We’re back, Chicago, with our third annual 30 Under 30 list of gastronomic game changers. This year, we ventured further to find honorees who are not only preparing incredible food and drinks in some of the city’s top restaurants and bars, but are also growing the produce and crafting the spirits that make eating out possible in the first place. These young culinary trailblazers are the ones to watch, especially given how much they've already achieved before their 30th year. Cheers to the delicious road ahead.
Story by Sarah Freeman; Photos by Galdones Photography/Zagat
Sieger Bayer, 27Chef de Cuisine at Leghorn Fried Chicken
After cooking his way through Old Town Social and Nellcôte, this Georgia native reached back to his Southern roots to spearhead the opening of Leghorn Fried Chicken. Bayer has had a hand in every aspect of the socially conscious chicken restaurant, from recipe development to tearing down drywall. He’s also battered and fried hundreds of chickens, baked thousands of biscuits and made more hush puppies than he could even begin to count, all in search of a winning pickle-brined and Nashville hot chicken combination.
Bryan Bland, 29Head Cheesemonger at Bar Pastoral
Although his degree is in architecture, a sparse job market brought Bland into the cheese world. During a temp job at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, a rare Chällerhocker Swiss caused his “cheese epiphany” - a phenomenon that he says most cheesemongers experience when they decide to dedicate their lives to the stuff. Bland has since participated twice in the Cheesemonger Invitational, where his ability to identify, pair and plate cheese earned him a bronze medal competing against more than 50 international professionals.
Lisa Bonjour, 29Pastry Chef at mk The Restaurant
While spending time in professional kitchens as an aspiring food writer, Bonjour was drawn into the excitement of the service industry. Her pastries have now graced the menus at BOKA, Quince and Trenchermen, and can be described as simple yet elegant. At mk, she finds inspiration in nostalgic classics, from bread pudding to peanut butter and jelly. Her passion for writing can still be seen in her dessert names, with titles such as “’Cause it’s a Bittersweet Cin-phony,” “You’re Killing Me S’mores” and “I Love (Butter)Scotch, Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch.”
Joe and Mac Boumaroun, 29 and 27Owners at 25 Degrees Restaurant
The Boumaroun brothers were raised in the restaurant industry. After immigrating to America from Lebanon, their grandfather built an empire of more than 30 Big Boys, while their parents opened Michigan’s first Red Robin. When it came time to join the family business, the brothers moved to Chicago to take over Aladdin’s, a Lebanese restaurant in Lakeview. The boys moved on when they saw a new trend on the horizon: burger bars. They opened Chicago’s first (of what will be several) LA-based 25 Degrees in August 2011.
Brendan Blume and Matthew Ritchey, 26 and 29Co-Owner and Co-Owner/Head Brewer at Begyle Brewing, Co.
Using a model similar to community-supported agriculture boxes, Begyle Brewing, Co. is the city’s first community-supported brewery (members receive monthly growlers and other discounts). After working on a farm in Ohio, Blume recruited Ritchey, an avid home brewer, to help make his vision a reality. The brewery focuses on variety, and in its first full year of business, Ritchey has brewed 35 styles. This year, he hopes to nearly double that while still brewing several chef and brewery collaborations.
Simon Davies, 24Chef de Cuisine at Alinea
A high school diner job turned out to be Davies’ life’s calling. Drawn to the restaurant industry’s sense of community, he went to culinary school and worked his way through Portland’s kitchens before a two-day internship at Alinea landed him the commis job that would eventually lead to his current position. “Don’t lie to yourself” is something the restaurant’s chefs often say to each other, and Davies takes it seriously. “When you’re stressed out, it’s very easy to look at something and say, ‘It’s ok.’ But you’re only as good as the last plate you put out.”
Zaida Mikayla Dedolph, 26Retail Manager at Intelligentsia Coffee Old Town
Dedolph discovered her beverage passion at age 14 while mixing egg creams at an old-school soda fountain. She added caffeine to the mix a few years later as a barista trainer at Brother’s K coffee shop in Evanston, which Dedolph describes as Cheers-like. Now she brings her talent to Intelligentsia, a company that she said respects not only the beans but also the people who grow them. She takes any opportunity she has to raise awareness about the purchasing power of consumers and the impact on the coffee industry - even in her 30 Under 30 bio.
