Before Grant Achatz inflated his first edible balloon or Gale Gand piped her first macaron, they were protégés learning from other masters of the craft. Each year, we scour restaurant kitchens and bars to find the most promising young talent primed to be the next big names in the hospitality industry. From a duo of flavor-driven cake makers to a socially minded coffee roaster, a dumpling-loving food-truck owner to Chicago’s most beloved pig farmer, this year’s 30 Under 30 honorees add a winning combination of passion and talent to Chicago’s ever-expanding culinary industry.
-Story by Sarah Freeman, photos by Nick Murway
Patrick Addison and Kristina Mack, 29 & 28Co-Owners and Pastry Chefs, Broken Tart
When the mastermind behind Doughnut Vault’s confections and his protégée at Gilt Bar and Cocello branched out to form a cake and baked-goods business, flavor was the first priority. “We’re pastry chefs before we are cake decorators,” Mack says. Fresh fruits and flowers on top of white-velvet or brown-butter cakes reinforce their natural and organic aesthetic. The duo excels in opposite roles in the business: Addison is the flavor expert while Mack specializes in decorating.
Matt Andorka, 29Owner, Andorka's Sandwich Shop
Everything in Andorka’s career has been preparation for opening an all-American sandwich shop. At age 13, he asked for a dehydrator for Christmas so he could make beef jerky. He learned bread-making at a job in Reno and learned more about the business while cooking at Browntrout. After finding his perfect location in Pilsen, Andorka focused on making perfect sandwiches using freshly baked bread, meats roasted in-house and local pickles. “The goal is to make every sandwich cut from a piece of bread that’s still warm from the oven,” he says.
Tanya Baker, 27The Boarding House
Baker is the offspring of two culinary-minded parents. Her mother is Korean and would often fill her lunch with seaweed and pickled daikon, and one of her soup recipes inspired Baker’s braised oxtail pasta, which is available seasonally at the River North American restaurant. Meanwhile, her Cajun father taught her how to make boudin and beignets. So it’s no surprise that Baker became a chef, or that her simple and seasonal cuisine nabbed her a James Beard nomination for Rising Star Chef this year.
Joey Beato, 29Executive Chef and Partner, Community Tavern and The Portage
In a meat-and-potatoes town, it’s no small feat to serve steak that stands apart from the herd. Beato cut his teeth at Evanston’s Quince at the Homestead, NYC’s Ma Peche and Green Zebra here in Chicago, developing a housemade-everything philosophy that led to Community Tavern’s charcuterie room and a rooftop garden at The Portage. It also means an in-house butchery program at Community Tavern — which involves sourcing whole animals from CDK Angus, and then breaking down and dry-aging them — meaning he can serve filet mignon for under $30.
Jesse Maguire Bolt, 28Co-Founder, Un86’d
Before the Affordable Care Act, Bolt and co-founder Nicole Ess saw the need to help hospitality workers, commonly without insurance, with unexpected medical expenses. The nonprofit has raised and distributed over $50,000 in aid to restaurant and bar employees who are sick or injured and cannot work. Its long-term goal is to not only offer heightened benefits, but also “be a resource for people to gain education on how they can utilize the healthcare system.”
Robert Broskey, 26Executive Chef, Intro Restaurant
It takes a lot of work to execute a chef’s vision while managing a busy kitchen each night. It takes even more skills when the executive chef changes every three months, hails from a different part of the country and brings a different set of skills and dishes. That was the unique challenge Broskey faced when L2O morphed into Intro, Lettuce Entertain You’s culinary playground for guest chefs. Regardless of whose food he is cooking, Broskey believes “whoever’s dining is the most important person in the restaurant that night.”
Aaron Campos, 27Director of Coffee and Roasting Operations, Dark Matter Coffee
A self-taught coffee whiz, Campos learned the ropes on Dark Matter’s Sivetz roaster and by traveling to places like Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia to source his beans. He takes pride in learning about coffee from the source, and he also studied neighboring industries, such as beer and liquor, for inspiration. This led him to develop the roaster’s sought-after fermented and barrel-aged coffees.
