13 Spring-Obsessed Chicago Chefs Write Love Letters to Spring

By Team StarChefs | Will Blunt and Jaclyn Warren


Team StarChefs
Will Blunt and Jaclyn Warren
Venison, Fiddlehead Purée, Gooseberry Purée, Ground Cherries, Blackberry Gastrique, Cocoa, Pickled Ramps, Juniper-Sautéed Fiddlehead and Morel, Puffed Tendon, Freeze-Dried Blackberries, Tangerine, Citrus Lace Flowers
Venison, Fiddlehead Purée, Gooseberry Purée, Ground Cherries, Blackberry Gastrique, Cocoa, Pickled Ramps, Juniper-Sautéed Fiddlehead and Morel, Puffed Tendon, Freeze-Dried Blackberries, Tangerine, Citrus Lace Flowers

Forced to make due with root vegetables and shipped-in produce for much of the year, Chicago chefs love spring. During the short, intermittent season, they shake down their farmers for all they’re worth and preserve everything to hoard into winter. They R&D with the shipped stuff so they don’t miss a minute of serving plump stalks of asparagus and just-plucked-from-the-forest morels. They fortify their flavors by using the same ingredient in multiple ways on the plate, and during our visits in April through June, they served some of the most spring-forward dishes we’ve seen. But the heart wants what the heart wants, so we asked these chefs to write their love letters to their most fleeting time of year.


Chef Bailey Sullivan, Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio
The dish: Sweet pea agnolotti, ricotta, Mangalitsa pork loin, prosciutto, pea tendrils
Dear Spring... “To quote the 2012 crime drama Spring Breakers, ‘Spring break, spring break forever.’ As a chef, that’s how I feel after months of much-loved but sometimes tiring turnips and rutabaga.”

Chef Emery Ebarle, Kumiko
The dish:
Tofu parfait, burnt and pickled rhubarb jam, macerated strawberries, rhubarb vinegar, shiso furikaké
Dear Spring... “As the Midwest thaws out, we experience something called ‘fool’s spring.’ We get a glimpse of summer only to get one more flurry of snow. Like our own groundhog, the first strawberries on the farm list are the sign that the freezes are finally done and all the amazing spring produce we’ve been dreaming about is right around the corner.”


Chef Morgan O’Brien, Lula Cafe
The dish:
Carrot and lilac salad, strawberries, mint, green garlic dressing, radish
Dear Spring… “It’s the most exciting time being able to see flowers bud and all the young plants peek their way through the soil. But we can’t forget the humble carrot or potato that got us through the cold winters. Dressing up some staple Midwest ingredients with lilac flowers, mint, and fresh garlic captures how beautiful the seasons can all work together.”

Chef Justin Selk, Ever
The dish: Jumbo white asparagus, green asparagus purée, citrus sabayon, salsify, Osetra caviar
Dear Spring… “We planted a garden on the roof of Ever's building this spring. The bees have been busy pollinating the herbs and vegetables. Chicago's growing season is short; we have to make the most of it!”


Pastry Chef Jacquelyn Paternico, Temporis
The dish:
White chocolate cake, cherry blossom mousse, cherry sorbet, cherry vinegar gel, cherry meringue, puffed cherry blossoms
Dear Spring… “I get excited for spring produce but also for flowers to start blooming. I saw that Regalis had preserved sakura flowers and had to make a dessert with them.”


Chef Jennifer Kim, Alt Economy
The dish:
Lamb loin, brown rice amazake, steamed bread, kimchi, sunchokes, pickled turnips, wild chives
Dear Spring… “Seeing spring produce hit the markets is nature's olive branch that farmers markets, gardening, planting season, and beers on the stoop while the sun sets over the city are not too far behind.”


Chef Troy Jorge, Temporis
The dish:
Poached Holland white asparagus, asparagus purée, rhubarb gel, asparagus and rhubarb curls, brioche crisps, egg yolk, oxalis 
Dear Spring... “Holland white asparagus and ruby red rhubarb symbolize spring. Their colors are vibrant and either complement or contrast with seasonal greens. It's truly a breath of fresh air as the weather transitions after a long winter.”


Chef Abigail Zielke, All Together Now
The dish:
Poached mussels, focaccia, almond romesco, lemon, shaved radish, chive blossoms
Dear Spring... “I always get excited to see green and earthy items show up in the spring like stinging nettles and baby radishes. Then I know it won't be too long until we are eating bright, herbaceous foods on the patio with a cold glass of wine.” 


Pastry Chef Kristine Antonian-Vilarosa, The Hoxton
The dish:
Strawberry tres leches cake, strawberry purée, strawberry whipped cream, strawberry crumble, fresh strawberries, passionfruit honey, lime
Dear Spring… “Last year, we had shut down right before spring. I was writing spring menus during quarantine thinking we would only be out for two weeks. Ha! So my 2020 spring menu ideas were stuck on the back burner for a whole year!” 


Chef Kyle Cottle, Sepia
The dish: Rohan duck breast, pickled green strawberry relish, rose vinegar, green garlic, duck leg rillette, fennel, chamomile, honey, nasturtium
Dear Spring… “Waiting for spring in Chicago is the definition of patience; even when the calendar says it’s spring, we are subject to waiting it out a little longer than we'd like to. So when you finally see strawberries available, it's truly an exciting time. The bounties of locally grown produce have finally arrived.” 


Bakers Ben Lustbader and Sarah Mispagel-Lustbader, Loaf Lounge
The dish:
Breakfast sandwich: sourdough English muffin, black garlic maple sausage, egg, muenster, ramp aïoli
Dear Spring… “Ramps are super exciting around here! They are crazy-delicious wild onions with a really distinctive smell that at this point is completely tangled up in my sense memory of early spring.”


Chef Alex Skrzypczyk, Sunday Dinner Club
The dish:
House-smoked salmon dip, ramps, sourdough, breakfast radishes, microgreens
Dear Spring… “There comes a point during winter where it’s just like, enough squash and potatoes already! Give me something green. Please. Spring ingredients are the light at the end of the dark and very cold winter tunnel.”


Chef César Murillo, North Pond
The dish:
Grilled asparagus, ramps, black kataifi, quail egg, uni hollandaise, yuzu gel, daylilies 
Dear Spring... “Every chef gets excited about spring, but we all know there’s really no spring in Chicago. It can get a little awkward sometimes because there’s always that one day in April when you’re serving asparagus, and it starts to snow. John Arents, the general manager of North Pond, likes to say, ‘Spring in Chicago, I love that weekend.’”

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