2011 Chicago Rising Stars Award Winners and Why They Shine

by Jessica Dukes with Emily Bell and Caroline Hatchett
Antoinette Bruno and Shannon Sturgis
April 2011

Jimmy Bannos Jr., The Purple Pig
Curtis Duffy, Avenues
Dirk Flanigan, The Gage and Henri
Stephanie Izard, Girl & the Goat
Chris Pandel, The Bristol
Shin Thompson, Bonsoirée
Andrew Zimmerman, Sepia

Patrick Fahy,Blackbird
Jimmy MacMillan, Cathedral Hall at the University Club of Chicago

Meg Galus, Café des Architectes at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower

Ryan Poli, Tavernita 

Geoff Rhyne, SugarToad at Hotel Arista

Jared Van Camp, Old Town Social

Paul McGee, The Whistler

Rachael Lowe, Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower

Michael McAvena, The Publican

Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, Boka Restaurant Group

Chicago is a boot camp, playground, and flash-popping arena for chefs, so naturally, the competition among culinary professionals is intense. Our newest class of Rising Stars has made it this far because they’re tough; after all, they’ve been primed and molded, and had their butts kicked by several generations of kitchen stalwarts—Charlie Trotter, Jean Banchet, Rick Tramanto, Gale Gand, Paul Kahan, and Grant Achatz to name a few. But aside from skill, these Rising Stars put forth passion and distinct perspectives on the plate.

We tasted food, pastry, cocktails, and wine pairings from over 80 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers in Chicago. Eighteen earned the title of Rising Star.

So what makes them shine? Creativity, ambition, exquisite presentation, and, most importantly, a stellar dish or drink win each up-and-coming culinary star the Rising Star Award.

What's more, all the Rising Stars have qualities that make us believe they’ll be future leaders of the country's culinary scene. Rising Stars successfully push culinary boundaries. Here's an introduction to the 2011 Chicago award winners: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of American dining.



Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr.
The Purple Pig

Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. is more than just a bright, becoming smile set in a handsome face. He’s a thoroughbred restaurateur, born and raised to run kitchens. Like his father and his father before him, Bannos grew up in “the business.” By age 5, he was clearing bread baskets—and at 25 he partnered to open his first restaurant, The Purple Pig, where 600 covers a day is the norm. Bannos’s menu takes its shape from formative work experience in Italy, an unabashed Europhile crush on Old World cuisine, and years honing his talent under Chef Mario Batali—a combined experience that has molded him into restaurateur he is today. Bannos’s cuisine of shareable plates and vibrant Mediterranean flavor profiles gives us no doubt that this quarter-century chef will carry the family empire well into the future.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Milk-braised Pork Shoulder and Mashed Potatoes
- Pig's Ear, Crispy Kale, Marinated Cherry Peppers, and Fried Egg

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Chef Curtis Duffy

Chef Curtis Duffy
Avenues at the Peninsula Hotel

What do you get when you combine three years at Charlie Trotter’s, a stage at The French Laundry, and five years under Grant Achatz? The résumé of Chef Curtis Duffy, and a set of experiences that prepared Duffy to take a lead role at Avenues in 2008 and earn the restaurant two Michelin stars in 2010. Like some kind of punk-opera maestro, Duffy commands vegetables to sing—or scream—with flavor; he teases nuances from textures with daring ease. In short form, he has the audacity to let king crab play textural backup to lead vocals by a cucumber broth. And he produces these incredible, cerebral dishes for an eight-course tasting menu with a kitchen staff of just six during service. Duffy is a leader within and beyond the walls of his own kitchen, and he’s one of the most exciting and talented chefs of his generation.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Australian Wagyu Beef Cheeks, Savory Black Sesame Sponge, Smoked Coconut Pudding, Preserved Kumquats, and Sudachi
- King Crab, Cucumber Broth, Steelhead Roe, and Kalamansi

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Chef Dirk FlaniganChef Dirk Flanigan
Henri and The Gage

When you meet Dirk Flanigan, you have no trouble picturing the 13-year-old surfer dude who took a job washing dishes to pay for his would-be, beach-bum lifestyle. And even though he’s a classically trained chef, who knows more about 16-hour shifts than sun-kissed easy livin’, you can still see that early sense of play in Flanigan’s cuisine. At high-volume The Gage, global eclectic meets classic American, and top-quality hamburgers share tables with Elk Poutine and Lamb Stew Vindaloo. At modern French Henri, haute comfort meets creative naturalism. Not content just to be the king of Michigan Avenue, Flanigan is toying around with new concepts, and we have no doubt he’ll assume a mentor role for a new wave of chefs.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Roasted Loin of Cervena Venison, Liver-Mushroom Croquette, Brussels Sprout Purée, Woodland Mushrooms, Berries, and Vadouvan Curry Reduction
- Dover Sole Meunière: Deboned and Reconstructed Sole, Lemon Supremes, and Butter Powder

