Chef, Fat Rice and Time Out Market
“Honest food with a story.” That’s what you find on your plate when Abe Conlon is in the kitchen. Conlon has cooked for diverse tables in the past year, from a Fat Rice pop-up in New York to a multisensory collaboration at ComplexCon. He’s serving it up at the Time Out Market as well, bringing his Portuguese-by-way-of-Macao heritage to the plate in a simple, sincere style and filling a gap in Chicago’s offering of cuisines. “If I have the opportunity to tell a story people don’t know,” he says, “that’s a situation I will take head on.”
Thai and Danielle Dang
Chef and Director, HaiSous and Cà Phê Dá
Thai and Danielle Dang are the type of people you root for. After a painful end to their first restaurant, Embeya, the Dangs rose to top of mind with Chicago diners once again with their latest restaurant, HaiSous. “We moved to Chicago over ten years ago and had only read about chefs and operators,” the pair say. “It is an amazing feeling to have gained the experience to be written about and looked to for advice and guidance.” HaiSous and adjoining café Cà Phê Dá have impressed and delighted, and Thai was tapped as one of the all-stars to open the ambitious Time Out Market. “Lucky for us, Chicago is full of happy and hungry diners,” says Danielle, “eager to try exciting new flavors and experiences!”
Chef, Tzuco, Panango! and Tales of Carlos Gaytán
Chicago celebrated the return of Top Chef alum and Michelin-starred chef Carlos Gaytán In the second half of 2019. Thanks to nudging from his daughter, a Chicago resident, Gaytán came back to the city to open his three-concept restaurant, Tzuco, which tells the story of his culinary journey from Huitzuco, Mexico, to his endeavor in the Gold Coast. The most casual of the three concepts is Panango!, a colorful bakery stocked with authentic Mexican pastries, tortas and salads. The bakery opened shortly after Tzuco, which offers a French and Mexican-influenced menu showcasing comfort food in shareable, family-style portions. The soon-to-open Tales of Carlos Gaytán is where Gaytán wants to “bring Mexican cuisine to the next level.” There will only be twelve seats with one seating per night. “It was my dream,” Gaytán says, “to open up a [three-concept] restaurant like this.”
Although it’s been open only about a year, Erick Williams’ Virtue in Hyde Park has earned multiple plaudits: he was listed by the New York Times as one of the sixteen black chefs changing food in America and Esquire crowned his new place one of the annual Best New Restaurants in America for 2019. Williams is philosophical about his vision for Virtue: “People go on very exotic trips just to be able to escape everything else and focus on what matters most. At Virtue, for a very affordable price, we want to be able to do that at the dinner table, because we recognize that before people could fly across the world at a moment’s notice, when we didn’t have access to all the things we do now, we had one thing that has been consistent, and that one thing has been the opportunity to commune with one another and to share something as little as the breaking of bread. And for a moment, if just a moment, nothing else matters.”
After almost three years in Lakeview, Brian Fisher and his Michelin-starred Entente moved to River North, where Fisher says the space “better suits our style and ability for culinary expression.” He and owner Ty Fujimura also opened an outpost at the Time Out Market, where more casual dishes showcase Entente’s imaginative, seasonal style. The two locations, Fisher says, “complement each other by showing diners who may not have been to our restaurant the creativity and dedication that they would expect to find at both spaces.” Back at Entente, Fisher is planning a spring and summer menu he’s excited about, and the dessert program has “never been better,” thanks to Jared Bacheller, who came onboard in late 2019 as pastry chef. “We’re very appreciative to all of the diners and neighbors that have visited so far, and we’re constantly trying to improve and be the best that we can be.”
David and Anna Posey
Husband-and-wife team David and Anna Posey received a Michelin star after their first year at Elske. More recognition followed with James Beard and Jean Banchet nominations. Elske means “love” in Danish, and there’s definitely a Scandinavian vibe to the place, but David says that although “the ingredients we use are very common in Scandinavia, Scandinavian food is very simple, a lot of meat and potatoes.” The plates at Elske leverage high-quality ingredients, carefully composed and elegant, a far cry from simple protein and spuds. David believes the name of the place might have been unintentionally misleading: “With a name like Elske, we open ourselves up to be classified as Scandinavian, and we have little touches of Scandinavia, with ingredients like rye and smoked fish, but it’s really not Scandinavian food.” Whatever you call it, the food at Elske is some of the most carefully composed and delicious in the city.
Chef, Mi Tocaya Antojeria
Three years after opening Mi Tocaya Antojeria, Diana Dávila, the much-lauded chef and owner, has found her rhythm and isn’t slowing down. “We’ve started to get the hang of things,” she says, “but there’s always so much to do, so much more I want to do with food, so many things changing constantly on what’s available, what could work better for systems, hiring, management…” Dávila wants to be a resource for aspiring chefs who may want to someday own their own business. “There are a lot of things out there that should be talked about more, business plans and contract negotiation, or knowing how business works, how taxes work,” she says. “Restaurants are difficult. It’s really important to be talking about that to young cooks and not to live in this land of make-believe.” Dávila is also working on her own new concept, although her lips are sealed except to say it will not be a full-scale restaurant but rather a complement to Mi Tocaya Antojeria.
Chef, George Trois Group
Le Francais—the restaurant where they say the Chicago-area food scene took off in the 1980s—was a crash course in French haute cuisine for diners, and it was a crash course in French cooking for many young chefs, including Michael Lachowicz, the man behind Winnetka’s triple threat of George Trois, Aboyer and Silencieux. Lachowicz worked with Le Francais founding chef Jean Banchet, and he says “the experience was extraordinary. I had some chops, but I was not ready for what I was about to experience there. It was absolutely necessary in molding me to what I do today, to represent the thought and the nuance, the structure, method and technique of French cuisine.” So, it seems fitting that last year, Lachowicz took home the Jean Banchet Restaurant of the Year award—the first of those prestigious awards to go to a suburban restaurant.
John and Karen Shields
Chefs, Smyth|The Loyalist
Smyth|The Loyalist won the 2020 Jean Banchet Restaurant of the Year and two Michelin stars; it is, doubtlessly, one of Chicago’s—and the world’s—premier dining destinations. Both John and Karen Shields spent time at Charlie Trotter’s, and John tells us that a key takeaway from that experience is that “Chef Trotter always said, ‘yes, you work for me, but you need to want this for yourself and set your bar even higher than mine.” The Shields have two young girls, and we asked the chefs how they’re educating the kids about food. “Both of our girls are creative and curious, so food is interesting to them,” Karen says. “They love to spend the day on The Farm [in Bourbonnais] with the Papineaus [the family that grows produce for Smyth|The Loyalist], feeding chickens, foraging for berries, picking tomatoes, tasting new herbs. Learning how food grows, and the dedication and hard work it takes to produce it, are lessons they learn naturally. They will periodically add their two cents when they hear us conceptualizing a dish.”
Julia Momose, Noah and Cara Sandoval, Mariya Russell
Creative Director and Mixologist; Executive Chef; GM, Chef de Cuisine, Kumiko and Kikko
Kumiko and Kikko are the joint creation of Julia Momose, Noah and Cara Sandoval and Mariya Russell. “Kumiko and Kikko are a representation of my Japanese heritage,” says Momose of the upstairs and downstairs restaurants in the same building. “Everything with deliberate care, many small parts coming together to create something beautiful.” Russell adds, “It’s most definitely a team effort.” And the team is scoring big: Food & Wine named Kumiko one of the best new restaurants of 2019, and Time magazine named Kumiko one of the “World’s Greatest Places” of the year. Russell is getting well-deserved attention as the first black woman to ever head a Michelin-starred kitchen, but she’s quick to point out how it’s not all about her. “I worked with Julia closely doing R & D for Kumiko before it opened, and I always come by to give her tastes when I’m developing a new dish. With Noah, it’s like ‘Just do it.’ That’s a great feeling, because he trusts me.”
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org