Grant Achatz then and now: Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves at Alinea; truffled custard and brandade at Next
Grant Achatz then and now: Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves at Alinea; truffled custard and brandade at Next

On April 14, 2006, the Reader published “A Chefs’ Family Tree” by Elizabeth M. Tamny. This “selective map of influence” drew direct lines from dozens of fine-dining chefs back to six key breeding grounds for the city’s ever expanding galaxy of restaurants. Some, like Gordon, Trio, and Le Francais, are no more. Others, like Charlie Trotter’s, Tru, Spiaggia, and the Bayless empire, continue to feed the scene (and their own expanding restaurant groups) with talent.

Credit: Elizabeth Tamny

At left, you see an excerpt from the original in which we’ve highlighted Charlie Trotter’s and Trio, Henry Adaniya’s groundbreaking Evanston fine-dining restaurant—a particularly fruitful source, producing Grant Achatz (Alinea, Next, the Aviary), Dale Levitski (Sprout), Michael Carlson (Schwa), and Paula Haney (Hoosier Mama Pie Company).

The restaurant industry is by nature volatile and populated by nomads, but in the half-decade since we published the tree, a handful of twigs have grown into their own verdant branches, blossoming with a younger generation of world-class chefs, pastry chefs, and mixologists. Click through to see how the tree has grown, or download the whole thing (PDF).

Credit: Paul John Higgins


Contemporary American, 1998-

It’s hard to overstate the influence Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia, and Eduard Seitan have wielded since opening the sleek Blackbird on Randolph Street 12 years ago. The most low-key restaurateurs in town are endlessly copied with each new concept, and they’ve maintained loyalty within their own ranks by assiduously promoting their own cooks. A significant number of others have spun off the web too.

Koren Grieveson—Avec

Next door to Blackbird, the saunalike boite has been thriving since 2003, coming back from a tragic fire last August.

Justin Large—Big Star

The Wicker Park taco joint and whiskey bar is cash only and always packed; a “rogue” food truck is on its way (see below).

Brian Huston—The Publican

This three-year-old Fulton Street gastropub is one of the restaurants that set off the trends of snout-to-tail cooking, oysters, and craft beers.

David Ford—The Violet Hour

Executive chef of the speakeasy-style cocktail lounge across the street from Big Star.

Patrick Fahy—Cafe des Architectes

Pastry chef at the French restaurant in the Sofitel Chicago.

Paul VirantVie, Perennial Virant

At both Vie, inWestern Springs, and the Boka group’s Lincoln Park restaurant, Virant focuses on seasonal ingredients, pickling, and preserving, .

Mike Sheerin—Three Floyds Brewpub, the Trenchermen

Sheerin left Blackbird to open the forthcoming Trenchermen, in the meantime serving as consulting chef for Three Floyds brewpub.

Dale Levitski—Sprout

Last year Levitski and his Top Chef co-contestant, sous chef Sara Nguyen, were brought in as fixers for this Lincoln Park restaurant.

Tim Dahl—Nostrano

Two years ago the Blackbird pastry chef and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Madison and opened this Mediterranean restaurant.

Bradford Phillips—the Pump Room

Phillips, also a veteran of Tru and NoMi, moved from LM Restaurant to the resurrected Pump Room this year.

Johnny Anderes—Telegraph Wine Bar

A former sous chef at Avec, Anderes is now executive chef at this new Logan Square wine bar.

Joe Doren—Franks ‘n’ Dawgs

Also a veteran of Sixteen, last year Doren moved to this Lincoln Park haute sausage emporium.

John Asbaty—Panozzo’s Italian Market

Asbaty, who worked alongside Achatz at both Trio and Alinea, runs this near-south-side market featuring sandwiches and takeaway dishes.

Download the complete chef’s tree here.

Credit: Paul John Higgins


Craft cocktails, 2007-

When Blackbird partners Donnie Madia and Terry Alexander opened the Violet Hour with consulting mixologists Toby Maloney and Jason Cott, they ushered in the craft cocktail renaissance in Chicago. Other great barkeeps followed, but the hushed, reverent gloom of TVH was one of the first places where the city was able to drink as well as it ate. An intense training program and an environment that nurtured creativity spawned a vibrant mixology diaspora that has since spread to New York, New Orleans, Louisville, Nashville, and Milwaukee—but more importantly, a number of local oases where they know how to make a cocktail.

Mike Ryan—Sable Kitchen & Bar

The restaurant in River North’s Hotel Palomar is as renowned for its seasonal craft cocktails as for Heather Terhune’s menu.

Brad BoltBar DeVille

Bolt is behind the expertly crafted cocktails at this Ukrainian Village corner bar from Matt Eisler (Empire Liquors, Angels & Kings).

Stephen Cole—the Barrelhouse Flat

The Violet Hour vet plans to open his own bar in Lincoln Park this fall.

Kyle Davidson—the Publican

Beer cocktails, anyone?

Frog Greishaw—Big Star

Best Michelada in town.

Download the complete chef’s tree here.

Credit: Paul John Higgins


Modernist, 2005-

Any cook who spends quality time in Grant Achatz’s kitchen laboratory can write his own ticket, and a goodly number of them now head their own kitchens in other cities or have found entry into other world-class restaurants such as the French Laundry and El Bulli. But an august few have remained and begun to cast their own long shadows.

Dave Beran—Next Restaurant

Executive chef Beran has already presided over Paris 1906 and a Tour of Thailand—next up is childhood.

Craig Schoettler—the Aviary

Executive chef at Achatz and Kokonas’s out-of-this-world cocktail lounge.

Jeff Pikus—Maude’s Liquor Bar

Sophisticated Randolph Street brasserie from LEYE vet Brandon Sodicoff (Gilt Bar, the Doughnut Vault).

David Posey—Blackbird

Posey replaced Mike Sheerin as Blackbird’s chef de cuisine last September.

Curtis DuffyAvenues, new place yet to be named

After the Peninsula Hotel restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars, Duffy left to open his own restaurant and Avenues was shut down.

Download the complete chef’s tree here.

Credit: Paul John Higgins


Farm-to-table, 1997-

Bruce Sherman’s farm-to-table pioneer doesn’t get a lot of buzz relative to other spots, but its idyllic Lincoln Park setting produced a handful of key chefs that have moved onward and up.

Rob LevittMado, the Butcher & Larder

Last November Levitt and his pastry chef wife, Allie, left Mado, to open this Ukie Village shop specializing in whole-animal butchery.

Danny Grant—Ria, Balsan

After Jason McLeod abruptly left in February, Grant, his chef de cuisine, assumed the reins of the Elysian Hotel restaurants without a hitch.

Bob Zrenner—Hubbard Inn, Barn & Company

The peripatetic Zrenner is currently at River North’s Hubbard Inn and Lincoln Park’s Barn & Company.

Rochelle DuBridge—Julius Meinl

After stints at North Pond, Hot Chocolate, and Vie, DuBridge is now executive pastry chef at Julius Meinl North America.

Download the complete chef’s tree here.

Credit: Paul John Higgins


Eclectic, 2003-

Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, who’ve emerged as a pair of the city’s most prolific and successful restaurateurs, have thrived not so much by nurturing a new class of young chefs as by bringing established high-profile chefs and those on the cusp into their fold.

Giuseppe Tentori—Boka, GT Fish & Oyster

A nine-year veteran of Charlie Trotter’s, Tentori is executive chef at both Boka, in Lincoln Park, and River North’s GT Fish & