Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds
LULA CAFÉ | Chicago
Amalea Tshilds was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1968. Her
Greek grandparents owned a restaurant called The Betsy Ross
in Wilkes-Barre, where she fondly remembers the handmade chocolates.
Tshilds graduated from Bard College in 1990 with a degree in painting.
In the ‘90s she worked as a musician and artist in Chicago
and as a cook at various cafes, one of which was the beloved Logan
Beach in an outlying Chicago neighborhood called Logan Square. It
was there, in that space, where she met future husband and co-chef
Jason Hammel. Together they renovated the 700-square-foot storefront
and renamed it ‘Lula,’ forging new careers as professional
cooks. Tshilds is currently a member of the Paulina Hollers and
plays music regularly at Chicago clubs.
Jason Hammel was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1972. His Neapolitan
grandparents owned a restaurant in Cheshire where he remembers spinning
stools and fountains of endless milk. He graduated from Brown University
in English and received a MA from Illinois State University. In
the late ‘90s he worked as a writer in Chicago and as a cook
at various restaurants. It was in this period that he met future
wife and co-chef Amalea Tshilds with whom he began Lula.
Lula began simply—a menu of salads, pastas, roast chicken,
and brunch—and allowed for Jason and Amalea to develop their
craft through years of practice. Their mentors were the cookbooks
of Elizabeth David, Alice Waters and Jacques Pepin. With self taught
chefs and a willingness to cook against categorization, the menu
at Lula grew into a kind of humble maturity. The restaurant became
the weekend favorite of Chicago chefs, and informal meetings with
some of the city’s more respected cooks began over brunch.
It was then that the chefs’ interest in sourcing local organic
ingredients was realized. Now regulars at the greenmarkets and supporters
of a host of sustainable agriculture causes, Jason and Lea have
formed strong relationships with nearly 30 Midwestern farmers and
countless other purveyors of fine artisanal products country-wide.
It was in the dedication of these farmers that Jason and Lea found
an inspiration for their own increasingly passionate craft. Ideas
blossomed, preparations were refined, and a separate dinner menu
was created apart from the cafe menu of earlier years.
Today Lula serves breakfast and lunch that is casual, simple yet
sophisticated, with ingredients like handmade sausages, fresh farm
eggs, and porridges made from cornmeal ground at a local mill. While
at night the food is more intricate and formal, there is never a
loss of the accessibility and youthfulness with which Lula was begun.
Jason and Lea have been featured on NPR’s “This American
Life,” in The New York Times, and in the Chicago
press where it consistently ranks high among its peers. StarsChefs.com’s
Rising Stars award is the first national honor for the chefs.