The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food and Drink Fifty 2015


Newcity’s Big Heat 2015 represents a thick slice of Chicago’s culinary culture: butchers and cheese mongers, restaurateurs, critics, even some sommeliers and chefs. This year, however, we’re focusing less on people at the stove and more on the people behind the stove. These are the men and women who set the standard, change the game, initiate food movements, re-imagine what it means to have dinner in Chicago—and perhaps most importantly, help fill our lives with exponentially more deliciousness. Some of their names will be very familiar, others will be entirely unfamiliar, and they’re all just some of the personalities who are critically shaping the way we eat in Chicago. Just some. Just a slice of a large and growing community of leaders in Chicago food culture. Apologies if we missed a few of your favorites, which we undoubtedly have. There are many more who could easily have been on this list, which only overviews the immense range of enthusiasm, creativity and talent that decisively influences the food served to us in restaurants, in retail stores and on the streets of Chicago, which stands among the major food capitals of the world, thanks in good measure to the following fifty. (David Hammond)

Big Heat 2015 was written by David Hammond, J’nai Gaither, Rebecca Holland, Lauren Knight, Rosemary Lane and Anthony Todd

Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Seven Lions Continue reading

The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food & Drink Fifty 2014

Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

This year’s selection of Chicago’s dining and drinking leadership focuses on the artists behind the beautiful and delicious compositions on our plates and in our glasses. A few on our list may be celebrities, at least in the food community, but that’s not why they got into this business, with its long hours, burnt fingers and demanding customers. Whether it’s food or drink, fine dining or pizza, salumi or chocolate, these chefs, mixologists and artisans toil behind the scenes so that we can enjoy some of the finest and most innovative food and drink in the country. It’s thanks to this impressive group—and the hundreds right behind them on our ever-growing short list—that Chicago is considered a national culinary treasure. It’s unquestionable that we lost one of our giants this past year with the passing of Charlie Trotter, but his legacy is carried forward in the artistry of the many who served under him. And they, in turn, are inspiring the next generation to learn classic cooking techniques, respect the work of legends past and dare to innovate. Oui, Chef. (Amber Gibson)

Big Heat was written by Brendan Buck, Stefan Castellanos, Amber Gibson, Veronica Hinke, Ben Kramer,  Marla Seidell and Sara Tenenbaum

All photos taken on location at the Arts Club of Chicago by Joe Mazza of BraveLux.

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The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food & Drink Fifty 2013

Illustration by Pam Wishbow

Illustration by Pam Wishbow

Many things come to mind when contemplating Chicago’s culinary and cocktail culture: farm-to-table, molecular gastronomy, why Charlie Trotter hung it up, and so on. But what struck us when working on this year’s Big Heat list, which, as is our tradition, is more focused this year on the behind-the-scenes business of food and drink than its artistry on the plate and in the glass, is the power of collaboration. Perhaps inspired by Rich Melman’s pioneering partnership model of organizing the restaurant business, this town’s now full of groups launching one great new place after another. Keeping track of who’s opening what-where-when has become a sport in and of itself. And beyond those formal business partnerships is the spirit of community that pervades the entire thing, with chefs and sommeliers and mixologists and butchers all teaming up on a regular basis, not always to make money, but always to make great flavors. And our palates swoon appreciatively. (Brian Hieggelke)

Big Heat was written by Amber Gibson, Brian Hieggelke, Matt Kirouac, Sara Tenenbaum and Walter Burns
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The Big Heat #3: Grant Achatz

Photo: Lara Kastner

Grant Achatz
Chef/Owner, Alinea, Aviary and Next
A member of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List. While Achatz has pushed the emotional boundaries of the dining experience more than anyone, his immediate legacy is training cooks to be better versions of their forebears. He’s the torchbearer of the legacy handed down from Escoffier to the great French Brigades through to Thomas Keller. As a result guys like Curtis Duffy (Avenues), Jeff Pikus (Maude’s) and David Carrier (ex-Kith & Kin) are bringing a new level to every restaurant they touch and improving how we eat. If that weren’t enough, Achatz’s cancer survival and push to be the best at all costs is a comic book-like hero mythology that inspires us all.

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Staying Power: Personal observations on Grant Achatz’s “Life, on the Line”

By Michael Nagrant

Grant Achatz could sell ice to Eskimos. Of course, the chef/partner of the best restaurant in America (according to Gourmet and S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best) would melt that ice, infuse it with a phase-shifting stabilizer so that it re-formed as ice the minute an Inuit shoved it in his mouth.

Point is, Achatz, who has reached a level of canonization befitting of saints (miraculous tongue cancer survivor—it’s only a matter of time) and Nobel laureates (why not), could sell his kindergarten finger paintings for a princely sum. His book released this week, “Life, on the Line” (Gotham, 400 pages) co-written with his business partner Nick Kokonas, will likely be a bestseller.

If not, the recently recorded Fresh Air interview and rumored pending feature film starring Ethan Hawke/Christian Bale/Tobey Maguire/George Clooney (okay, I made Clooney up) as Achatz, will put it over the top.

There’s really very little new I could say that would influence a determined foodie or People magazine bio-hound’s acquisition of the book. As a food journalist, I wasn’t even sure I’d write about it. What’s left to say about the toque that launched a thousand profiles? And so, I’ve decided not so much to be a food journalist here, but instead to add to the Achatz culinary canon as a genuine fan.

Having spent hours on Google chat, the phone and in the kitchen working as a contributor on the Alinea cookbook, I wish I could say I write as a friend, the ultimate insider, but few really know Achatz that way. In fact if there’s any criticism of the book, it’s that Achatz never dwells too deeply on anything. His ex-wife is a bit of a cardboard cutout, and when his long time sous chef, Jeff Pikus, who ran Alinea during his absence, quits, Achatz says, “fuck him” and moves on. Then again, this lack of nostalgia or self-examination is the essence of Achatz’s success. He knows cancer doesn’t respond to sentiment and so he gives it the big middle finger too. Continue reading