Elana Green, 27Director of Operations at Land & Sea Dept.
“What I like about hospitality is creating a space and an experience, and that starts with food,” Green says. Her career also started with food, at the Culinary Institute of America, but she found her way to the front of the house as part of Longman & Eagle’s opening team. There, she took over the wine program, opened the upstairs inn at the age of 23 and was promoted to general manager. At the restaurant's parent company, Land & Sea Dept., she’s working on two new openings: Golden Teardrops and an unannounced project slated for the fall.
Tim Havidic, 24Executive Chef at iNG
Havidic is no stranger to holding titles beyond his years: at 17 he worked as a sous chef at West Chicago’s St. Andrews Golf and Country Club. After culinary school in New York and a sustainable butcher shop in California, his first job back in Chicago was pastry assistant to eccentric chef Homaro Cantu at Moto. He worked every position there, from lead server to junior sous chef, before becoming executive chef at iNG. The restaurant is known for its avant-garde dishes, but Havidic adds rustic-cooking touches, thanks to his butchery background.
Adam Hebert, 26Owner and Managing Partner at The Radler
Somewhere between working 90 to 100 hours a week at NYC’s Tribeca Grill, Hebert wrote the business plan for The Radler, a Bavarian beer hall inspired by his travels around Germany, Austria, northern France and the Czech Republic. With help from chef/partner Nathan Sears, whom he met while working at Vie, his plan became reality last December. Hebert says that going to work each morning is his favorite part of the day, even on his day off, and is even more proud of the fact that the restaurant has only turned over four employees since opening.
Kelly Helgesen, 28Pastry Chef at Lula Cafe
Inspired to take up pastry by Martha Stewart, Helgesen lasted one semester at Loyola before enrolling in Kendall College’s culinary school. Following graduation, she worked at C-House and L2O before following mentor Carolyn Nugent to California to work at Bottega Louie. A few years later, the pastry chef position at Lula Cafe lured her back to the Midwest. “I love fine dining, but I don’t create those kind of desserts,” she said. Her desserts are “not something your mom would make, but also not something your mom would be afraid to eat.”
Courtney Joseph, 27Pastry Chef at Takashi and Slurping Turtle
Don’t let her short resume fool you. Although Joseph has only worked under two Chicago chefs, they are some of the city’s most respected. An intense internship with Mindy Segal at HotChocolate solidified Joseph’s decision to be a pastry chef. At Takashi, she took an equally challenging position as pastry cook, given chef Takashi Yagihashi’s background in pastry and his stern eye for detail. Now pastry chef at the Bucktown fine-dining restaurant and at Slurping Turtle, she makes a line of macaroons and an addictive green tea cream puff.
Gregory Laketek, 28Owner and Salumiere at West Loop Salumi
Before opening his salumeria in 2013, Laketek made a decision that would craft his future success: he booked a one-way ticket to Reggio Emilia, Italy, to study the craft of curing meat. After staging under Massimo Spigaroli at Antica Corte Pallavicina (Laketek showed up on the chef’s doorstep and asked for an opportunity to learn), he brought back to Chicago authentic recipes, preparation methods, casings, spices and even bacterial strains. His delicacies can be found in restaurants around the city as well as at Eataly in both Chicago and NYC.
Jacqlyn Lancaster and Jeremy Leven , 28 and 29Managing Partner and Chef/Partner at Tuesday Night Dinner and Border Oak
These underground culinary pioneers have been facilitating pop-up events since 2010. Gatherings range from seated dinners to cocktail parties, plus collaborations with Bang Bang Pie Shop, local art galleries, artists and musicians. The underground partners’ - Leven is the acting founder and chef, Lancaster does marketing and management - latest project, Border Oak, is a monthly dinner series (and hopefully soon-to-be cafe) focusing on Midwestern fare with an emphasis on local ingredients, suppliers and culture.
