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20 chefs to watch

We asked top Chicago toques to nominate the under-the-radar chefs quietly cooking up a storm in kitchens all over town. (One restriction: Chefs were not allowed to nominate employees of their own restaurants.) You may not know their faces or names (yet), but these 20 up-and-comers are anything but flashes in the pan.

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
1/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Matthew Kirkley, 28
Chef
atL2O(2300 N Lincoln Park West, 773-868-0002)
Previous gigs
Line cook at Seasons, cook at NoMI, sous chef at Joel Robuchon, sous chef at one sixtyblue, corporate chef at Lettuce Entertain You
Signature dish
Bouillabaisse, currently �with scorpion fish, daurade, clams, fennel and tomato confit�
Favorite fall dish
�Ocean trout [with] pigeon, carrot, cabbage [and] pigeon consomm�
Indispensable kitchen tool
Sautoir pan, a saut� pan with flat sides
Dream project
A restaurant inspired by the Brittany peninsula in France. �Great seafood, cheese, butter, oysters, cr�pes�
For lunch today, I ate
Black coffee

Nominated by Carrie Nahabedian (Naha)
�[He] is doing real well at L2O. And we all know how hard that was to come into the kitchen after the Laurent [Gras] departure.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
2/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

 

Michael Simmons, 34
Sous chef
atLula Caf�(2537 N Kedzie Blvd, 773-489-9554)
Previous gigs
Restaurant jobs since age 16 in his hometown of Amarillo, Texas; baker at a local Einstein Bagels and Red Hen Bread; cook at Custom House; sous chef at C-House
Inspiration
�Foraging. The fact that purslane and wood sorrel grow in any spot they can find room in Chicago, the random patches of wild perilla [an herb], and the ubiquitous lamb�s quarters and dandelion greens.�
Favorite fall ingredients
Trout and trout roe from Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra, Wisconsin
Indispensable kitchen tool
A knife��any style, shape, provenance, make, as long as it�s motherfucking sharp�
For lunch today, I ate
�Oh, man. It was this green chile and tomatillo chicken guisado with hominy and potatoes�and I piled a shitload of thinly sliced jalape�os on top and mopped it up with a corn tortilla. Tasted like home.�

Nominated by Michael Kornick (MK, DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar)
�I eat at Lula often. [Michael] always is gracious, makes sure the food is on point and seems to demonstrate a calm, serious approach, which stays focused on the tasks at hand.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
3/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Maggie Laleman, 28
Pastry chef
atBite Caf� (1039 N Western Ave, 773-395-2483)
Previous gigs
Lula Caf�, HotChocolate, Boka, MK
Signature dish
Butterscotch pot de cr�me
Favorite fall ingredient
Pears
Indispensable kitchen tool
Cherry pitter. �It�s so fun to use!�
Dream project
�A small place with live music and friends working and playing music. No matter how upscale the menu, there would have to be some form of epic hoagie involved. And lots of ice cream.�
For lunch today, I ate
Egg whites, toast and a salad. �Ice cream production results in an obnoxious surplus of egg whites, and I hate waste.�

Nominated by Jason Hammel (Lula Caf�, Nightwood)
�She�s one of the great untapped pastry talents around town.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
4/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Jan Rickerl, 36
Executive sous chef
atGirl & the Goat (809 W Randolph St, 312-492-6262)
Previous gigs
Line cook at Gordon, Campagnola, Trio and Grace; sous chef at Spring, Scylla and Blue Water Grill; chef-consultant at Taxim and Arami
Signature dish
Slow-roasted pork. �Skin-on whole hams are good if you don�t have enough [people] to eat a whole pig, though that�s rarely a problem.�
Dream project
�Supercasual American gastropub. Whole pigs, barbecue, pickles, oysters�I�d be cool with a pork truck, too, if Chicago ever makes it legal.�
Kitchen talent
Resident handyman? �Whatever you call being the guy who everyone goes to if the dish machine�s smoking or the smoker�s not.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
A 15,000-grit knife-sharpening stone
For lunch today, I ate
Leftover Manny�s pastrami and �cheap yellow mustard� on house-baked pepper bread, watermelon agua fresca

