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The Chicago Rising Stars and Why They Shine
By Heather Sperling with Antoinette Bruno
April 2008

The 2008 Starchefs.com Chicago Rising Stars

Click here for more information about the Chicago Stars Revue on
May 19th at the Trump International Hotel & Tower

We tasted food, pastry, cocktails, and wine pairings from over 70 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists and sommeliers across Chicago, and only 12 of them earned the title of Rising Star. So what makes them shine? Creativity, ambition, exquisite presentation, and, most importantly, a delicious product win each up-and-coming culinary star the Rising Star Award. What’s more, each Rising Star has specific attributes that make us believe they will be the future leaders of the country’s culinary scene. Here’s an introduction to the 2008 Chicago award winners – who they are, why they shine, and how they’re shaping the future of American food.

CHEF: Kendal Duque, Sepia

Buzz surrounded the opening of Sepia; there was a talented young chef who no one had heard of, and people – industry and media
alike – were raving about his food. So what’s it all about? One bite of Kendal’s roasted rabbit with ricotta dumplings, chickpeas and tomatoes doused in a tangy, gingery Riesling sauce, and we knew: the man has a way with flavor. Kendal’s food is big and bold in a finger-licking, Mediterranean-meets-American way. Tomato sauce beneath grilled octopus is as garlicky as a Southern Italian grandmother’s, and massive pork chops are criss-crossed with smoky grilled bacon and paired with a refreshing raw apple and arugula salad. The outward rusticity of his dishes belies refinement that comes from his years working with fine dining superstars – Julian Serrano, Jean Joho, Rocco DiSpirito, Rick Tramonto and Sandro Gambo, to name a few.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Roasted Rabbit Leg with Ricotta Dumplings, Chickpeas, and Cherry Tomatoes
- Charred Baby Octopus and Toasted Bread with Tomato Sauce

CHEF: Tim Graham, Tru

Tim Graham is re-invigorating a fine dining institution, one cube of bacon-lemon gellan at a time. This young, energetic, inquisitive chef de cuisine of Tru has spent 5 years in the restaurant’s kitchen, working his way up from garde manger and developing his own ideas about the future of fine dining in the process. For Graham, it means using a simple but innovative technique to create flavorful sauces without the fat (think of it as bacon-lemon tea), and dreaming of a beurre monte-filled immersion circulator embedded in his counter. He has a background in biochemistry and food science; his success comes not only from his pursuit of new techniques, but his adherence to flavor-driven food first, technique-driven second. Under Graham, the kitchen at Tru is rejuvenated, and is entering an exciting new era of playfulness and innovation.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Scottish Salmon, Daikon, Granny Smith, Thai Long Peppercorn
- Alpine Bay Oyster, Tempura Uni, Smoke, Lemon, Bacon

CHEF: Bill Kim, Le Lan


Bill Kim is a Rising Star with serious culinary experience under his belt. From Trotter’s and Trio in Chicago to Susanna Foo in Philadelphia, Kim has honed his technique under some of the country’s best chefs. At Le Lan, his experience has culminated in delicate, refined Asian cuisine that references both his multi-faceted professional background and the lessons he learned cooking with his family as a child. His cuisine is speckled with French techniques; the result is some of the most exciting and intelligent modern Asian we’ve come across. Japanese fine dining has become standard in major markets, but Korean and Southeast Asian cuisines rarely cross the barrier from ethnic restaurant to upscale; Le Lan is Kim’s elegant answer to that need.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Wagyu Beef Carpaccio with Marinated Jicama, Trout Roe, Sesame Pancake and Soy-Balsamic
- Dumpling with Wild Mushrooms, Mirin-Dashi Broth and Parmigiano Reggiano

CHEF: Christopher Nugent, Les Nomades


At Les Nomades, Christopher Nugent is proving that, in the scheme of modern dining trends like small plates, interactive dining, and rustic comfort food, there is still a place for French fine dining. As long as it has a personal touch, that is. Imagine delicate, refined, classic French nouvelle cuisine, interpreted through a distinctly American lens – in this case, it takes the form of squab and rabbit torchon with an aromatic star anise and cardamom-scented sauce d’epice and red and white quinoa, or perfectly cooked sweetbreads with chorizo, pommes puree and pommes soufflé. Les Nomades has been a bastion of Chicago fine dining since the 70’s; Nugent is leading it into a new era with seasonal, elegant French-American cuisine at the highest level that is so well-executed that it’s not just
impressive – it’s exciting.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Torchon of Rabbit and Squab, Smoked Bacon, Quinoa, and Sauce D’Epice
- Roasted Veal Sweetbread, Spanish Chorizo, Smoked Paprika, and Potato

CHEF: Michael Sheerin, Blackbird

What do Blackbird and WD~50 have in common? Before Mike Sheerin relocated from the Lower East Side to the West Loop, not too much; but today, Sheerin (Blackbird’s first chef de cuisine) is injecting Paul Kahan’s refined, seasonal, modern American dishes with new techniques and flavor combinations inspired from his time with Wylie Dufresne – and they’re all the better for it. Sheerin spent over three years as a sous chef at WD~50; prior to that, he worked at Lutece, Atlas, and Jean-Georges in New York, and Everest in Chicago. Sheerin’s dishes have clever, flavorful twists: grilled sturgeon rests on rye and potato gnocchi in a bath of tangy mustard consommé; veal ribeye comes with cornbread – but that cornbread has been dehydrated, ground, and cooked again, this time as a porridge seasoned with Tabasco sauce.

The Dishes that Clinched it:

- Wood Grilled Sturgeon with Mustard Consommé, Rye Gnocchi, Mustard Foam, English Peas, Oyster Mushrooms and Guanciale
- Veal Ribeye with Cornbread Porridge

CHEF: Giuseppe Tentori, Boka

Giuseppe Tentori and his decade of Trotter’s training have landed in a neighborhood
setting – and the result is some of the most refined, exciting neighborhood food you’ll find. Giuseppe’s culinary style integrates diverse components (tamarind sauce and a “soba cake” with pork belly, for one), but is so well-conceived and well-executed that it doesn’t challenge the diner. At Boka, hamachi crudo hits every part of the palate with sweet-sour grapefruit, crisp water chestnuts, and savory, umami-rich curry sauce and fried burdock root. It’s a complex dish whose elements come together in a way that makes perfect sense – and so the chef can play humble, offering a pre-meal disclaimer: “we’re just a neighborhood place. It’s simple food...” But his food is by no means basic or rustic, as his self-assigned title would connote. (But then again... that’s what 9 years in Trotter’s kitchen does to your conception of “simple.”)

The Dishes that Clinched it:

- Japanese Hamachi with Grapefruit and Curry Sauce
- Pork Belly with Tamarind Sauce and Soba cake

HOTEL CHEF AWARD: Kristine Subido, Wave

Wave is one of the most multi-faceted hotel restaurants we’ve ever seen. At the helm is the young, dynamic chef Kristine Subido, who manages all of the W Lakeshore’s food and beverage programs – banquets, catering, room service, and breakfast, lunch and dinner at
– and is directly responsible for making them some of the most innovative in their field. Her low-fuss international small plates menu encourages sharing among nighttime guests, a special spa menu caters to clients of the Bliss spa upstairs, and cooking classes bring neighbors into the kitchen to learn about a different country each month; they’ve covered Morocco, Thailand, Spain, India, and Subido’s native Philippines so far. Subido is working on expanding her class program, and on developing a modern take on high tea “that will appeal to both women and men,” she says.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Ahi Tuna Crudo, Citrus and Pear Salad, Cracked Fennel Seed Vinaigrette
- Roasted American Lamb with Chickpea Puree and Merguez Cassoulet

Shawn McClain, Spring, Green Zebra, Custom House

Our senior Rising Star award goes to Chef/Restaurateur Shawn McClain. McClain spent 7 years gaining acclaim at Trio in Evanston before opening the Asian-inspired Spring in 2001. Green Zebra (vegetarian small plates) followed in 2004 and Custom House (American, with a focus on meats) came in 2005 – three different concepts, but they are each masterfully executed and bring something new to Chicago diners. McClain followed in the steps of Paul Kahan – “before [Blackbird], there was only
4-star dining and then a big step down,” he says – and today his three chef-driven restaurants set the bar for the quality and character of upscale-casual dining in Chicago. McClain’s Spring Group boasts an impressive team – an innovative beverage manager, a dynamic sommelier, and of course, Rising Star Pastry Chef Elissa Narow.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Filet of Beef with Braised Oxtail, Wild Mushrooms, and Sweet Soy
- Hawaiian Blue Prawn with Lemongrass and Coconut Broth

