Chef Paul Kahan of Blackbird - Biography

Chicago, IL

November 2011

Paul Kahan has become a leader for a new guard of Chicago chefs. His restaurants run the gamut from haute cuisine to taco stand, and this multi-talented chef’s name has become synonymous with good food in the Windy City. With an ever-growing list of restaurants from the white tablecloth Blackbird, the casual avec next door, and the brew-savvy Publican to the crave-worthy Big Star taco and tequila bar and a forthcoming butcher shop, Kahan is a model for American restaurateurs across the country.

Kahan grew up around food, in his parents’ Chicago delicatessen and smokehouse. This sparked his interest in cuisine, which led to 15 years in Chef Erwin Drechsler’s Midwestern kitchens at Metropolis and Erwin, during which time the foundation for Kahan’s seasonally, locally driven cuisine was built. He later worked for Chef Rick Bayless at Topolobampo and, in 1999, opened Blackbird, a sleek, passionately seasonal, and distinctly American restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop.

Kahan is credited by many (including fellow Chicago restaurateur Shawn McClain) with laying the groundwork for the expansion of the upscale casual segment of Chicago’s dining scene—an area that has blossomed in the decade since Blackbird opened. Kahan has been recognized as a Food & Wine Best New Chef (1999), James Beard Foundation Best Chef Midwest (2004), and was twice nominated for the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Award (2007 and 2009).

Kahan is credited by many (including fellow Chicago restaurateur Shawn McClain) with laying the groundwork for the expansion of the upscale casual segment of Chicago’s dining scene—an area that has blossomed in the decade since Blackbird opened. Kahan has been recognized as a Food & Wine Best New Chef (1999), James Beard Foundation Best Chef Midwest (2004), and is a four-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Award (2007, 2009, 2011, and 2012).