Rising Star Chef Jason Hammel of Nightwood - Biography

Chicago, IL

January 2011

2005 Chicago Rising Star Jason Hammel was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His Neapolitan grandparents owned a restaurant in Cheshire where he remembers spinning stools and fountains of endless milk. He graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in English and received a master's degree 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 Hammel and Tshilds to develop their craft through years of practice. Their mentors were Elizabeth David, Alice Waters and Jacques Pepin (their cookbooks, that is). 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, 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 were 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.