PASTRY CHEF: Tim Dahl, Blackbird and Avec

Tim Dahl manages to perfectly straddle the line between innovation and comfort with desserts that are at once exciting and whole-heartedly delicious. Dahl’s desserts at Blackbird and Avec are seasonal, and his approach is to manipulate the ingredient, but always with the aim of letting its flavors and characteristics shine through. Each of his dishes has a savory element – gingerbread comes with raw,
gin-flavored apples infused with juniper syrup and topped with a generous sprinkle of feta cheese, and a dense chocolate pave is paired with caraway seeds and lightly pickled pears. His desserts, like Sheerin and Kahan’s savory dishes, have nothing extra or unnecessary on the plate; Dahl says that Kahan taught him to “tighten the screws,” and helped him refine his concepts. The result is clean-flavored, refined, modern American pastry.

The Cocktail that Clinched it:
- Gingerbread with Flavors of Gin: Apples, Juniper, Feta, Cilantro, and Sheeps Milk Yogurt & Cider Sorbet
- Caraibe Pave, Caraway Ice Cream, Pickled Roasted Pears, Picholine Olives, Caraway Streuse

PASTRY CHEF: Elissa Narow, Custom House and Spring


Elissa Narow’s pastry is quietly revolutionary – her penchant for confections has an old-school feel, but her flavor combinations and techniques are decidedly new-school, and are some of the most innovative and exciting in Chicago. Narow has been working with Shawn McClain since he was at Trio; today, as pastry chef for both Custom House and Spring, she has the opportunity to go in two directions – American-inspired/classic, and Asian. Asian cuisine doesn’t have a large repertoire of composed desserts, so Narow integrates Asian flavors into American forms. The outcome is playful and fun: at Spring, a dense candy bar of Hawaiian chocolate is laced with green tea caramel and topped with coconut sorbet, and rice pudding is made with mochi rice, elderflower, and Thai basil-scented pineapple. At Custom House, cheesecake gets a kick from Meyer lemon, buerre blanc and rosemary.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Lemon Beurre Blanc and Lemon Rosemary Sorbet Soda
- Chocolate Caramel Crunch Cake with Green Tea Cream, Coconut Sorbet, and Chocolate Crispies

SOMMELIER: Josh Kaplan, MK

Sommelier Josh Kaplan brings an energy and enthusiasm to wine service at MK, with a tableside manner that’s educational but not condescending, and pairings from every corner of the globe. Currently Kaplan is playing with funky Italian whites – and to his credit in the red department, he was the first person to serve us a Nerello Mascalese from Etna Rosso, Sicily. Kaplan has re-shaped the wine list since coming to MK over three years ago: he’s added an organic/biodynamic producer page, increased the half-bottle selection, added Pinot Noirs from Australia and New Zealand, and increased the selection of Italian wines. Kaplan focuses on wines “made by families and actual humans,” and has eliminated wines made by corporations and committees. He has 700 labels on his list and 7,000 bottles in his cellar, and is currently studying for his advanced sommelier exam with Master Sommelier Alpana Singh.


John Kinder is a recent career changer, but the way he’s jumped head-first into culinary mixology would make you think he’d been cooking and mixing his entire life. When we first met him at The Pump Room in Chicago’s Ambassador Hotel, he was finishing his seasonal martinis with home-brewed tinctures and teaching unknowing bar patrons the joys of a realappletini: fresh pressed apple juice, homemade apple spirit, lemon juice, clove tincture, and apple powder (a recipe he got from the TRU cookbook). Now at MK, Kinder is delving even further into the kitchen, infusing neutral grain spirit by sous vide and serving bold, clever cocktails with plenty of savory and aromatic elements. He’s a relentless innovator – both in the glass and in the restaurant. One example: Kinder hosts weekly "spirited dinners," in which he and MK chef Erick Simmons create 4-course cocktail pairing menus to serve in the restaurant’s front lounge.

The cocktails that clinched it:
- Oyster Liquor: oyster-infused grain spirit, lemon, San Pellegrino
- Pear Fume: pear and vanilla-infused grain spirit, fresh lemon sour, lavender tincture

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