PICASSO, BUT WITH PASTRY Chef Anna Posey's Artful Desserts at Elske

hydepark Interviews

Chef Anna Posey and husband David Posey have shaped their slice of West Loop exposed-brick industrial into Elske, a chic, cozy Midwestern bistro with Michelin star service. Its open concept kitchen familiarizes the Poseys and their team with their guests, and in the courtyard, blanket-draped benches offer socially-distanced respite by the outdoor fireplace. The Poseys designed Elske to be welcoming and approachable to all – where upscale and laid back find a happy medium, where customers can “hang out on the patio, and maybe grab a cheese plate and some rosé,” says Anna.

Established just as hygge (a Scandinavian concept loosely translating to warmth and welcome) began its percolation into the United States, Elske likewise invited guests to make themselves at home, a rare act at gourmet venues. Diners responded to Elske’s invitation with affection and delight, and the Posey’s are piling up accolades from Michelin, James Beard, Bon Appetit, Jean Banchet, Eater, and Zagat. Elske’s much lauded outdoor space is especially welcome in the COVID-era restaurant scene, as diners seek comfort and nourishment al fresco. As in all things, Elske is mindfully attentive to health protocols on their patio, so visitors and staff can safely explore the Poseys’ simple, refined creations. Though operating on limited hours, Elske now offers takeout dining on weekends, ripe with options for a delectable moveable feast.

While Chef David works mainly on the entrees, Chef Anna specializes in desserts and pastry, baking from the heart. “Dessert is always the one thing that seems to trigger memory – this tastes like my grandmother made it but almost better,” she says.

Her pastries incorporate the delicate, nuanced flavors sampled during her travels, such as licorice bark, fennel, and anise. She makes a delightful rice pudding with berries inspired by Christmases in Denmark. Anna focuses on accessibility with her dishes, eschewing “tweezer work” for familiar shapes and simple plating, a pointed departure from the “stuffy” environments of some more heady fine dining experiences. The staff is casually clothed, and the Poseys often deliver dishes personally.

Anna’s particularly proud of is her sunflower seed parfait with sour honey, licorice, and bee pollen – also a favorite among food writers. What started as a rum baba transformed into the parfait as she worked to develop the idea with her husband. “I had this idea of a circle and a square that were bright yellow, and that transformed into the sunflower seed parfait.”

Courtesy of Anna Posey

The aesthetic aspects of her pastry stem from her talent and training as an artist. “ I know what something will look like visually, and the ingredients form around that.”

It’s been a winding road for Anna, from earning a degree in visual arts to earning culinary accolades as a pastry chef. After graduating from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Anna spent a year with AmeriCorps, working in Delaware’s state parks. From there, she searched for career that utilized her creative drive. “Art is something you can work on your whole life. I wanted to find that in a career,” says Anna.

An internship at Philadelphia’s Le Bec Fin kickstarted her culinary journey, and she dove into her studies at the French Pastry School in Chicago. Then to Chicago’s Blackbird, where she met David, and on to Everest and The Publican, where she gained wide recognition for her culinary abilities. The Poseys married in 2015, and Elske opened its doors in 2016.
Fittingly, elske is Danish for ‘love’ – their restaurant’s name is an homage to David Posey’s Scandinavian childhood and the Poseys’ engagement in Copenhagen. And at Elske, everyone feels their love. Elske is as much a tribute to the Poseys’ marriage as it is to casual gourmet. “It’s lucky to be married and have a similar taste,” says Anna of her husband-chef David, “We rarely even have to talk about it. His main courses flow well into my desserts. It’s a very similar aesthetic.”

And what have they been whipping up together? The Posey’s dishes unite flavors from around the world, layering in Scandinavian and American Midwest practicalities. “We live in an area where you have to preserve things to keep flavors alive, which is a very Danish thing too,” says Anna.

Even in the basics, the Poseys combine hearty Midwestern comforts and practicality with inventive international fare: loaves of oat porridge sourdough with koji butter; grilled Wagyu flat iron steaks with seeded knoephla; sturgeon smoked with cucumber salad (a dish based on the cooking and pickling of David’s Danish mother, Gunde), Danish rye bread, and horseradish… the mouthwatering list continues.

“We’re starting to get that question of what’s next – we’re so in love with Elske right now, we’re so hands on. I don’t know how we could step back,” Anna says, “Every day it’s him and me and our wonderful team. I think someday we’d like to have a dive bar with great drinks and awesome simple food. A few years down the road for that though.”

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Cover Image courtesy of Galdo Photo