10 Chicago Power Players You Need to Know Right Now

By Sarah Freeman  |  October 28, 2013
Credit: Jeff Cagle

Chicago's food scene is scorching hot, but within it are a few players who are currently on fire. These hot shots include chefs who create food, experts who capture it in words and images, and the brilliant entrepreneurs who keep the kitchens running and cocktails flowing. These 10 people are having their moment - and more than 15 minutes of it - on the Chicago culinary scene, which is why they are the power players you need to know right now.

  • John Edel

    A lifelong dream of combining industrial preservation and plants in a productive, conservatorylike project became a reality in 2010 when Edel purchased an abandoned warehouse. Since then, he has built out The Plant with a vertical, aquaponic farm that provides resources to food businesses incubated within the Back of the Yards building. The entire facility is self-sustaining, energy efficient and made of non-toxic materials.

  • Catherine DeOrio

    The Chicago-born food writer made a major splash this summer as the new host of WTTW’s long-running restaurant program Check, Please! DeOrio was selected via a very public audition process that narrowed down a pool of hundreds through social media, popular vote and sample episodes. Her first season, and the show’s 13th, aired earlier this month and features the vibrant Italian exploring Chicago’s most beloved restaurants.

  • Kevin Heisner and Matt Eisler

    If you ate or drank in a Chicago restaurant or bar this year, chances are good that these guys helped conceptualize the experience. The duo behind Heisler Hospitality have an impressive resume that includes work with Bangers & Lace, Bar Deville, Trenchermen, Revel Room and several new projects in the pipeline. Heisner is the creative side of the duo, with a background in design, while Eisler focuses on the businesses side of their many hospitality concepts.

  • Credit: Eric Kleinberg

    Huge Galdones

    This man can make a plate of food look beautiful without stepping into a kitchen. The food photographer to the stars (including Rick Bayless, Tony Mantuano, Stephanie Izard, the Cochon 555 Tour and Zagat's 30 Under 30 honorees) spends his time jet setting from food festivals to restaurants around the country and back home to his wife and two children. Before he found his place behind the camera, Galdones worked in the kitchen of Montreal's Joe Beef while studying for his masters degree in pharmacology and therapeutics.

  • Charles Joly

    This cocktail wizard can usually be found at The Office, the subterranean speakeasy under The Aviary. His dealer’s choice cocktails are considered some of the best in not only the city, but also the country according to the Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans, which named him Bartender of the Year. Imbibers can get a sip of Joly’s creations at home by purchasing one of his recently released bottles of pre-mixed cocktails. Crafthouse Cocktails are available at Binny’s and specialty grocery stores.

  • Credit: Jeff Cagle

    Michael Kiser

    More commonly known by the name of his website, Good Beer Hunting, this man tells stories via a truly wonderful medium - beer. The writer/photographer/beer connoisseur travels the world not only to explore the sudsy substance that makes happy hour a bit happier, but also to meet those transforming the brewing industry. This year, his website won the Saveur award for Best Wine or Beer Blog.

  • Ina Pinkney

    Retirement might just be the beginning of Pinkney’s rewarding culinary career. The baker turned chef turned restaurant owner announced that she would close her namesake West Loop restaurant at the end of the year, after a 33-year run. But lovers of Pinkney’s famous dishes don't have to completely let go: she recently released a cookbook, Taste Memories, that contains not only recipes, but also her inspiring life story.

  • Dan Salls

    The food truck scene was stuck in a bit of a stall until Dan Salls came around. After the City of Chicago passed legislation that allowed trucks to cook on board, Salls not only made his mark as the first to launch a functioning-kitchen taco truck, but also opened a food truck incubator in the West Loop. The Garage helps other food truck owners get their wheels in motion and also serves lunch via a walk-up counter and dinner featuring eats from other trucks.

  • Jason Vincent

    It has been quite a year for the Nightwood chef. Hot off his Cochon 555 national win in 2012, he was named a Food & Wine’s Best New Chef. Fame aside, in his kitchen, the chef keeps it simple by focusing on local ingredients, simple fare and precise techniques. His ever-changing brunch and dinner menus, written by hand, keep diners flocking to his quintessential Chicago restaurant.