The last time Newcity published The Big Heat—a list of Chicago’s top food and drink influencers—in 2003, Charlie Trotter was one of the most popular chefs in America, he had two restaurants and was pretending to lead a raw foods revolution. If a chef made that list he probably only had one restaurant and it would have been a fine-dining venture. There was no room for a counter-service fish shack. But, these days we get some of our best food from trucks and most self-respecting chefs wouldn’t be caught dead rolling out white tablecloths. We wanted Rick Bayless opening a burger stand, not doing commercials for one. And with the economic downturn of a few years ago, we got our wish (much better than we could have dreamed—a local seasonal sandwich shop, Xoco, serving the silkiest bean-to-cup hot chocolate ever). The landscape these days is so different that forty of the fifty people on the 2003 list didn’t make this one. Two of them, may they rest in peace, Paul Wildermuth (Opera) and Abby Mandel (founder of Green City Market) have died.
Starting today, and continuing five days a week till we put out a special print issue of Newcity with the list on August 25, we’ll unveil this year’s list, beginning with #50 and working our way toward #1. We expect you’ll find some surprises.