This “Sappy” Chef Does What it Takes in the Name of Freshness

What exactly are the standards of a five-star chef? Well let’s just say, freshness is one of them. The “farm to table” trend has been sweeping its way across the nation, and it’s truly transforming the culinary industry. For some restaurants, farm to table means sourcing produce and meats from nearby farms, for Chef John Billings, farm to table means traveling, snowshoeing, pumping, and so much more, all in the names of the fresh ingredients. John Billings is the assistant director of food and beverage at Eaglewood Resort & Spa in Itasca, IL, merely miles from exciting downtown Chicago. 

Passionate about delicious cuisine

Devoted to serving his patrons palette-changing tastes, John Billings migrates to the upper peninsula of Michigan to tap his very own maple - every single season. 

Insula, Michigan, a small community that's home to the Sugar Bush. Danielson’s Sugar Bush features 300 acres of spectacular soft and hard maple trees. 20,000 maple trees are tapped for their luscious liquid gold maple, that will literally melt in your mouth. To get from tree to tree, Chef Billings must snowshoe through six feet of snow. Tapping one tree takes about 3-5 minutes, and considering he taps about 250 trees, it’s safe to say that Chef Billings gets a nice long workout each season. 

“Some folks might not want to go to such great lengths just to get syrup, but it’s my personal philosophy that even the smallest of ingredients have a huge effect on taste,” explains Chef Billings. “Securing ingredients myself makes me feel that much closer to Mother Nature, and proud to serve it up to my guests.” 

Next time you’re in need of a luxurious getaway, venture to Eaglewood Resort & Spa, where you can experience the maple syrup, stroll around the extensive grounds, and get pampered at the spa. 

Everything about Eaglewood Resort & Spa is fresh, all the way down to the maple syrup.

 Savory Spring Selections

Braised Pork Shanks

Chef Axline and his team at Las Ramblas

4 8-12 oz. Pork Shanks or Pork Osso Bucco (BONE IN)
1 medium yellow onions (diced)
1 large carrot (peeled and diced)
2 stocks of celery (diced)
4 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed)
4 sprigs of rosemary
4 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tsp chipotle chilies minced 
Red Wine (merlot of pinot noir)
2 cups Chicken Stock or low sodium broth
2 cups Beef Stock or low sodium Broth
1 bunch cilantro
Flour for coating shanks
Salt and pepper
Granulated Garlic
Granulated Onion
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl mix flour with salt and pepper, granulated garlic and onion to taste. Coat the shanks in the flour mixture, shake off any excess flour and place on a plate. Heat a large sauté pan (with a lid) or Dutch oven over medium high heat with cooking olive oil. Place the shanks in the pan and brown each side. Remove shanks once they are browned and place on a platter lined with paper towels to remove any excess oi. Pour out oil from the pan and lower heat to medium, add the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic and cook till translucent. Add the tomato paste, chipotle chilies, and herbs. Stir together and place shanks back into the pan. Pour in red wine and let it simmer for a few minutes. Add enough stock to just cover shanks and bring to a slight boil, turn heat off, cover and place in the oven for about 2 hours. Remove once fork tender and reduce liquid to taste and strain.

Creamy Polenta with Roasted Chilies and Artisan Cheddar Cheese

Chef Axline and his team at Las Ramblas

1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cups of stone ground grits
¾ mild cheddar cheese
2 TBSP olive oil
Pinch of salt
4 oz. of butter
1 small poblano pepper (Roasted, peeled, seeded and diced)
1 small red pepper (Roasted, peeled, seeded and diced)
1 medium onion (peeled, sliced thin and caramelized)

In a medium saucepan bring cream and milk up to a slight boil, stir in polenta and cook, stirring constantly for about 15 minutes. Add the shredded cheddar cheese, turn heat off, and stir until the cheese is incorporated. Finish with the olive oil and butter and season to taste. Add the chilies, caramelized onion.