Nominated by Chris Pandel (the Bristol, Balena)
�He is the rock behind Stephanie.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
5/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Duncan Biddulph, 29
Chef
atRootstock (954 N California Ave, 773-292-1616)
Previous gigs
Lula Caf�, jobs in Italy. �[I worked] on an olive farm with the biggest stoner in Puglia.�
Favorite fall ingredient
Sea buckthorn, a shrub with acidic berries. �I have no idea what I am going to do with it, but a forager is bringing me 30 pounds next week, so I�m pretty stoked.�
Kitchen weakness
Impatience
Dream project
�Something fancy-schmancy�
For lunch today, I ate
�Turkey sandwich and a Carpano Antica, rocks�

Nominated by Jason Hammel
�Almost everybody I know who�s eaten at Rootstock recently has commented on how rad the food is�how balanced, how bright.� And it�s the brightness that�s so particular to him. The good acidity. His seasoning. There�s a kind of maturity and confidence in it that you don�t always see around town.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
6/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Jesse Katzman, 29
Sous chef
atAvec(615 W Randolph St, 312-377-2002)
Previous gigs The Publican, Blackbird
Signature dishes
Sausages, salumi
Favorite fall dish
Spaghetti squash on a crostini with saffron cream
Kitchen talent
�Keeping it light when the shit�s hitting the fan.�
Kitchen weakness
Black ice��four shots espresso with iced coffee in a quart deli container. I drink too much and I get the shakes.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
�Sharp-ass knives�
Dream project
�A great bar with awesome food, where all my friends and family can work and hang out. That will be open for generations. Also, a salumi company.�
For lunch today, I ate
A spicy Italian sub from JP Graziano and a quart of black ice

Nominated by Paul Virant (Vie, Perennial Virant)
�I�ve never worked with him, but his work is solid and he�s really passionate about charcuterie.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
7/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Abe Conlon, 30
Chef/owner
atX-marx
Previous gigs
Chef/instructor at Whole Foods, After School Matters and the Chopping Block
Kitchen talent
Improvisation
Kitchen weakness
�I lose bottle caps.�
Dream project
�I�m living the dream now. X-marx is and has been a forum for me to cook whatever I like, whenever I like. Right now, the goal is to open a neighborhood joint where at any given time guests can come in and get something creative, thoughtful and satisfying. Simple.�

Nominated by Mindy Segal (HotChocolate)
�The flavors, the combinations, the seasonings�X-marx is a breath of fresh air. And me being an old lady, it�s really nice meeting people that are fresh and young and without attitude.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
8/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Jessica Carney, 27
Sous chef
atGT Fish & Oyster(531 N Wells St, 312-929-3501)
Previous gigs
Sandy�s Pizza, her mom�s pizzeria in Grass Valley, California; De La Costa (�from line cook to sous chef�); line cook at Topolobampo
Signature dish
Tacos. �I can�t compete with Rick Bayless, but�they can be so versatile.�
Favorite fall dish
Cioppino, an Italian fish stew she enjoyed often in San Francisco. �I can�t wait to serve it here.� I can just hear the rain outside.�
Kitchen talent
�Supreming citrus.� (Translation: peeling, pithing and removing the fruit�s segments from their membranes.)
Dream project
�Oooh, that�s top secret. I would love to combine forces with my boyfriend, Carl Shelton at Boka. As long as I can spend time with him and bake bread, I will be a happy girl.�

Nominated by Bill Kim (Urbanbelly, Belly Shack)
�She�s driven. She sets goals for herself and pursues accomplishing them. The [caliber of] chefs she�s worked for helps give you a perspective on how talented she is.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
9/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Justin White, 33
Executive chef
atSmallBar Fullerton (1415 W Fullerton Ave, 773-525-2727) andSmallBar Division(2049 W Division St, 773-772-2727)
Previous gigs
Opening cook at Green Zebra, opening sous chef at Custom House, opening sous chef at the Bristol, chef at Soe Cafe in Michigan
Signature dish �We have worked hard on our smoked chicken club: two slices of smoked Amish chicken galantine, sweet and savory tomato jam, crisp bacon, warm Brie and butter lettuce on toasted multigrain.�
Current project
A 1,000-square-foot garden to feed both locations (coming next year)
Dream project
A classic diner. �[A place] where we make everything in-house: meats, breads, jams, butters, cheeses, juices. A place where everyone who cooks also serves.�
For lunch today, I ate
�Did I even eat lunch today?�

Nominated by Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat)
�[He�s a] great chef that just came back to the city.� I�m excited to watch his career.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
10/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Johnny Anderes, 31
Chef
atTelegraph(2601 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-292-9463)
Previous gigs
Several bar and grills in northeastern Wisconsin; sous chef at Ciola�s in Texas, Charlie�s on Leavitt, Avec
Favorite fall ingredient
Chanterelle mushrooms. �We caramelize them and serve them with a poached egg, pearl barley and a tomato veal stock.�
Kitchen talent
�Being positive, calm�most of the time�and clean.�
Kitchen weakness
Butchering chickens. �My sous chef, Dave Ford, is twice as fast as I am, clocking in at 22 minutes per bird.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
Smoker
Dream project
�I�m living and working on a dream project right now�no time for other dreams!�

Nominated by Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, the Publican, Big Star)
�John, John the phenomenon. Cool kid with great ideas and strong technique � la [Avec chef de cuisine Koren] Grieveson. Should be an important player in Chicago food for a long time.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
11/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Dennis Stover, 35
Sous chef
atBig Star(1531 N Damen Ave, 773-235-4039)
Previous gigs
Line cook at Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights, Vie, the Publican, Longman & Eagle; private chef
Favorite fall dish
Slow food. �Techniques and ingredients that require love and soul: braising, tough cuts of meat, squash, quince, greens [such as] collards and kale, preserving, apples, pears, soups.�
Dream project
�Definitely my own shot! Who doesn�t want that? I think I have a really good concept. I know I have a great name!�
For lunch today, I ate
Cactus tacos. �New menu item, maybe.�

Nominated by Paul Virant
�[He] really has a lot of passion for all things food. One time [at Vie] he did falafel for staff meal. Whatever it was, he would immerse himself into it.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
12/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

 

Rachel Slivicki, 25
Assistant pastry chef
atHotChocolate(1747 N Damen Ave, 773-489-1747)
Previous gig
Line cook at Cyrano�s Bistrot
On the transition to pastry
�I staged with HotChocolate�s former chef, Mark Steuer. A couple hours into the evening, Mindy Segal approached me and asked if I had ever considered a position in pastry. I was young, naive and had little-to-no pastry experience. So I said, �Why not?�?�
Favorite fall ingredient
Apple cider. �Some of the single-varietal ciders have such specific flavors.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
�Long-handled iced tea spoons! They are great for quenelling, tasting, saucing plates.� And they are really cute.�

Nominated by Bill Kim
�Every time I see her she is always at work early, working very hard and diligently. That is something you cannot teach a person.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
13/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Jaime Canete, 27
Sous chef
at the Purple Pig (500 N Michigan Ave, 312-464-1744)
Previous gigs
Line cook at Spiaggia; short stage at Il Rigoletto, a two-starred Michelin restaurant in Italy; line cook at Sixteen; sous chef at Terzo Piano
Signature dish
Pasta. �All kinds�I learned from the best.�
Favorite fall ingredient
Spaghetti squash
Kitchen talent
�Knowing when to stop! Dishes only need a few ingredients. Too many and the dish loses its focus.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
A mandolin. �It cuts any vegetable paper-thin. I use it at home all the time.�
Dream project
A counter-service focacceria �that serves great piadina and panini�

Nominated by Bill Kim
�He is someone who is very inquisitive about different people, their culture and food. That passion and drive are what separate the good from the great.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
14/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Jennifer Petrusky, 24
Sous chef
atGT Fish & Oyster(531 N Wells St, 312-929-3501)
Previous gigs
Cleaning, cooking and serving at restaurants in central Wisconsin; Charlie Trotter�s (�working my way up from food runner to sous chef�)
Signature dish
�I don�t really have one. I think great food is focused around seasonality.�
Dream project
�To have a self-sustaining restaurant�with a beautiful garden or small farm. I grew up on a farm, and a green thumb will always be a part of me.�
For lunch today, I ate
A bowl of Cheerios

Nominated by Bill Kim
�She�s consistent, creative and dedicated. It�s refreshing to see a driven woman who is excelling and getting recognized in the industry.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
15/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Jonathan Zaragoza, 22
Chef/owner
atBirrieria Zaragoza(4852 S Pulaski Rd, 773-523-3700)
Previous gig
Line cook at Trump Tower
Signature dish
Birria. �I�ve been making it since I was 12 years old. It�d be sad if I wasn�t good at it by now.�
Kitchen talent
Tossing together a meal with whatever ingredients are in the pantry. �I learned that from my grandma; she had to cook for a family of nine.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
Stone mortar (a.k.a. �the Mexican blender�)
Dream project
�I�d like to do a food truck with Rob Levitt from the Butcher and Larder. I really admire his farm-to-table approach.�

Nominated by Art Smith (Table Fifty-Two)
�[He�s] a humble young genius.� What makes this place special is not only the delicate, spiced roasted goat with handmade corn tortillas, but it�s the love that Jonathan has infused into the food.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
16/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Erin Mooney, 33
Executive pastry chef
atCustom House Hospitality Group(500 S Dearborn St, 312-523-0200)
Previous gigs
Trio under Shawn McClain, pastries at Spring, savory line at HotChocolate
Favorite fall ingredient
�I cannot narrow this down. Quince, butternut squash, maple syrup, warm spices, pears.�
Kitchen weakness
Burning her forearms. �It has gotten better, but when I was younger, I got some concerned looks from a lot of people.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
�My wooden spoon that I have managed to hold on to for about 13 years. I cringe when I see cooks stirring ganache or making ice cream with a metal spoon.�

Nominated by Shawn McClain (Green Zebra)
�I was always impressed with her natural style and dedication.� I�m proud to have had the experience working side-by-side with her.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
17/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Joe Doren, 26
Chef
atFranks �N� Dawgs(1863 N Clybourn Ave, 312-281-5187)
Previous gigs
Blackbird, Sixteen
Indispensable kitchen tool
�Guy Fieri. Zing! It�s hard to pick one favorite�but I have been having a blast with our new smoker. Since we got it we now have smoked trout, smoked guanciale and smoked sweetbreads on the menu.�
Dream project
�My retirement plan is to open a little butcher shop where I can sell my salamis and meats and sip grappa every day.�

Nominated by Paul Kahan
�Not everyone aspires to end up behind a Bonnet stove [a brand used in many four-star kitchens].� Joe is a super-positive, talented entertainment-industry junkie who brings it all together at Franks �N� Dawgs.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
18/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Cam Waron, 29
Sous chef
atBelly Shack(1912 N Western Ave, 773-252-1414)
Previous gigs
Busboy at a gourmet buffet in Washington, Illinois; chef at local catering company Finesse Cuisine; Le Lan (�I got to work all of the stations and eventually became sous chef.�)
Signature dish
A riff on the horseshoe sandwich�fried chicken on cheesy corn bread, with spiced fries and chorizo gravy on top
Favorite fall ingredient
Giardiniera
Kitchen talent
�My kitchen Spanish. One day my manager told me to tell the Ecuadorian dishwasher that the exterminator was coming. In Spanish, I told him that the man with the bookbag of death would be here in five minutes.� I�ve never seen someone look so confused and horrified at the same time.�
Indispensable kitchen tool
Chinese cleaver
Dream project
�My own Brew & View spot where we have local beer, housemade popcorn and snacks�and a lot of kung fu and �80s movies.�

Nominated by Jason Hammel
�He kills it. I can tell he�s really excited about being there, and he exudes this positive, I�m-in-the-best-place-I�ve-ever-been feeling.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
19/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Jesse Williams, 29
Chef/kitchen manager
atBirchwood Kitchen(2211 W North Ave, 773-276-2100)
Previous gigs
Line cook at Lula Caf�, cheesemonger at Pastoral
Favorite fall ingredient
Apples from Klug Farms. �They have such a variety of sweet and tangy apples that are gonna be great in our apple, spinach, fennel, beet and bandaged-cheddar salad.�
Dream project
A pickle company. �I take pickling very seriously. My ideal situation would be to have my own pickle line and then a restaurant to showcase them in.�
For lunch today, I ate
La Quercia prosciutto piccante on a baguette with mint-artichoke tapenade and arugula

Nominated by Jason Hammel
�Under her guidance, I think Birchwood is hitting its highest point since it opened.�

 (Photograph: Lisa Predko)
20/20
Photograph: Lisa Predko

Joe Frillman, 28
Tournant
(relief cook who works all stations)atPerennial Virant (1800 N Lincoln Ave, 312-981-7070)
Previous gigs
Osteria di Tramonto in Wheeling; two-month stage at the Fat Duck in England; the Bristol; pecorino maker at La Porta dei Parchi, a farm in Italy
First cooking job
Rita Pia�s in Wheeling, age 20. �It was my friend�s pizzeria.� I would get paid in pizza. The pizza was that good.�
Favorite fall ingredient
Local black walnuts for black walnut corzetti with pheasant rag�, ricotta salata and balsamic tradizionale
Indispensable kitchen tool
Corzetti stamp, a coin-shaped marker used to make the traditional pasta of Genoa, Italy
Dream project
�It has something to do with pasta.��

Nominated by Chris Pandel
�Joe is still very young but has the potential to do great things in the Chicago culinary world.�

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