Rising Star Chef Amalea Tshilds of Nightwood - Biography

Chicago, IL

November 2011

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 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.

Lula began simply—a menu of salads, pastas, roast chicken, and brunch—and allowed for Tshilds and Hammel to develop their craft through years of practice. Their mentors were Elizabeth David, Alice Waters and Jacques Pepin (their cookbooks, that is). With self-taught chefs, the menu at Lula grew into a kind of humble maturity. It 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, the couple 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 they 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. The couple have been featured on NPR’s “This American Life,” in The New York Times, and in the Chicago press where Lula consistently ranked high among its peers.

Tshilds and Hammel eventually moved to Nightwood together as co-executive chefs and partners. The restaurant's menus are written by hand each day as the chefs shop the markets, meet with our farmers, and develop menu ideas.