9 Under-the-Radar Chefs to Know in Chicago

There's a fresh crop of culinary talent in town
December 5, 2016
by Matt Kirouac

From young up-and-comers to pop-up pros, hot sauce makers to dazzling cake bakers — this city's got a new guard of culinary talent on the rise. Here are nine chefs to keep your eyes on in Chicago. 

Ricardo Jarquin at Travelle Kitchen + Bar
Inside The Langham hotel, the New American Travelle is finally hitting its stride under the guiding hand of chef Ricardo Jarquin. Still relatively new to the city, having arrived earlier this year to take over the kitchen, he's adapted quickly and honed a distinct style that exhibits fine-dining finesse with an eye toward comfort. He now commands one of Chicago’s more underrated restaurants with enough dexterity and creativity to push it even further as a great dining destination. 
Signature dish: The section of the dinner menu billed “Chef Ricardo’s Favorites” has some gems, such as a guajillo shrimp tostada, snapper crudo with pork rinds and steamed mussels with chorizo and hominy. 

330 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-923-7705

Donny Farrell at Oyster Bah
The secret force behind Lincoln Park’s Oyster Bah, Donny Farrell serves as sous-chef — and hot sauce whiz — for the seafood spot. After coming on board following stints at Girl & the Goat and Juno, he made a name for himself by pitching to the partners and executive chef Pete Balodimas the idea of making their own hot sauce, something that has since taken off and succeeded with flying colors. Thanks to Farrell, the restaurant now has anywhere between four to seven of his recipes spicing up the menu at any given time. 
Signature dish: Farrell’s hot sauces are best applied to Oyster Bah’s new Sunday fried chicken dinners.
1962 N. Halsted St.; 773-248-3000

Trevor Teich at Claudia
Considering Chicago’s track record for underground restaurants making a splash (Elizabeth, 42 Grams, El Ideas), the chef behind Claudia is one to keep an eye on. Trevor Teich named his fine-dining pop-up after his mom, and after stints working at L20, Acadia and NoMI, he’s well versed in elegant multicourse tasting menus. Among his memorable recent dishes: foie gras and tuna with cucumber tonic, scallops with coral tuile and pork belly with smoked coconut. 
Signature dish: Menus change constantly, but one fun one on deck for Claudia’s winter menu is a lobster and white chocolate parfait with caviar, seaweed and lemon. 


Jeremy Leven at mfk.
After entering culinary school, Jeremy Leven's first foray into the biz was a monthly pop-up called Tuesday Night Dinner, which he ran for several years with his roommate. In 2014 he took over the kitchen at Gaslight Coffee Roasters, raising the bar on its menu with tartines and refined egg dishes. “It’s because of a French omelet that I have the chef job at mfk. today,” he says, since the owner was so impressed when he came into the cafe one day that he offered Leven a job. In September, he was promoted to executive chef, a role in which he balances mfk.’s Basque traditions with Midwestern seasonality and the bounty of local farms.
Signature dish: Leven's take on mussels "draws inspiration from Northern Spain with influences more from Celtic traditions than Mediterranean," he says. The cider-steamed mussels are served with dill, tarragon, fines herbes and crème fraîche.

432 W. Diversey Pkwy.; 773-857-2540

Timothy Cottini at Knife
The chef behind Lincoln Square’s beloved Fork has been quietly pleasing the masses on the Northwest side for years, and with the recent opening of nearby Knife steakhouse, Timothy Cottini is ready to step into the spotlight a bit more. With Knife, he takes a contemporary approach to classic American steakhouse fare, balancing old school and new. The result is an inviting steakhouse preparing dry-aged cuts of beef and novel twists on staples like wedge salads, shrimp de Jonghe and tuna tartare.  
Signature dish: A 28-day dry-aged rib-eye for two that's carved tableside and served with twice-baked potatoes, green beans and 'au poivre' sauce. 

4343 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-799-8283

Mindy Gohr at Bittersweet Pastry Shop
When pastry chef Judy Contino stepped down from her role at Bittersweet Pastry Shop last year, Mindy Gohr had big shoes to fill. The Lakeview bakery was a pioneer when it emerged almost 25 years ago, and it still commands a big following. Fortunately, Gohr had been baking at Bittersweet since 2011, so she was well suited to take on the role. Nowadays, along with managing partner Esther Griego, Gohr keeps the Bittersweet name thriving with a menu of breakfast breads, gorgeous tarts and vibrant desserts like turtle brownie tortes, chocolate cream pie and carrot cake. 
Signature dish: Among her varied repertoire, some of Gohr’s staples include rustic apple tarts and a chocolate peanut butter torte, but be sure and try some of her stunning cakes too

1114 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-929-1100

Joanna Stachon at Ada Street
At the ripe age of 24, Joanna Stachon took the reins as executive chef of one of Chicago’s best off-the-beaten-path restaurants, Ada Street. She sources ingredients and cooks with the diligence of someone who’s been working in kitchens for decades, while keeping the menu fresh and exciting. Going back to earlier experiences working in Greek diners and training at culinary school, Stachon says she knew she wanted to take her passion further, which led her to become a sous-chef at Ada Street. Her knack for cooking spoke for itself, and her appointment as executive chef is one of her proudest accomplishments.
Signature dish: While most of the menu changes often, some dishes that show her seasonal chops are roasted pumpkin wedges with panko bread crumbs and brown butter, and gnocchi with shaved Brussels sprouts and pecan dust. 

1664 N. Ada St.; 773-697-7069

Eric Sjaaheim at Fat Rice
Lots of people know Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo, the faces of hyper-popular Fat Rice, but the man behind the scenes is Eric Sjaaheim. The Indiana native has quite the résumé, with time spent at Bloomington's famed farm-to-table Restaurant Tallent, as well as running his own food truck, Happy Pig. Upon moving to Chicago, he started as garde manger at Fat Rice before moving up the ranks to chef de cuisine, Conlon’s right-hand man. Conlon explains that Sjaaheim’s international travels, including trips to Turkey, Korea and Vietnam, have helped shape the menus.
Signature dish: One item directly inspired by Sjaaheim’s travels to southern Thailand is the whole grilled dorade served in laksa broth with bok choy. 

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

Courtney Joseph at The Dearborn
Anyone who externs with Mindy Segal at HotChocolate has a sweet career ahead of them. Courtney Joseph is proof, as the young pastry chef is quickly making a name for herself at The Dearborn. After spending time at Slurping Turtle and Hoosier Mama Pie Company, she’s gained expertise in both classic Americana and eclectic novelties, a juxtaposition that serves her well at the Loop restaurant, where she makes playfully modern confections like chocolate fudge cake and fig cookies with honeycomb candy.
Signature dish: Her “Fantasy of Chocolate” cake is a fan-favorite, selling 80-plus slices per week. It’s made with Valrhona milk chocolate, white chocolate, fudge, hazelnuts and coffee ice cream. 

145 N. Dearborn St.; 312-384-1242

logan square
river north
lincoln park