Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and Chef Damion Henry is cooking up a sumptuous and sexy staycation at The Langham Chicago. 

This Valentine’s Day, hotel guests at The Langham can book “The Cooking With Love” package, which includes a private cooking class for two where you’ll learn to prepare a four-course curated menu with wine pairings.  

The package is being executed by Henry. He is the executive chef at The Langham, the only Black executive chef running a luxury hotel in the city. At The Langham, he oversees every element of the culinary program, including weddings and events, in-room dining and the menu at Travelle.

Henry says he loves the opportunity to craft these bespoke dinners and create special memories for guests through food. 

“We have a phone call and we talk everything about food,” he says. “I try to learn about the guests, what they enjoy, anything they don’t like to eat, where they have traveled. It helps me create a menu that will make them happy and that’s the fun of it.”

In January, Chef Henry gave The TRiiBE a behind-the-scenes look into his culinary work. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE
Popping a little seafood in the oven real quick. Photos by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

After opening the hotel as executive sous chef in 2013, Henry was promoted to the executive chef role in 2018. His first assignment was overhauling Travelle’s menu and concept, which he did in less than six months, while doing a record year in food and beverage revenue. 

Henry calls The Langham his “sanctuary” and even during the pandemic, amidst crippling indoor dining closures, he maintained an optimistic attitude and quickly pivoted to offer luxurious to-go menus for celebrations at home along with bespoke chef experience dinners for hotel guests.

“The hospitality industry has been changed forever,” Henry says. “The most challenging part for me is not knowing what’s coming next and having very little time to adjust.” 

Henry strives every day to live up to The Langham’s fine dining reputation although that’s been tough while adhering to the city’s COVID-19 safety measures. He’s traded fine china for beautifully packaged to-go boxes with Maine lobster rolls, salmon poke, sweet potato black bean burgers and bottled cocktails. 

Right before the pandemic, he had the opportunity to showcase his own Jamaican heritage when a couple requested a Jamaican menu for their wedding at The Langham.

Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE
Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

Under normal circumstances you’ll see a few Jamaican touches on the menu too, such as Scotch bonnet peppers used at Travelle and Jamaican patties – which resemble spiced beef empanadas – served in the 12th floor club lounge. 

“I believe luxury hospitality will bounce back better than ever before in Chicago,” Henry says. “Once we have control of the pandemic we will see a huge demand. The smaller mom-and-pop restaurants, around the city are sadly not in the same position.”  

Henry predicts that luxury to-go menus will be here to stay, and some form of social distancing will linger when dining out.

“I get to do what I love to do every day and have the freedom to be creative, make decisions and inspire,” Henry says. “Then there’s the joy that I bring to everyone that enjoys my food. My food comes from the heart, you feel the love in every bite and that’s the only way I know how to do it.” 

As an executive chef, Henry has learned how to delegate more duties and trust his team to deliver, all while coaching, training and supporting his team to accomplish goals.

Before moving to Chicago, Henry worked at the Four Seasons Miami, Four Seasons Hotel New York and Conrad Hotel in Battery Park. Over the course of his career, he says that he’s faced both direct and indirect discrimination as a Black chef, but he compartmentalizes it and uses it as a source of motivation to achieve more.

I believe luxury hospitality will bounce back better than ever before in Chicago, Henry says. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

“There are moments of anger, disappointment, disbelief and many other emotions,” Henry says. “It doesn’t matter how high in society a Black person reaches, we will continue to be reminded that we are Black, which is the most disappointing part to me. Barack Obama is one of the most powerful men in American history but he was reminded daily that he was Black. I run my departments to always focus on the solutions and not the problems. The problems are easily identified, but solutions are very difficult, uncomfortable and require hard work to achieve.”

Now that he is in a leadership position, Henry makes an effort to mentor younger cooks from various backgrounds and encourage colleagues who might not feel super confident to take the next step in their career.

“You’re never really 100% ready,” he says. “You’re always learning. I want to make sure that they don’t fail. There are many talented black chefs in Chicago but all they need is an opportunity.” He’s grateful that The Langham, Chicago, gave him that opportunity.

“We have a diverse kitchen team right now and have always had,” he says. “But I like to look at diversity in management, and we have that across all departments in our hotel. When you look at who is in management and leadership positions, that shows real diversity.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.