Founder/Partner, Hum Spirits, Balsam Spirits, Rare Botanical Bitters Co and Rare Tea Syrups & Shrubberies
Adam Seger has been blurring the lines between kitchen and bar for years, establishing himself as Chicago’s preeminent ingredient-driven mixologist. From his early days in the spotlight at Nacional 27 to today, Seger has helped propel the local cocktail culture to new levels. Nowadays, the itinerant mix-master consults on drink menus near and far, putting his stamp on cocktail lists with his seasonally inspired, locally sourced, think-like-a-chef mantra. He’s also founder/mixologist of Hum Spirits Company, a botanical elixir in a league all its own, rapidly becoming a bar staple in Chicago and beyond.
Opening a fine dining restaurant in the South Loop was no easy feat. Many told Ryan McCaskey that the neighborhood wasn’t ready for tasting menus, but rather than move to a trendy River North or West Loop location, McCaskey stuck by the neighborhood he’s been living in for more than a decade. The accolades were immediate. Four months after opening, McCaskey was invited to cook at the James Beard House. Six months after that he received a Michelin star. The Jean Banchet Awards named Acadia the best new restaurant in 2012. With Acadia’s success, McCaskey hopes to pioneer a South Loop food revolution.
Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds
Chef/Co-owners, Lula and Nightwood
Farm-to-table dining has become so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget that in Chicago the trend essentially started with Hammel and Tshilds and Lula Café. Enormously respected among Chicago chefs, foodies and residents alike, Hammel and Tshilds’ commitment to local, seasonal ingredients and creative kitchen thinking has kept them relevant in Chicago for fifteen years and counting. And it’s not just that they offer technically stunning cuisine in a relaxed and neighborly atmosphere; they are also known for their enthusiastic support of new chefs and food ventures around the city.
Chef/Owner, Moto and iNG
In an industry known for its eccentric personalities, Homaro Cantu is something of a standard bearer (see also Carlson, Michael). The buzz has faded a bit for Cantu’s signature spots Moto and iNG. And, sure, he might be distracted by his obsession with the miracle berry and his foray into producing and starring in the oddball TV show CookiNG Under Pressure, but Cantu remains a major creative force on the molecular gastronomy front fully capable of blowing minds on a moment’s notice.
Chef de Cuisine, The Lobby at the Peninsula
After working at Moto and el Bulli, Wolen spent three years as the sous chef at Eleven Madison Park, helping the restaurant garner three Michelin stars, before returning to Chicago to head up The Lobby at the Peninsula. Filling the void left by Curtis Duffy’s Avenues is a tall order, but Wolen and his roasted chicken for two delivers. At The Lobby, Wolen has found his voice and in such a visible location, presents top international guests to Chicago some of the best food the city has to offer.
Chris Dexter, Chris Freeman, John Warken and Jared Van Camp
Partners, Element Collective
From the elegance and Parisian charm of RM Champagne Salon to the rowdier Old Town Social, Chris Dexter and his Element Collective partners know how to create a space for guests to party. However, unlike many of their competitors, they also serve fantastic food. Old Town Social brought on the first chef in Chicago certified to dry-cure salumi in-house by sourcing whole pigs from local farms, which kickstarted the charcuterie boom in the city. In the next year, Element plans to expand its portfolio in Chicago, San Diego and Boston.
Founder, Restaurant Intelligence Agency
Ellen Malloy parlayed a successful career in restaurant PR into a fusion of a news service and marketing software company that recognizes the increasingly blurred lines between professional journalists, social media influencers, and passionate foodies in building a sustainable audience for restaurants. By replacing the traditional gatekeeper publicist role with the press, RIA has generated more than 30,000 direct media-to-chef interactions, and has seen its influence spread to more than two dozen cities as its footprint becomes increasingly national. Malloy says next on the table is an automated CRM for restaurants.
Owner/Executive Chef, Yusho and Owner, Billy Sunday
It takes a chef with the fortitude of an angel to work side-by-side with Charlie Trotter for as long as Matthias Merges has. For more than a decade, Merges served as executive chef at the world-famous fine-dining temple, before parting ways to carve out his own empire. In only a few years, Merges has made great headway, opening yakitori-centric Yusho in Avondale and tavern-inspired cocktail bar Billy Sunday down the street in Logan Square, both adored by critics and the public alike. This year he maintains the momentum by opening two (yes two, what did you do this morning?) new restaurants in Hyde Park within the next couple months. One is a pared-down version of Yusho, the other is a European spot called A10, proving Merges is a man of many cuisines, many surprises, and many talents.
Tom Culleeney, Scott Harris and James Gray
Founders and General Manager, Glazed & Infused
When three industry heavyweights come together, you’re in for something special. Scott Harris brings his Francesca’s savvy, Tom Culleeney doughnut love and experience, and James Gray a celebrated turn as doughnut chef and bakery manager in Pittsburgh. In return we get a constantly changing, always exciting, and surprisingly sophisticated selection of some of the best doughnuts in town. The trio focus on putting fun first, and match that with hard work and dedication to their fans and customers. It’s paid off; in the last year they’ve opened five locations and had a hardy presence at almost every major event in Chicago.
Executive Chef, Sixteen
Not only has Thomas Lents earned back Sixteen’s Michelin star last year (and he’s striving for more), but he has taken the Trump’s hotel restaurant in an entirely new direction. Nowhere is tableside service more elaborate (props to Sixteen’s wait staff!) and nowhere is fine dining more interactive and fun. The current menu is a farmer’s market choose-your-own adventure, where guests select their favorite produce from a rolling cart, which is then incorporated into their tasting menu. Lents completely changes the tasting menu each season, similar to Next, and always manages to tell a cohesive story through food.