Interview with Chef Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds of Lula Café - Chicago

December, 2005

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired each of you to become chefs?
Amalea Tshilds: Both of my grandmothers were excellent cooks. We both come from Italian and Greek families.

AB: Did either of you attend culinary school?
Jason Hammel: No. I didn’t start cooking until grad school. I worked in kitchens to earn money. We’re self-taught.

AB: Who are your mentors?
AT: Alice Waters, Judy Rodgers. We learned from their books. We’ve never really worked for any great chefs. We have learned everything from reading.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
AT & JH: French Laundry – it’s impeccable, it sets a standard of care for how all kitchens should be run. Zuni Café – it’s deep and passionate. Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman – for how it connects with the French Laundry Cookbook and creates a culture.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
JH: We’re really into technique and the great ingredients of fine dining, but we like the casualness of a neighborhood setting.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path – in Chicago?
AT: Tre Kronor for Swedish home-style food.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry?

AT& JH: The Spanish trend. Some do it very well, some don’t really get it. Dabbling doesn’t work. Also the Mario [Batali] trend like Lupa for rustic Italian and Mediterranean, with a lot of wood-fired food. Simplicity of food is another trend, with ingredient-driven restaurants like Craft. Also preserved foods – fruits and vegetables being preserved using new technology.

AB: Where do you see yourselves in 5 -10 years?

AT& JH: We are debating, but we will probably branch out. We’re thinking about a new place, hopefully focused on dinner only – a small place, not fine dining, more casual.