To garner a coveted award nomination from the James Beard Foundation, and entrance into their deliciously-esteemed, highly-anticipated magnum opus of culinary awards galas, he or she must exude a robust greatness. This person must embody and speak to the late-staunch champion of American cuisine and mentor James Beard’s spirit; this individual can do that through their venerable cooking skills, vast and formidable food knowledge or succulent culinary creations.

Notable chef Paul Virant, of the acclaimed Vie and Perennial Virant Restaurants in Illnois, does that through all three pipelines.

The indefatigable food artist (with a trifecta of roles also including Michelin-star restaurateur and food preservation guru) communicates through garden-fresh cuisine (rife with the season’s best local ingredients). Take for instance this Perennial Virant dinner entrée: broiled semolina gnocchi, including a confluence of tomato mountain marinara, roasted mushrooms, pickled garlic, wilted spinach and parmesan; consider Vie’s crispy spanakopita: prairie fruits farm ricotta, growing power spinach, chickpea hummus, pickled sweet pepper vinaigrette, roasted carrots and arugula.

His ingredients-focused approach, an astounding dedication to cooking preserves and warm belief in the concept of “home,” melds together to create quite an unforgettable dining experience. “I wanted to create an extension of my home,” the talented food canner stated on, “where people come together and enjoy high quality food and drink in the company of others.”

The two-time Beard Awards nominee, who spent his childhood on his family’s Missouri farm before attending the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, explains graciously that his restaurants are community epicenters. Listening to him, one knows why he is amongst the crème de la crème of cuisine artists, mavens and inventive mavericks assembled for the Academy Awards-influenced event (expect bursts of attractive chatter about recipes, emotive acceptance speeches, a behemoth media presence, and fragrant aromas stretching the room’s length from the sumptuous fare and drink samples; the stampede over the samplings caused an unforgettable finale last year).

Before this year’s forthcoming event — with Beard’s formative, far-reaching spirit hopefully echoing loudly in the air — at the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on May 3 and 6, Virant further tells GALO about his seasonally-savvy food. And the refined tastemaker imparts advice on how a restaurant’s ambience contributes to its immaculate appeal, his future abroad cuisine conquests and erudition, and more.

GALO: Imagine that your restaurant is a food museum, where each displayed dish looks like a work of art. If you were the exhibit curator and you could only showcase four dishes, tell me which ones best embody you as a culinary artist.

PV: I would fall back on the preserving and all the different things. This includes the array of pickles and preserves that we do that vary in color, shape and size. How we could translate that onto one particular plate? I think it would be difficult like the idea of showcasing all the different jars.

We have some kind of aioli, some kind of dumpling on the menu all the time. This is a pretty good representation of the things that we do. What I think that customers like the most is the potato aioli. Maybe I would keep it simple in thinking about what’s in season right now: mushrooms and pickled ramp.

GALO: To expand on the art of cooking, a lot of chefs’ culinary creations are like anchors of culinary heritage; the dishes hold the past in place with the present moment. The James Beard Foundation commemorates that idea a lot, but how do you celebrate it specifically?

PV: My restaurants embrace history. We embrace a lot of tradition and how food is prepared but more so how it’s preserved. A huge part of my food is the preservation aspect through canning…I have a book, The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves and Aigre-doux. It’s an old craft that we do all year, so that is a huge part of those traditional aspects of food that we push.

GALO: The Beard Foundation brings a lot of enclaves and communities within the culinary world together. With your esteemed dual of restaurants, Vie (opened in 2004) and the nouveau Perennial Virant (opened last year), how do you draw communities in to dine? Are the establishments considered local hangouts, power lunch spots, neighborhood epicenters that lure in a stable group of regulars or something else?

PV: Vie restaurant in Western Springs, [Illnois] is a community [American cuisine] restaurant. People do come from all over Chicago and all over the country. And we have some that come from out of the country. It is a destination for some [people], but it is a local spot for the surrounding five or six towns.

Perennial is also a neighborhood spot, but I feel it is a little bit more of a destination. It is a fixture; we are right across from the biggest farmer’s market in the city. It’s real neat; there is a lot of history there, too. We are a part of the same building as the Hotel Lincoln, which was around in the 1960s and ’70s, and then it closed. So we reopened it [and the restaurant] last year in March.

GALO: Considering two key communities — food writers/bloggers and everyday residents — please share a recipe from your famous garden-fresh, in-season cuisine that would appeal to both groups.

The following is a recipe from Chef Virant’s cookbook entitled “The Preservation Kitchen,” courtesy of Chef Virant.

Mixed Berry Crisp with Goat Cheese Mousse and Mulberry Aigre-Doux

“With no peeling, coring, or slicing required, berry crisps are just about the easiest summer dessert that you can make. I’ve complicated things a tad with creamy mousse and sweet-sour mulberry aigre-doux, but only to elevate the crisp from its homespun heritage. For a more striking presentation, bake the crisps in individual ramekins: add 1 cup of fruit to each ramekin, then top with a nice layer of crumble.”

6 cups assorted summer berries (such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)

1/2 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup Mulberry Aigre-Doux (recipe featured in Virant’s Book)

Goat Cheese Mousse (recipe featured in Virant’s Book)

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the berries evenly in 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cornstarch over the fruit and gently mix.

2. In a stand mixture fitted with the paddle adjustment, mix the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the brown sugar, flours, oatmeal, and salt on low speed. While the mixer is running, gradually add the butter and continue to mix until a coarse crumble forms. Spread the crumble evenly over the fruit, gently pressing it into the fruit.

3. Bake until the berry juices are bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 50 minutes.

(Interview continued on next page)