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Chef Stephanie Izard

Chef Stephanie Izard
Girl & the Goat

2011 Rising Star Chef Stephanie Izard has what lots of young chefs long for, and it’s not just a Top Chef title. This enterprising, self-driven chef oversees a staff that loves and respects her, in one of the hottest restaurants in America. And it’s no surprise that Izard just bagged the Food and Wine People’s Choice award for Best New Chefs 2011. Her world-traveled taste buds inform bold and rustic gastropub fare—Izard borrows potent flavors from the streets of South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. The not-yet-30 chef-owner soon will open Little Goat, a diner concept continuation of her goat-friendly path. Izard makes things happen. She’s a trendsetter and the chef that America, critics, and her Chicago peers are watching.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Braised Beef Tongue, Fried Masa, Beef Vinaigrette, and Salsa Verde
- Goat, Pork, and Veal Sugo; Pappardelle; Rosemary and Cape Goose Berries

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Chef Chris Pandel

Chef Chris Pandel
The Bristol

You can’t help but gravitate toward Chris Pandel’s warm personality and sigh-inducing, soul-satisfying brand of comfort food. Pandel’s philosophy is to preserve the integrity of product. At his first solo venture, The Bristol, he translates that mindset by butchering animals in house, serving heads-on langostines (so diners won't miss out on sucking the beautiful brains), and crafting dishes with offal as the star. A meal at The Bristol is a wholesome affair spent eating honest food around a communal table. It’s an invitation to join what Pandel has made into a big, loud, and delicious family gathering. He’s a restaurant patriarch in the making.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Rabbit Liver and Kidney Lyonnaise, Poached Egg, and Frisée Lettuce
- Head-on Prawns à la Plancha, Anchovy Butter, and Tarragon

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Chef Shin Thompson

Chef Shin Thompson

With a vision and hunger for creative freedom, Chef Shin Thompson willed the existence of Bonsoirée. His fiercely independent BYO operates with a miniscule kitchen; the dining room is 240 square feet; there’s no sign on the door. But diners find and fill his seats, and they wait for a chance to eat Thompson’s precise, artful cuisine. Thompson is meticulous. He whips out tweezers to arrange the charred tendril of an octopus and correct a grain of black lava salt atop a sodium alginate-encapsulated buttered roll. But dinners aren’t an exercise in chef micromanagement. Thompson invites diners to interact with his cuisine—to pull apart a net of crispy beets and open drawers to access his signature Duck, Duck, Goose. There’s a sense of play in his dishes, an element of surprise in both flavor and presentation. And it’s refreshing to see Thompson’s clear vision in every bite.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Scallop-Crab Motoyaki: Diver Sea Scallop, Crab, and Ponzu Aïoli
- Porcini Mushroom Bisque, “Umami” Sauce, Encapsulated Bread ‘n’ Butter, Crispy Beets, and Asparagus Slaw

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Chef Andrew Zimmerman

Chef Andrew Zimmerman

Simple flavors and restrained beauty define Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s American-meets-Mediterranean cuisine at sexy Sepia. There’s a fine-tuned cadence in each of his dishes, a lyricism of colors and flavors. Zimmerman’s take on surf and turf, a duo of sweet, briny scallops and rich, robust morcilla, swept us out to sea on a salty wave and plunked us down on Iberia’s rocky, iodine-tinted coast. Zimmerman is a pro. He knows when to let ingredients speak for themselves and when and how to coax them into new and exciting combinations. His range and experience make him a fixture of Chicago dining; Zimmerman’s cuisine will never go out of style.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Pheasant Agnolotti, Morel Mushrooms, Albufera Sauce, and Grana Padano Cheese
- Sea Scallops, Celery Root Puree, Tangerines, Pistachios, and Black Pudding

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Pastry Chef Jimmy MacMillan

Pastry Chef Jimmy MacMillan
Cathedral Hall at the University Club of Chicago

Jimmy MacMillan is a man of many hats—all of them covered in flour or sugar. This pastry chef, pastry molds entrepreneur, and sweets instructor crafts some of the nation’s top pastry at Cathedral Hall and Front Grill, both housed in the upper crust University Club of Chicago. MacMillan’s expertise and constant quest for new ideas produces soulful pastry that evokes both nostalgia and fantasy. What we love about MacMillan, apart from his desserts, is his sense of community. He’s passionate about his trade and pushing pastry forward in the United States. And we think it’s time for America to take their hats off to that.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Chocolate Cake with White and Dark Chocolate Mousse, Spiced Gooseberry Sorbet, and Chocolate Jam
- Noisette Banana Cake: Brownie Bars, Yunnan Tea Gelato, Honey Floss

