Northwest Community Times
TL’s Four Seasons Redefining “Fresh Food” in Downtown Bartlett
By Jason Pawlowski
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,”
is a quote from the famed Chinese Philosopher Confucius.
While the context of those words sounds like something out of a garden variety fortune cookie, the meaning behind the words could not ring more true for Shawn Li, proprietor of TL’s Four Seasons in Bartlett.
Since its grand opening in October 2004, TL’s has not just taken steps to becoming one of the hottest dining spots in the downtown Bartlett area but giant leaps forward towards becoming the premiere provider of the finest Chinese and Japanese cuisine in the entire Chicagoland area.
“Our customers are very supportive,” he says. “They are very open minded and open mouthed. They tell you what they like and they tell you what they don’t like.”
The “journey” for Li began back in his native Chen Du, the capital city of the Szechwan Province in Central China. After obtaining his Bachelor’s Degree in international Trade from Szechwan University he went to work for a newspaper. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to other ventures including helping a friend build up an advertising agency.
The next step in Li’s journey was when he arrived in Chicago five years ago. A friend of his bought him dinner at one of Chinatown’s many restaurants.
“I ordered several dishes, as is custom in China,” he says, “and when the waiter brought the food I asked him, “is this what I ordered?”
It was then that Li realized his destiny: bring the real flavors of Szechwan and Japanese cuisine as well as the cooking and dining culture to Chicago with bigger portions, better quality and lower prices.
The Sushi Bar of Bloomingdale was the first of two successful ventures Li and his partner undertook. However, the menu ony consisted of Japanese food where he really wanted a place where people could enjoy the wide spectrum of tastes from both Japanese and Szechwan dishes.
After a friend, Phil Ernest, referred him to the vacant building adjacent to the one he owned, and after extensive research Li decided to bring his dream to Bartlett area.
He enlisted the help of Chef Bo, a close friend and very popular chef also from the same Szechwan province of Chen Du. Bo’s list of past accomplishments included a cookbook, numerous TV appearances overseas and even preparing several meals for the President of China.
Negotiations were tough but in the end their friendship helped seal the deal – that and providing Bo with the tools he needed to succeed including a 20-foot long custom jet burner wok at a pretty hefty price tag.
Chef Nashimoto is TL’s other head chef. Li labels Nashimoto as a very serious worker.
“Nashimoto always is experimenting,” he says. “He is always saying he can never be satisfied. He can always do better.”
Both Bo and Nashimoto were recently honored with medals by the American Chef’s Association as the Best Chinese/Japanese Chefs Under One Roof for 2005.
According to Li, there are 4 key elements in Chinese cooking: aroma, color, flavor and texture.
“Authentic Chinese food is the best,” he says. “Because of the history, presentation and style.”
Despite averaging 15 hours a day, 7 days a week manning the TL’s ship, Li is quite pleased with the success of TL’s Four Seasons. When not working he does find time to enjoy the finer things. He is an avid movie buff, a big reader and a fan of music of all styles. His wife Zhan, who lives in China, is Vice President of a top Chinese Company.
Li says he requires very high standards, both of himself and his staff, in all aspects of the restaurant from service to food preparation to cleanliness to the overall atmosphere.
“From a standards perspective,” Li says, “we are the best Chinese restaurant in Chicago. No one can offer fresher food and no one can prepare it better.”