Every city has its favorite culinary stars. But Chicago could claim a whole galaxy.
Rick Bayless won the James Beard Award for "National Chef of the Year" in 1995. His two main restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, have brought the art of authentic regional Mexican cooking to the U.S. With several cookbooks and TV shows, Rick is still bringing new tastes home to Chicago.
After winning the Culinary Institute of American's "Escoffier Award," among others, David Burke decided to branch out from his Park Avenue Café in New York. His first stop was Chicago, with David Burke's Primehouse in The James Hotel. Sample his "culinology," an approach to food that combines the culinary arts with food technology.
There's probably no greater star chef practicing modernist cuisine in the world today than Grant Achatz. His first restaurant, Alinea, is often more like a laboratory, with several of his 19 course meals served with a few instructions.
Grant's second restaurant and adjoining bar Aviary are equally innovative. Next Restaurant, James Beard Foundation award winner for "Best New Restaurant" in 2012, features a new themed dining experience every three months that will tickle your imagination (the first was Paris in 1906). Tickets, released online at random, are required.
Joining Rick, David, and Grant at the heights of culinary stardom is Stephanie Izard. America's "Top Chef" winner in 2008, she opened Girl & the Goat in 2011. Food & Wine Magazine pronounced her "Best New Chef." Diners have been climbing a steep reservation list ever since to taste her "savory salty, sweet and tart flavors."
For a little sweetness on your Chicago top chef tour, stop into Wicker Park restaurant HotChocolate, an urban cafe that marries contemporary food and desserts inspired by seasonal and local ingredients. Mindy Segal is no stranger to winning accolades and 2012 marked her first James Beard Award for "Outstanding Pastry Chef."
And if you still have any openings in your fine-dining agenda, a visit with the following executive chefs would make for a perfect week in culinary heaven here: Bruce Sherman at North Pond; Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia; Tony Mantuano of Terzo Piano, Bar Toma and Spiaggia (of presidential-favorite fame); and Paul Kahan, master of the pork belly and smokehouse meats, at Avec, Blackbird, The Publican, and Big Star, a taco bar quite fancied by the executive Michelin Guide reviewer.
There you have it, one full week of "Dining with the Stars." There are plenty more, too, for next time. Yum!