Add in the grated Gruyère and white Cheddar. Season with salt and pepper, and add cooked macaroni. Once everything is mixed and warm, place into a baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and Parmesan, and bake in a 400° oven until hot in the middle, sides are bubbling and topping is golden brown.


BÉCHAMEL

1½ oz. butter
1½ oz. all-purpose flour
2 qt. cream
Salt and pepper, to taste 

Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the flour, turn the heat to low and stir for approximately 3 to 4 minutes with a spoon until the flour no longer smells raw. Slowly drizzle in the cream while whisking, and cook on low heat, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes until a simmer has been reached. Season with salt and pepper.