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Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy

Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy

Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy is going to fool you. His presentations are precise and vivid without being sculpturally unapproachable. But even in his subtlest platings, Fahy hides dazzling flavor combinations. And that's because he takes great joy in finding new ingredients and concocting the unexpected. His panna cotta looks unassuming, but it bursts with surprising smoky flavor from a charred whiskey barrel. His pastry adheres to classical technique, uniting wild imagination with diligent experimentation. Fahy heads the pastry programs at Paul Kahan’s Blackbird, avec, The Publican, and a new butcher shop, where he’ll stock the pastry case. Chicago’s lucky Fahy has such a large platform from which he can produce his singular brand of inventive, delicious desserts.

The Dishes that Clinched:
- Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Panna Cotta, Macoun Apples, Bourbon Liquor Candies, and Candied Pine Nuts
- Brown Butter Cake, Red Raspberries, Caramelized Goat Cheese, Basil, and Cajeta Ice Cream

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Hotel Pastry Chef Mag GalusHotel Pastry Chef Meg Galus
Café des Architectes at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower

Pastry Chef Meg Galus Galus is a woman in charge. She’s in complete control of the pastry program at the high-volume Sofitel Chicago Water Tower. There, she dictates the expression of her classic French pastry, honed by five years spent at French progressive Tru. Her plated desserts are texturally light and deeply resonant in flavor—the components first marry in your mouth, and then stir up dreamy food memories. Galus also delights in the business side of pastry. She combs the walk-in like a forager, looking for ingredients to inspire specials. She constantly brainstorms new ideas for dishes and how to sell them, and she knows the numbers behind her contribution to the hotel’s monthly $1 million dollars in food and beverage sales. It’s this magic combination of talent and savvy that makes her an unstoppable force on the Chicago sweets scene.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Gâteau Basque, Black Cherries, Lemon Zest, Pastry Cream, and Black Cherry Jam
- Parisian Mini Desserts

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Community Chef Ryan PoliCommunity Chef Ryan Poli

Chef Ryan Poli is at the heart of chef-driven change in Chicago. Poli not only serves on the chefs’ advisory board of Common Threads, an initiative that teaches kids how to cook healthy meals, but after seeing the impact of the charity, he found his own, homegrown way to make a difference. Inspired by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, Poli, Paul Kahan, Matt Merges, and Jason Hammel founded the Pilot Light Project, a growing organization that works to incorporate food and nutrition into grade-school curriculums. Poli’s work with charities informs his work in the kitchen, and vice versa. The former Perennial chef—who will soon open Tavernita—uses sustainable products and sources impeccable seafood. He has the guts to serve healthful tofu in a city obsessed with pork, along with the determination, knowledge, and serious skills to change how the new generation of Chicago diners, from the schoolhouse to the front of house, will view and eat food.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- "Fish Tacos": Hiramasa Sashimi, Mango-Papaya-Serrano Chili Relish, Avocado Purée, and Tortilla Infusion
- Frozen "Snickers" Bar: Salted Caramel Mousse, Peanut Chocolate Crumble, Frozen Chocolate Bavarian, Peanut Butter Ice Cream, and 40 Second Chocolate Cake

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Concept Chef Jared Van Camp

Concept Chef Jared Van Camp
Old Town Social

Chef Jared Van Camp has done his homework: he’s well-versed in the bylaws of charcuterie production in Chicago and has knowledge to spare when it comes to curing meats, even down to the gritty, mundane details of sourcing molds. He also has a serious knack for hospitality, so it makes sense that his restaurants—Old Town Social and Quality Social—are meant for, well, socializing. Both concepts are as much bar as they are restaurant, but you won't find typical bar snacks at either. Sure, Van Camp serves wings but they’re confit, deep-fried duck wings, and the hot sauce is house-made harissa. With an intuition for deep satisfaction, this porcine-loving chef integrates organic, local product into his affordable dishes. His concept may not advertise this staunch commitment to sustainability, but it doesn't seem to bother his beer-swilling patrons one bit—which makes for a compelling study in successful brand building.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Duck Wings, Harissa, and Cucumber-Mint Raita
- Charcuterie Plate: Sopressata, Toscano Salame, Mortadella, Pepperoni, Summer Sausage, Lamb Salame, Pate de Campagne, Lardo Toast, Lonza, Grilled Bread and Mustard Piccalilli