Claire Crenshaw, 28Executive Pastry Chef, Loews Chicago Hotel
Crenshaw definitely knows how to step up to the plate. One week into her stint at TRU, the head pastry chef left and she was immediately promoted. Then again, at moto, her mentor Ben Roche left four months after she was hired, putting Crenshaw in charge of the innovative pastry department, executing tableside s’mores and DIY cookie dough. Earlier this year she landed at Loews Hotel with the goal of “changing the view of what hotel food is” by showcasing local farms, purveyors and artisans in her nostalgic desserts.
Jacyara de Oliveira, 25Bar Manager, Sportsman's Club
Walk into industry hangout Sportsman’s Club and chances are you’ll be greeted with a smile or a hug from de Oliveira, who began her career at The Drawing Room. A daily menu keeps her on her toes, creating “the best drink for each guest — not necessarily a drink that represents myself.” In addition to shaking and stirring, she tends the backyard’s vertical garden and curates a weekly BBQ series, showcasing local chefs and summer cocktails. Fun fact: she’s an avid practitioner of capoeira.
Wesley Ervin, 25Head Bread Baker, Pleasant House Bakery
“From scratch” gets taken to a whole new level at this bakery, which recently opened inside of Plant Chicago. Grains are sourced from Breslin Farms, processed on a small stone burr mill and baked in a wood-fired oven that uses lumber chopped and seasoned by Ervin himself. All breads are naturally fermented and made with fresh, organic, whole grains. The process leads to supremely flavorful loaves and pastries sold at farmer’s markets and Pleasant House Bakery. His goal: for people to experience “what real bread tastes like.”
Daniel Espinoza, 25Chef de Cuisine, Dinner Lab Chicago
“It’s about themes and stories,” says Espinoza regarding Dinner Lab, the nationally acclaimed underground supper club that’s currently hosting pop-ups in 10 U.S. cities. Each five-course meal features a different chef and happens in a unique location, from abandoned houses to craft breweries, presenting unique challenges, including no electricity or running water. For Espinoza (a former graffiti artist), his story is about the classic Mexican cuisine that he grew up on — ceviche, enchiladas and tamales.
Charles Ford, 27Assistant General Manager and Wine Director, The Bristol
Even though he grew up around his grandfather’s pizzeria, Ford was advised against getting a job in the restaurant industry by his family. So he went on to study graphic communication, but when it failed to engage him, he enrolled in Kendall College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality programs. Since then, he has become a certified sommelier, and he spent three years working on The Bristol’s wine program. “Selling wine and buying wine is not science to me — it’s very emotional,” he says. To that end, he always assesses guests’ moods before recommending vino.
Joe Gancarz, 28Chef de Cuisine, EL ideas
This onetime picky eater evolved past a life of hot dogs and burritos when a bet in college forced him to be vegetarian for a month. Today, he’s the right-hand man to executive chef Phillip Foss, who credits Gancarz’s creativity, precision and passion for EL ideas’ success. A small, open kitchen means chefs have to “bring it” every night, presenting refined food without frills. Gancarz has done so since joining the team in 2012. “It’s not about the stuffy service and the jackets,” he says. “If people came in jeans and a T-shirt to eat my food and just enjoyed it, that would mean the most.”
Josef Giacomino, 28Executive Chef, A10 Hyde Park
“Minimal manipulation” is Giacomino’s philosophy when it comes to working with ingredients at A10, where his menu showcases flavors from the French Riviera and Northern Italy. He has 13 years of experience under his belt, a journey that took him from Le Cordon Bleu to the kitchen of Matthias Merges’ seasonal stunner. He calls himself a “cook in charge,” preparing everything from asparagus sourced from the Cook County Jail farm to snail pot pie.