Wade Hall McElroy, 28Managing Partner at Sportsman's Club
There’s about to be a resurgence of old-school taverns in Chicago, for which you can thank McElroy. After starting his cocktail career in NYC, he moved to Chicago to work on Barrelhouse Flat’s opening team, then tended bar at Trenchermen. There, he was tapped by Matt Eisler and Kevin Heisner of Heisler Hospitality to open Sportsman’s Club, the first of the team’s several revived taverns. You can still find McElroy behind the bar; he and former 30 Under 30 honoree Jeff Donahue curate a menu of four spirit-driven cocktails that change daily.
Kevin McMullen, 27Executive Chef at The Brixton
McMullen had a unique challenge when he took the executive chef position at The Brixton, a restaurant that was opening in a supposedly cursed location (three concepts had closed in two years). But the fourth time’s a charm, as McMullen’s approachable fare with fine-dining touches is succeeding. He calls his cuisine fulfilling, not comfort food - rather, food that makes you want to eat and think. His knack for elevated influences comes from work at Kith & Kin, CRUX, Pensiero and El Ideas - the restaurant where, McMullen said, he found himself as a cook.
Micah Melton, 28Chef de Cuisine (Cocktails) at The Aviary
This self-proclaimed “bartending addict” moved to Chicago after seeing a tweet from Grant Achatz announcing that he was opening a bar. Melton trained at Alinea for six months and spent three months training the opening crew, made up mostly of cooks and untrained bartenders. “People didn’t really trust us at first,” he said. In the beginning, Melton took on the unique role of ice chef, carving 30 different types of ice for the drink program. His current title, chef de cuisine, is slightly misleading, as he’s crafting innovative cocktails, not food.
Dave and Megan Miller, 29 and 25Co-Owner and Co-Owner/Pastry Chef at Bang Bang Pie Shop
Bang Bang Pie Shop started with a slice of blueberry pie at Lula Cafe. “It might have been the first time in my adult life that I thought about how much I like pie,” baker Megan said. “I can still taste it.” With husband Dave’s successful coffee background (he opened Ipsento in 2009), their pie-and-coffee business took off as an under-the-radar and possibly illegal truck. While it wasn’t sustainable - prices were pay what you want - their brick-and-mortar in Logan Square has been going strong for two years, and they’re expanding soon to Pilsen.
Kate Purvis, 28Market & Sales Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at Plant Chicago NFP and Entrepreneur at The Salty Prawn
An ecology and evolutionary biology graduate with a focus on botany, Purvis worked at Chicago Botanic Garden and Lincoln Park Zoo before she landed at The Plant. The nonprofit organization is turning the 93,500-sq.-ft. former meatpacking facility into a hub for both food production and jobs, with space for small businesses and an indoor/outdoor farm that coexist with net zero energy. Purvis helps oversee the farm and organizes volunteers; her next project will take her inside the building with a production shrimp farm called The Salty Prawn.
Alex Renshaw, 29Beverage Director at DrumBar and Menin Hospitality
Renshaw moved to Chicago to take up improv but found he was keener to star on a different stage - the bar. After developing respect for cocktails and bartending while working his way up from barback to bartender at Sable Kitchen + Bar, Renshaw moved over to DrumBar to take over for former 30 Under 30 honoree Craig Schoettler. He’s added consistency to the cocktails, reinforced the importance of the classics and improved service at the chic rooftop bar. “I want people to sit down at my bar and feel like they are at a friend’s house,” he said.
Dan Salls, 26Owner and Chef at The Salsa Truck & The Garage
This self-taught chef left his job as a financial advisor to enter the culinary world with little more than a concept and a salsa recipe. Within a year, his little red Salsa Truck was on the streets, and he opened The Garage, a food truck commissary that doubles as a prep kitchen and restaurant in the West Loop. His entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to serving quality food regardless of the setting has made him a leader in the food truck community, helping other aspiring truck owners earn their wheels.
Anna Shovers, 28Pastry Chef at The Publican and Publican Quality Meats
From the art world to the food world, Shovers studied at both the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and the French Pastry School in Chicago before joining One Off Hospitality. There, she started as an intern before accepting a job as The Publican’s savory line cook, a change she says every pastry chef should experience. Now back in sweets, her cooking leans toward sophisticated - with visible art influences - but she adapts to the restaurant’s rustic style by showcasing the simplicity of exceptional ingredients.
