As soon as I walked in the door, I quickly learned exactly what Amy Zupanci—owner and head chef at Fond—had in mind when opening her restaurant and grocery. Painted on the wall is the definition of Fond, or at least the definition of what Fond means to her. It reads “French for ‘Base,’ in cooking refers to the caramelized goodness that remains in the pan after cooking meat. It is deglazed to become the foundation of many classic sauces, stocks and soups.” Zupanci embodies the idea of Fond in her cooking and the style with which she runs her restaurant. Not just utilizing, but relying on local, seasonal, and homemade items, Zupanci takes pride in her menu, (which she changes daily), and encourages her guests to slow down and enjoy the experience of dining, while being aware and conscious of where their food comes from and how their meal is prepared. Zupanci has taken a “back to basics” approach to fine dining and believes good food should be affordable, accessible, and uncomplicated.
How did you become the owner and executive chef of Fond?
I was born and raised in Edwardsville. I got a degree in advertising from University of Illinois, but cooking was always a hobby I always loved doing. I just never took it seriously as a profession. I started producing rock concerts at University of Illinois, which led to managing a movie theater that was also a bar, which led to working for the biggest bar owner in Urbana, which is really the best job you can have as a college student. He owned eight bars and restaurants, I became his assistant and I loved it! I asked if I could cook for him at night. It was the coolest job I’d had in my life. I applied to the Culinary Institute of America in December of 1998, and I stayed in New York until I opened Fond in October of 2008.
Why did you decide to come back to Edwardsville to open your restaurant when you’d been in New York for so long?
I always knew the concept and the type of restaurant I wanted to have, the only decision I had was to stay in New York and open a restaurant in Manhattan or come home and open in Edwardsville, Illinois. Those are the only two logical places for me. I’m good in a big city and I’m good in small towns. I like being home - it’s folksy and comfortable. When I’d come home from New York in the summer, I’d pack up and ship all these boxes of produce to New York and I’d use it in my cooking there. So it begged the question… if you’re going to open a local, seasonal, sustainable themed restaurant, why not just go to the source?
How was your homecoming?
A small town in the Midwest is a still a small town in the Midwest, even if it’s your small town. I got some funny looks when I told people about my idea for Fond. The grocery we opened next door, everyone loves that and they can wrap their head around it. Fine dining with a menu that changes everyday, no steak and baked potato or bread on the table… some can’t wrap their head around that as easily. But now our customers are getting it and are really jumping on board with what we’re doing.
What is it that you’re doing at Fond?
At Fond, it’s really a lifestyle. You can come to Fond and have a nice meal, celebrate a birthday or whatever and move on. But what we’re really trying to say is consider what you’re eating, consider why you’re eating what you’re eating and when you’re eating it. Don’t just do it to get full or because you’re supposed to. There’s no TV here, so we force you to have a conversation. Everything here is made from scratch. We make our own mayonnaise, our own bread, crackers, our bitters for cocktails, sausage, biscuits. We have a relationship with our farmers and our stuff tastes better, it’s pure. We only season with fresh herbs, not stuff that’s been sitting around, and we use sea salt. It’s better for you. I don’t preach organic. I want to take the snobbery out of cooking in this style. We’re making food. It’s just food and it should be fun. Have some good wine, eat some good food and relax without judgment or criticism or pretension. We just want you to come in, gather around a table and have a good time.
What does Fond mean?
It’s a pretty word for the brown bits at the bottom of the pan that you deglaze to make gravy. It’s a pretty word for foundation. We need to strip all the extra out and get back to the basics, and that’s what Fond is and what we do here. We care about what we do. We have a garden out back, and everyone that works here got to pick out what they wanted to grow and they take care of it. So when that vegetable goes to the table you’re able to say to the customer, “I grew that,” and how cool is that!
Why did you open the grocery?
It seemed the country was moving towards putting food on a pedestal and making it for the really wealthy. When you over-idealize something, it becomes incredibly expensive. We opened the grocery to say, “You don’t have to choose between a fast food restaurant or Fond.” You can have this healthy, clean, fair, homemade food at $7. There’s no fillers, meat glue, high fructose corn syrup, no chemicals that defy gravity. It’s just honest, affordable food at the grocery and it compliments what we’re doing at Fond.
What makes Fond special?
Our Sunday Suppers are awesome! It’s a great way to return to the table and it’s affordable. Every Sunday evening, we do three courses for $25, served family-style. It starts with a soup or salad, main course with sides and a desert. It’s still local, seasonal, homemade, and the menu changes every Sunday. And to me, it’s not fine dining or a true service if you don’t start with an amuse bouche and end with a petit four. It’s the bookends that have been forgotten in American cuisine.
How do you create your dishes?
I honestly just see what shows up and what is available. I just got a list from a local farmer of what he is growing and asked if there was anything I wanted to add. I told him don’t grow for me, grow for you and I’ll use what you have available. If I show up at the market and the spinach is amazing, I figure out how to use it. If radishes are out of control then they’re going into something, while keeping a balance between the different flavors and textures. We have a mushroom forger, and if he shows up we have mushrooms. Sometimes the day dictates to me what it is going to be. I talk daily with my meat guy, we haven’t talked yet, so I don’t know what the menu is going to be. I want it to be fresh, I want it to be right and I know the first reservation is at 6, so I have until then to get the menu together.
What is the atmosphere like in the kitchen?
Controlled chaos, but also light. We have the best staff we’ve ever had. There is a task at hand, as long as everyone is working on their task, we have a great time, we are very much a family at this point. It’s fun and stressful and great and chaotic and relaxed. Our servers don’t match, there aren’t any uniforms simply because, how awful are uniforms?
What is your favorite part about the job?
I am amazed and so proud that our local farmers can dine here. That’s huge. There are doctors and attorneys who can afford to eat here all the time, but my local farmers who choose to spend their money here, that is a real compliment. My favorite was when we opened and we had butter poached radish on the menu and the server took the radish to the table and the farmer who grew the radish was sitting there, and able to see what happens to what he worked so hard to grow.
Check out what it's like inside the kitchen at Fond.