Matthew Kerney, 29Executive Chef, Longman & Eagle
Mom knows best, and when then this young chef’s mother noted, “You don’t seem to hate going to work — keep cooking,” he did just that. Since his early days working as a busboy in Plainfield, IL, Kerny spent time in the kitchens of Ambria and Schwa, before moving to Longman & Eagle in 2013. To keep up standards at the refined, nationally acclaimed gastropub, Kerney makes as much as he can in-house, from pickles to burrata, while sourcing locally and keeping price points approachable.
Leslie LaRue Lamont, 29Sommelier and Bar Manager, Formento's
Certified sommelier and assistant to the West Loop Italian’s wine director Steve Morgan, Lamont has an intimate knowledge of the restaurant’s massive wine list, which features 400–600 bottles and includes everything from Tuscan Chianti to Sicilian Rosso. She encourages guests to step outside of their comfort zone. “It’s not about selling the $1,200 bottle that we have on the list to every table,” she says. “It’s finding the right bottle for each person.”
Erin Lowder, 26General Manager of Operations, Solemn Oath Brewery
Lowder met her current bosses at a Solemn Oath tap takeover at Bar Deville, where she was enjoying a beer (although she admits it was a Bell’s Two Hearted). Today, she oversees the taproom, as well as manages finances and marketing for the brewery, which combines creative beer with effortlessly cool branding. “As soon as I was brought on as taproom manager and learned the brewing process, I thought, ‘This is something I could do forever.’”
Julia Momose, 26Head Bartender, GreenRiver
Momose was born and raised in Japan, and says her bartending combines the style of Japanese bartending with the precision of The Aviary’s. Until recently, she could be found at The Office, dreaming up custom cocktails to complement each guest’s state of mind. Her next project takes her to GreenRiver, a joint venture between Danny Meyer and Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry of Dead Rabbit, where she says her libations will be “simple yet complex, approachable yet confusing.”
Jimmy Papadopoulos, 29Executive Chef, Bohemian House
It was only a year ago that Papadopoulos emerged to open an unexpected haven of Czech, German and Austrian cuisine in River North. Before then, he had been finessing his skills as chef de cuisine of Sam & Harry’s steakhouse in the suburbs. His ethos? To capture “the soul of European cooking,” which he delivers with elegant interpretations of goat goulash, beef-cheek pierogi and grilled chicken paprikash, a dish so popular the restaurant serves roughly 900 orders a month.
Brandon Phillips, 29Senior Executive Bar Director, The Duck Inn
Phillips moved to Chicago for one reason: to make cocktails with mixology master Charles Joly at The Drawing Room. He worked his way up from apprentice to master bartender in one year, before moving to oversee his own programs at Bottlefork and The Duck Inn. Cocktails at the latter capture the midcentury-modern era with simple highballs and fizzes alongside rich drinks such as The Duck Out, made with duck fat–washed cognac, sherry and Chinese five-spice syrup. Next up, Phillips wants to open a restaurant with his sommelier brother.
Natalie Piniuta, 29Pastry Sous-Chef, Grace Restaurant
Despite her title, Piniuta calls herself a savory cook, bouncing between the worlds of sugar and spice since her introduction to the culinary scene at age 17. She started the pastry program at GEB and worked on desserts as well as the line of Graham Elliot, but considers her time at Grace her first real pastry job. There, she bakes bread, implements new desserts created by executive chef Curtis Duffy and oversees the pastry station. In the future, she wants to open a restaurant with her boyfriend, who is sous-chef at The Publican.
Sarah Rinkavage, 27Chef de Cuisine, Lula Cafe
The soft-spoken Rinkavage, who has spent the past five years quietly working her way up from garde manger to chef de cuisine, aims to deliver “comforting and surprising” flavors at the Lula Cafe. Her commitment to working with local farmers has kept the Logan Square restaurant at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement. “I take better care of the product when I know where it’s coming from,” Rinkavage says. Up next, she’s staging at Relæ in Copenhagen for a few months.