Jenny Solberg, 26Co-Owner and Operator at Rhine Hall Distillery
Rhine Hall gets its name from the rink in Austria where Solberg’s father played professional hockey. Based on what they learned about distilling fruit in Europe, late last year she opened Chicago’s first brandy distillery with her father, also an experienced entrepreneur. Their finished product also has some local flavor: it’s made entirely from Michigan apples. The business is definitely a family affair, as Solberg’s four siblings also help with the tanks, the cocktail program, the art and the marketing.
Erin Stanley, 27Sausage Maker at The Butcher & Larder
“I have a huge love for vegetables, and in all my jobs I avoided working with meat because I was intimidated by it,” Stanley said. She now makes all the sausage and butchers pigs at The Butcher & Larder. Before her meat-centric job, she worked the savory station at Floriole and in the kitchens of Nightwood and Three Floyd’s. At the Noble Square meat shop, Stanley sees herself as a sister-figure, working alongside three sometimes-crass butchers (sausage jokes, anyone?) who Stanley also says are the most caring, sweet co-workers she’s ever had.
Edward Sura, 29Chef de Cuisine at Perennial Virant
While working his way up from line cook to chef de cuisine, this Michigan farm boy adopted Paul Virant’s farm-to-table philosophy, which extends beyond sourcing produce from Green City Market and filling stockrooms with canned goods. Sura applies the sustainable approach to using whole animals and also started a composting program that is now fully implemented by the entire restaurant. On a lighter side, he adds his own whimsical touches to seasonal dishes, an attribute he picked up while working under Graham Elliot at his namesake restaurant.
Christopher Teixeira, 26Executive Pastry Chef at Homestead on the Roof, Berkshire Room and West Town Bakery
Teixeira’s first job was shucking oysters and lobsters, until one day when the restaurant’s pastry chef fell ill and he was sent over to the sweet side. He fell in love with the cleanliness and the attention to detail. After working and studying at The Apple Pie Bakery at the Culinary Institute of America, he spent two years as pastry chef de partie at Sixteen. He’s now focused on casual desserts as executive pastry chef for Fifty/50 restaurant group. His philosophy: “There is no higher honor than someone allowing you to feed them.”
Jennifer Tietz, 29Wine Director at Tru Restaurant
“Liquid anthropology” is how this cultural anthropology major prefers to see wine. While working at a wine bar during college, Tietz was inspired by the precision, passion and challenge of the industry. She worked her way up from server at BOKA to a captain at Ria and finally a sommelier at Benny’s Chop House before settling into her current post. Tietz’s responsibilities at the fine-dining establishment include curating the beverage program, leading staff education seminars and designing pairings to go with chef Anthony Martin’s cuisine.
Aaryn Thompson, 29Bartender at Big Star
Holding our list’s record for shortest time spent in a current post, Thompson has been tending bar at Big Star for less than two weeks. A three-year Hogsalt Hospitality veteran, she held positions there that include bartender at Gilt Bar, general manager at Maude’s Liquor Lounge, beverage director and manager at Bavette’s and, most recently, bar manager at the newly opened Green Street Smoked Meats. Thompson is excited to learn the ways of One Off Hospitality, another one of Chicago’s restaurant power groups.
Michael Trow, 29Assistant General Manager, Beverage Director and Spiritual Advisor at River Roast
A single dinner at Spiaggia nearly 15 years ago convinced Trow to enter the restaurant industry. His career began at BOKA Group’s Landmark, but it wasn’t long before the man behind the inspiration, Tony Mantuano, hand-selected him to consult on Lorenzo in Miami. After a month building the cocktail, beer and wine program - Trow holds wine certificates from the International Sommelier Guild and the Court of Master Sommeliers - Mantuano tapped him to do the same for his latest concept, River Roast, an American-style roast house meets London carvery.
Greg Wade, 25Head Baker at Little Goat
Wade’s love for bread started with a bread machine and his father’s recipe books. At the Culinary Institute of America, even though only one bread-making class was offered, Wade found himself cooking various styles of it in all of his classes. Now, his programs at both Girl & the Goat (he was on the opening team) and Little Goat are all about making breads with flavor for both restaurants and the French Market outpost. Goods range from flavorful chicken soup bread to classic sourdough and his favorite, the miche.