9 Under-the-Radar Chefs to Know in Chicago

It's only a matter of time before they're culinary stars
January 11, 2018
by Matt Kirouac

Chicago is filled with celebrity chefs and acclaimed restaurateurs, but the city’s world-renowned dining scene is built on unsung heroes. Throughout Chicago, chefs, cooks and bakers are creating extraordinary — and underrated — dishes deserving the spotlight. Here are nine under-the-radar chefs to know in Chicago.  

Marcos Campos at Beatnik and Black Bull
Considering Beatnik was one of the buzziest openings of 2017, it’s surprising that the chef behind the West Town hot spot isn’t already a local celeb. But until that inevitably happens, Marcos Campos is one of the most under-the-radar culinary forces in Chicago. Also the chef of Wicker Park’s beloved Black Bull, Campos has been in the business since the age of 15, when he worked at his father’s butcher shop in Spain. After attending the Universidad Laboral de Cheste in Valencia and working at Michelin-starred Las Rejas, he moved to Chicago, where he brought an authentic taste of his homeland to Black Bull. At Beatnik, he branched out by channeling his international experiences. And he's only 25.

Signature dish: Arroz negro paella at Black Bull and roasted Lebanese lamb at Beatnik

1604 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-929-4945
1721 W. Division St.; 773-227-8600

Amber Lancaster at Sable Kitchen & Bar
There's a new chef in charge at River North's revered Sable Kitchen & Bar, and she's cooking up some of the most exciting dishes since the restaurant's earliest days under Top Chef alum Heather Terhune. Considering Amber Lancaster trained under Grant Achatz at Alinea and earned Le Grande Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu Paris, the highest level of training it offers, she's got the culinary chops.  

Signature dish: While her menu is new and she doesn't yet have a signature dish, per se, she does have a signature style. Her cooking is heavily influenced by European dishes and techniques, resulting in dishes like deviled eggs carbonara and jambon et fromage, a play on pan con tomate made with ciabatta, burrata and speck. 

505 N. State St.; 312-755-9704

Larry Feldmeier at Sixteen
The acclaimed tasting menus at Sixteen are a team effort spearheaded by executive chef Nick Dostal and his right-hand man, executive sous-chef Larry Feldmeier. A key member of the restaurant’s day-to-day kitchen work, which has proven strong enough to retain the restaurant’s two-Michelin star rating, Feldmeier is a behind-the-scenes force. His job isn’t easy, considering Sixteen overhauls its menus every season, which entails careful maintenance and execution of current menus while always planning and thinking for the future.

Signature dish: A recent standout is Castelmagno gnudi with rabbit sausage and nettle monte.

401 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-588-8030

Jeff Williams at The Press Room
Although it had a somewhat quiet opening last year, wine bar The Press Room has emerged as a neighborhood staple in the West Loop, an area not particularly known for cozy hangouts. The man behind the gem is Jeff Williams, a 24-year-old from Cape Cod. He’s come a long way in the short time since his days working at an oyster farm during high school. Eschewing culinary school in favor of working under elites like Magnus Nilsson in Sweden and Blaine Wetzel at The Willows Inn, he has amassed impressive experience already, and he brings those skills to The Press Room, whose ambitious food menu matches the depth of its wine program. 

Signature dish: Moroccan-glazed duck breast with smoked cauliflower purée, roasted and pickled cauliflower

1134 W. Washington Blvd.; 331-240-1914

Mike Simmons at Cafe Marie-Jeanne 
Although not unknown by any means (his résumé includes Lula Cafe and Rootstock, for starters), Mike Simmons merits much more buzz than he currently receives as chef/co-owner of Humboldt Park’s quintessential neighborhood bistro, Cafe Marie-Jeanne. But maybe under the radar is where he likes to dwell, considering the modest-but-cozy confines of the unassuming corner restaurant and its menu of dishes that toe the line between familiar and bold (steak frites and grilled cheese share menu space with crispy calf brains and smoked goat stew). 

Signature dish: “Some of our favorite and most popular dishes are our duck frites, a half a smoked duck with fries, gastrique, duck pâté, duck demi glace and optional seared foie gras,” says Simmons. “We also love cured fish eggs, from bottarga to shad roe, smoked steelhead roe and caviar.”

1001 N. California Ave.; 773-904-7660

Amanda Shepard at Lula Cafe
While Lula Cafe has long reigned as one of Logan Square’s foremost restaurants, with the dinner and brunch crowds to prove it, its pastry chef is still a quiet force. Amanda Shepard's impressive desserts echo the kitchen’s adherence to seasonal, local flavors, and many blur the line between sweet and savory, like apple strudel with fennel pollen and angelica ice cream, resulting in composed plates capable of pleasing all palates.

Signature dish: While Lula’s desserts change frequently, a recent standout is Shepard's winter nut tart, which she serves with caramelized white chocolate, pomegranate ice cream and candied ginger.

2537 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-489-9554

Yasmin Gutierrez at Beatrix and Beatrix Market
You know those cookies and pies at Beatrix you’re so obsessed with? You have Yasmin Gutierrez to thank. The behind-the-scenes mastermind of the expansive bakery programs at Beatrix and Beatrix Market, executive pastry chef and associate partner Gutierrez has been part of the team since Beatrix opened its original location in 2013. Her chewy cookies, cream cheese coffee cake and decadent pies earn her a spot among Chicago’s pastry elite. She also oversees the pastry programs at Foodlife, Foodease and Mity Nice Bar & Grill. 

Signature dish: Oh My! Caramel Pie

Multiple locations

Elaine Townsend at Fat Rice and The Bakery at Fat Rice
One of the most acclaimed restaurants in Chicago, Fat Rice is constantly evolving and getting better. A big part of that evolution is the recent appointment of its first designated pastry chef for both the restaurant and its adjacent bakery, Elaine Townsend, an alum of Meadowood Napa Valley and the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort. The pastry chef is already working her magic, lining the bakery's shelves with colorful additions like ube milk bars, miso brownies and snickerdoodles filled with custardy salted egg yolk. Over at Fat Rice, her plated desserts include plantain sponge cake with dark coffee ganache and peanut butter powder, and a gluten- and dairy-free coconut pudding with mango, jackfruit, longan, figs, lime and mint sugar. 

Signature dish: Miso brownies and Ceylon snickerdoodles

2957 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-661-9170
2951 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-661-9544

Craig Couper at Michael Jordan’s Steak House
In Chicago’s crowded steakhouse scene, it can be hard to stand out, but Craig Couper, executive chef of Michael Jordan’s Steak House, sets himself apart. Not only does the Chicago native oversee day-to-day operations at the Magnificent Mile steakhouse, a position he’s held since 2011, but he also oversees the bar menu, in-room dining for the adjoining InterContinental Chicago and ENO Wine Room next door. He also spends what little free time he has volunteering with the nonprofit Cooking With Cops program. 

Signature dish: MJ’s Delmonico, a 45-day dry-aged 16-oz. cut with ginger-balsamic jus

505 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-321-8823

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