Owner and Executive Chef
Matthias Restaurant Group (A10, Billy Sunday, Yusho), Chicago, IL
Matthias Merges grew up in Middletown, New Jersey, as the oldest of five boys. The family jokes that their mother was a terrible cook and they subsisted on overcooked liver and onions. Forced to take dinner time into their own hands, the Merges brothers scavenged some ethnic cookbooks – sukiyaki and sauerkraut replaced liver and onions in no time, and a chef was born.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Merges came to Chicago and knocked on Charlie Trotter’s back door to ask for a job. He started as garde mange and worked his way up to a 14-year run at the helm, responsible for every aspect of Trotter’s empire.
Today, Merges runs his own restaurants. Japanese-inspired Yusho, with locations in Chicago and Las Vegas; Billy Sunday, reminiscent of speakeasies; and A10, featuring the simple and delicious food found in small restaurants lining the A-10 motorway that links Northern Italy and southern France.
“I hope my restaurants take all the truths of fine dining like well-crafted cuisine, knowledgeable and attentive service, a great environment, a well conceived beverage program, and bring it to a more accessible, friendlier level,” Merges said.
Merges’ restaurants also offer a culinary-style approach to beverages. Homemade bitters and tonics are part of a seasonal, creative approach to cocktails that mirrors Merges’ cooking style. “We build our beverage program around an ideal of American ingenuity and an approach to celebrating spirits as unique flavors.”
In addition to his restaurant work, Merges is a founding member of Pilot Light, a volunteer organization that advocates for child nutrition, health and wellness. Working with educators, Pilot Light chefs create a hands-on classroom experience for students that gives them authentic experiences in cooking and nutrition. In addition, the Pilot Light curriculum is structured so that children are able to align their cooking experiences with the other subjects they study in the classroom, like geography, science, language and social studies.
Merges lives in Chicago with his wife, Rachel Crowl, and their two daughters. Crowl owns fc studio, inc., an architecture and interiors firm, and is Merges’ business partner. She designs the beautiful interiors of all his restaurants.