Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat #17: Phillip Foss

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Photo: Huge Galdones

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Phillip Foss
Chef/Owner, Meatyballs Mobile, El Ideas
Once, a high-end molecular gastronomist at Lockwood in the Palmer House hotel who got fired for tweeting about a “bong,” Foss is now determined to put his submarines stuffed with balls including “schweddy”—spicy Tunisian-style lamb and chicken meatballs—and “chocolate salty” in your face. In addition to his three Meatyballs trucks, Foss is about to launch a storefront operation called El Ideas which will be a supper club of sorts featuring an assortment of rotating themed meals.

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The Big Heat #18: Matt Maroni

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Matt Maroni
Chef/Owner, Gaztro-Wagon
A decade from now when we’ll hopefully have food trucks people can actually cook on, successful mobile chefs will likely look at Maroni as their George Washington. In February of 2010, he started a quest and wrote a business plan to get legislation off the ground allowing food trucks in the city. By July he was serving his Indian flatbread wrapped Naan-Wiches stuffed with wild boar belly and lobster all over the Loop from the belly of a truck. Many others followed. Many more will.

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The Big Heat #19: Mindy Segal

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Mindy Segal
Chef/Owner, Hot Chocolate
Pastry chefs are growing more and more disposable. Many restaurants have done away with them altogether. As a result there are few household names in Chicago. Finding a pastry chef that thinks about temperature, texture and flavor and delivers sophisticated desserts that provoke and reward is near impossible. Segal is the exception.

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The Big Heat #20: Michael Kornick

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Michael Kornick
Chef/Partner, MK, DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar
There was a time a few years ago where all seemed quiet in the Kornick-sphere and we thought we would maybe have to prepare for a life without his signature French fries and truffle cream. Then last year Kornick, along with his partner David Morton, kicked the machine back into overdrive with a burger bar that not only served said frites, but some of the best sweet potato fries we ever had. Our favorite addition to the MK empire is the rich fat clam belly, refreshing ceviche, and loaded lobster roll-serving fish shack next door.

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The Big Heat #21: Ken Raskin

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Ken Raskin, along with Dan and Matt Raskin

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Ken Raskin
Owner, Manny’s
It’s one thing to get the ear of a politician, it’s quite another to have the stomach of the President. Obama, Daley, Rahm and Quinn—they’ve all made their pilgrimages to the Near West Side for pastrami and pie—it seems you can’t launch a campaign in this town these days without a little of Raskin’s nosh. For the rest of us, the poor unwashed masses, Raskin feeds the soul and reaffirms the Chicago in our hearts.

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The Big Heat #22: Alpana Singh

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Alpana Singh
“Check Please!”/Lettuce Entertain You Wine Queen
We’ve seen little old Mexican dudes who have eaten a lot more chicken livers than foie gras stop dead in their tracks in a Pilsen grocery store and stare in awe like a 12-year-old girl spying Justin Bieber at a shopping mall when they’ve spotted Singh. She is the culinary darling for foodies and the McDonald’s-loving set alike. Despite her celebrity, she’s wicked smart on wine and one of the nicest people we know.

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The Big Heat #23: Paul Virant

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Paul Virant
Chef/Partner, Vie and Perennial Virant

Everyone uses local seasonal product these days, but few cook like they’re on an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” Stuffing sausages, canning preserves, pickling vegetables and foraging for mushrooms, Paul Virant is the one-room schoolhouse of old-school cooks. Unfortunately, he’s been working most of his magic in Western Springs. Thankfully, Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm of Boka Restaurant Group have tapped him for their renovation of Perennial—now Perennial Virant—where he works his seasonal magic across the street from Green City Market. Oh, and he has a forthcoming canning and preserving cookbook from Ten Speed Press too in case you want to get in touch with your inner pioneer.

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The Big Heat #24: Greg Gunthorp

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Greg Gunthorp
Owner, Gunthorp Farms
Chickens, pigs, ducks… Way before it was a cliché to see a farmer’s name on a seasonal menu, Gunthorp Farms was often the only name you saw. Nowadays, from Blackbird in the West Loop to Vie in the western suburbs, if there’s meat on the menu, Gunthorp is almost always part of the equation.

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The Big Heat #25: Louis John and Leslie Slagel

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Louis John

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Louis John and Leslie Slagel
Owners, Slagel Family Farm
Chances are if you’re eating the “best burger of your life” in Chicago, it was made from Slagel Farm’s livestock. You might not even be a legitimate gastropub if you don’t serve at least one Slagel cut. Just ask Owen & Engine, Longman & Eagle, The Publican or Nightwood.

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The Big Heat #26: Bill Kim

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Bill Kim
Chef/Owner, Belly Shack and Urban Belly
Though he’d spent years with Charlie Trotter and cooked at the highest levels, Kim was one of the first serious chefs to chuck it all for a dream of producing casual sophisticated dining in anonymous Chicago storefronts. He showed cooks that they could be pirates and princes at the same time.

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