Dan Rook, 28Head Bartender, South Water Kitchen
A certified cicerone, Rook has spent the last four years transforming this Downtown bar into a drinking destination for locals and tourists alike. His whimsical cocktails combine fresh and housemade ingredients with unique spirits. Take the Swedish Seed, a Jeppson’s Malört cocktail made with Root liqueur, brown sugar, spiced honey, lemon, Angostura and egg white. He also works with breweries such as Ale Syndicate to devise custom creations for the draft list. “We’ve got ties and vests on back here,” Rook says, “but I try and keep it as down-to-earth as possible.”
LouisJohn Slagel, 29Owner, Slagel Family Farm
When this fifth-generation farmer decided he wanted to find a better home for his carefully raised meat than conglomerate meat suppliers, he turned to Chicago chefs. With the addition of a meat processing facility to the family farm, Slagel became a go-to resource for the city’s restaurants. What sets his animals apart is all-natural feed and a hormone-free lifestyle. The first whole hog Slagel ever delivered was to Paul Virant at Vie, who said it was too lean. He's been raising fatter pigs ever since.
Patrick Smith, 29Bar Manager, The Violet Hour
Smith worked as a food runner and barback before mixing his first drink inside the iconic cocktail lounge. Over the past six years he learned the ins and outs of classic cocktailing to take on the role of bar manager, responsible for training staff and facilitating menu changes. Working at the same spot for so long means he’s seen it evolve from serving simple riffs on classics to more complex creations using savory and bitter notes as well as exotic spirits. His drink of choice? A Sazerac or a Hemingway daiquiri.
Matthew Sussman, 28Managing Partner, Table, Donkey and Stick
Sussman opened his casual alpine eatery in 2012, planning his business around three simple tenets: housemade bread, charcuterie and drinking. He acts as a jack-of-all-trades, managing the books, wine list, daily maintenance and other “unglamourous” but essential aspects of restaurant life. He’s even putting his early days staging with bakers at Floriole and Avec to use, making bread for the restaurant twice a week.
Jenner Tomaska, 28Chef de Cuisine, Next Restaurant
During his three years at Next, Tomaska has guided diners through the flavors of Paris’ bistros, Chicago’s steakhouses, the street food of Thailand and the home cooking of Sicily. This presents unique challenges, as he’s asked to present traditional food in new ways, using modern techniques that live up to Grant Achatz’s world-class standards. When not overseeing the kitchen, he can be found cooking at home. “I get more joy out of producing something for someone than actually eating the food myself,” he says.
Jeff Wang, 28Chief Dumpling Engineer, Yum Dum Truck
Growing up as a first-generation Chinese-American, the smell of pork and chive dumplings often filled Wang’s house. After graduating from the University of Illinois, he took a job in finance, but he knew he’d find his way back to the food of his childhood. “I just didn’t know it would be inside a truck,” he says. Now he wakes up every morning at 5 AM for some CrossFit before starting up the truck, from which he’s serving a menu inspired by Taiwanese night markets and his mother’s cooking.
Tim Williams, 29Operational Supervisor, Capacity Bar Group
After serving one too many overpriced and under-boozed cocktails in River North, Williams made it his mission to “teach people how to drink better.” He quit his job and founded a consulting and spirits-education company called Pour Souls. He taught mixology classes while opening six bars and consulting on 10 others, including Headquarters River North. The experience of creating nostalgic cocktails for the arcade bar led to his current position at its parent company, Capacity Bar Group.
Athanasia Xeros, 25Co-Founder, The Salty Prawn
“The nearest saltwater shrimp are in the Gulf of Mexico,” Xeros says. “So why not bring some to Chicago?” Inspired by an Indiana farmer who was raising prawns in his barn during the winter, she launched Chicago’s first and only saltwater shrimp farm with 2014 30 Under 30 honoree Kate Purvis. Located inside Plant Chicago, the company raises microscopic post-larvae into full-grown crustaceans in recirculating indoor tanks, and then sells the final product to farmer's markets and nearby restaurants.