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Sustainability Chef Geoff RhyneSustainability Chef Geoff Rhyne
SugarToad at Hotel Arista

Geoff Rhyne’s views on sustainability were born of his country upbringing, where food and farm were intrinsically linked—and his grandparents made sure he knew it. Southern transplant Rhyne is the kind of restless chef that’s always got something on the burner. If it’s not planting a garden at SugarToad in suburban Naperville or tracking down heirloom seeds, it’s keeping up to date on the latest trends in sustainability, sharing what he’s learned at progressive platforms like TEDx, and keeping his eyes wide open and his ear to the ground for more ways to respect product. Hospitality comes naturally to this Southern charmer, and his enthusiasm for supporting local farmers and returning to old, commonsense foodways is infectious. But Rhyne makes the strongest case for sustainability on the plate, convincing diners with his skillful, ingredient-driven menu.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Braised Australian Lamb Neck, Warm Heirloom Tomato Panzanella with Olive Foccacia Croutons, and Sauce Aureole
- Parsnip Bisque, Fennel Sofrito, Hidden Rose Apples, and Cured and Smoked Ivory Salmon

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Sommelier Rachael LoweSommelier Rachael Lowe
Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower
Sommelier Rachael Lowe’s guests are instantly charmed by her gushing enthusiasm for her favorite wines and winemakers. She has a deep and giddy love of Old World wines and all things Rhône Valley. She connects with wines and their stories and transmits those connections in palpable terms to her guests. In the context of Sixteen at the Trump International Hotel & Tower, Lowe’s pairings amplify the volume of 2003 New Orleans Rising Star Chef Frank Brunacci’s imaginative, luxurious food. The wines she chooses marry with the food’s textures and flavors in adventurous ways. She and her pairings make the dining experience grander and more exciting. And the drama of it all has us captivated.

-For the Sommelier

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Sommelier Michael McAvenaBeer Sommelier Michael McAvena
The Publican

Like millions of college students before him, Michael McAvena fell in love with beer. But his level of obsession led him to dismiss his degree, start brewing beer at home, work in beer distribution, and travel halfway across world to knock on the doors of Belgian beer makers. McAvena is also a certified Cicerone—a small, but growing, and intensive certification program for beer sommeliers. Today, he distills his passion and knowledge of all things brewskie into pairings at The Publican. A strong commitment to small batch brewers and innovative processes inspires pairings that can highlight the myriad flavors in a typically beer-friendly charcuterie platter, but also complement a delicate snapper crudo. And under his guidance, all Publican servers and managers have passed the first level of beer server certification, which just goes to show he’s poised to spread the gospel of beer pairing, be it by bottle or barrel. And we’ll drink to that.

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Mixologist Paul McGeeMixologist Paul McGee
The Whistler

Paul McGee’s spent half his life in the drinks business, and at this point in his career he abides by a simple formula: serving well-made, affordable cocktails quickly. McGee’s The Whistler is as much about old-school hospitality as it is about what’s on the all-liquid menu. The modest bar space resembles the community center basement of your childhood. With a donated pulpit and small stage, restrooms announced with construction-paper signs, and church-donated seating, it’s the perfect setting for a neighborhood-friendly events calendar, which McGee also directs. Bar patrons sip on libations that are finely calibrated and full of character, and often employ five or fewer ingredients. His expertly crafted drinks reflect his hobbies of devouring cocktail literature and scouring the country for the best there is to drink. He brings it all back to Chicago, where he’s doing the one thing he’s ever wanted to do—serve drinks.

The Drinks that Clinched It:
- 21st Century: Death’s Door Gin, Cocchi Americano, Crème de Cacao, Lemon Juice, Chocolate Bitters, and Coffee Bean
- Elk's Own: Evan Williams Bourbon, Port, Lemon, Egg White, and Walnut

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Restaurateurs Kevin Boehm and Rob KatzRestaurateurs Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz
Boka Restaurant Group

Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz are feeding Chicago—no small feat considering the city’s home to one of the most food-forward populations in the country. With five restaurants already under their belts, the powerhouse duo behind the Boka Restaurant Group continues to inject ingenuity and flair into the Chicago dining scene. Like the most successful restaurateurs, Boehm and Katz exhibit a faith in young, promising talent at each of their wildly successful restaurants. From Landmark and Boka to Perennial, Girl & the Goat, and the newly debuted GT Fish & Oyster, their restaurants are chef-driven super-engines. Boehm and Katz place a priority on creative freedom; they give their motley cast of culinary characters the flexibility and freedom to lead. With yet another project in the works for 2012, Boehm and Katz seem intent on satisfying and inspiring Chicago’s bottomless appetite for top-notch cuisine.

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