Each year StarChefs, an online and paper magazine, visits four cities in the United States in order to recognize the hottest chefs and restaurateurs. Back for the first time since 2011, StarChefs held a Rising Stars awards ceremony and tasting on May 8, 2015 at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Café Brauer.
The Chicago Traveler was invited out to sample the best of the best of our city’s top emerging chefs and needless to say everything I tried was incredible.
StarChefs Rising Stars Awards Ceremony and Tasting :
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of my favorite places in the city, and I was thrilled that StarChefs had selected the historic Café Brauer to hold the tasting. Built in 1908, the Café has this breathtaking, spacious Great Hall on the top floor that opens up to two outside wings. There’s an incredible view of both the city skyline and a boardwalk around a prairie and pond filled with plants and wildlife.
The event was well arranged with mainly appetizers, drinks, and desserts. Entrees, and more drinks, were in the two wings and when you came back through you could stop for a dessert or wait until the end of the night. They were there mainly for background music, I really enjoyed the offbeat band hidden up in an alcove in the Great Hall. At one point, they played this insane mash up of Metallica’s “One” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”
There were wine pairings chosen by Ryan Arnold of powerhouse Lettuce Entertain You along with bartenders and brewers chosen by StarChefs. I’ve been to these kinds of events before and it’s easy to go overboard, but on a Monday night I had to choose wisely.
Dave Bleitner & John Laffler | Off Color Brewing
Like the rest of the country, Chicago is in the midst of a craft beer explosion. Off Color Brewing is a relative newcomer to the scene, but has already made their mark thanks to their adventurous brews that focus on unusual styles and avoiding trends like brutal, punishing IPAs named Hopzilla or Hoppenstein’s Hop Monster or whatever. I sampled their Eille, a beautiful honey saison that was light for summer, but quite potent.
Tyler Fry | Violet Hour
Wicker Park’s speakeasy-themed bar needs little introduction at this point. Bartender Tyler Fry served up “The Cruellest Month,” a very bold and intense cocktail playing off the sweetness and bitterness of citrus fruit that was impressively, actually in a cocktail glass with a perfectly square ice cube.
Okay so they’re not actually from Chicago, but I could resist stopping by Ommegang’s booth. I tried their Three Philosopher’s Quadruple Ale. It’s very fizzy and almost comes across as heavy champagne with a satisfying burn at the end. The secret here is the beer is actually two beers in one and uses a little bit of a sour Kriekbier as the finishing touch.
Jaycara de Oliveira | Sportsman’s Club
Sportsman’s is a wonderful restored art deco-style bar full of character, like old audio equipment and deer heads on the walls, that focuses on awesome cocktails. Jaycara de Oliveira was making their “Coast to Coast,” a light rum and sherry-based cocktail sweetened by honey syrup that was well suited for an early summer’s night.
Erling Wu-Bower | Nico Osteria
The Gold Coast’s Nico Osteria’s entry was a beautiful little piece of kanpachi crudo. It was fresh and zesty and well complimented by the crunch of some frisee and a crisped potato slice.
Greg Biggers | Chestnut Provisions at Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
It’s been years since Chicago’s foie gras ban was overturned, but I still felt like I was doing some dangerous while trying this rich, decadent torchon of duck foie gras paired with a cheddar doughnut pastry and topped with black cherry spread—lots of bold flavors working in perfect harmony.
Erin Byrne, Drew Gordon Davis, Hunter Swartz | Eastman Egg Company
Both a food truck and a physical location, the Eastman Egg Company’s Crown Egg Sandwich was the only breakfast item selected and easily earned its distinction. I’m a sucker for anything with avocado on it and when that’s paired with Salsa Verde, chorizo, a farm fresh egg, and bold Egmont cheese…oh boy! I’m going to need to make a brunch stop at their Loop location ASAP to eat another one of these incredible sandwiches.
Lee Wolen | Boka
While located right next door to Alinea (one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world), the team at Boka certainly has a high pedigree (Lobby at the Peninsula Hotel, GT Fish & Oyster, Girl & the Goat). This salt cod ravioli was evident of that. The cod tasted like it came right out of the sea, reinforced by the surrounding foam on the dish.
Sarah Rinkavage | Lula Café
The essential Logan Square restaurant showcased very tender short ribs with red rice and a creamy cumin aioli. This was a very heavy dish that I didn’t want to indulge in too much with 20 things to try, but would definitely order as a hearty evening meal.
Abraham Conlon | Fat Rice
I was impressed with how well these chefs were able to translate signature dishes into a miniature portion, especially Conlon’s Po Kok Gai (Portuguese chicken) that was packed with everything from olives to a hardboiled egg slice. The moist chicken was served in a coconut curry sauce with a big spice flavor. Chicago is home to a number of great chicken places, but Fat Rice is definitely going to give you something a little different than what everyone else is doing with chicken in the city.
Harold Jurado | Yusho
When I first attempted to try Jurado’s Szechuan Lamb Tsukune (kind of a lamb meatball), a server bumped into me and my lamb went flying onto a woman’s shoe and she shot me the worst look—it was pretty comical in the moment. The second attempt was better, and I got to appreciate the spicy ginger sauce highlighting the succulent lamb and the crisp side salad.
Satoru Takeuchi | NoMI at Park Hyatt Chicago
If you’re coming in from out of town or from the suburbs for a fun night in the city, NoMI is a great choice for dinner. The food is excellent and even better is the view of Water Tower and Michigan Avenue. For Rising Stars, Chef Takeuchi presented the full package. There was very tender lamb, spring vegetables, and a starchy radish cake. NoMI even provided a dessert option to make the meal complete (see below).
Art & Chelsea Jackson | Pleasant House Bakery
One of the more unique presentations at the event, Bridgeport’s Pleasant House Bakery offer a modern take on the British pie shop. That’s not exactly my cup of tea, so I was caught off guard for how good their steak pasty was. The crust was light and flaky but thick enough to prevent it from getting soggy; likewise, the gravy and tenderness of the beef kept it from getting too dry. Expertly balanced and delicious, this is a snack that you can apparently buy from many city grocers.
Greg Mosko | NoMI at Park Hyatt Chicago
Finishing off the night, I sampled some dessert from Greg Mosko of NoMI. Perhaps the best plated of the night, chocolate mousse with a brilliant glaze, dollops of avocado sauce, and a pineapple jerk sorbet were all separated on the plate and almost too beautiful to touch. I particularly enjoyed the play of the rich chocolate with the sweet and light sorbet.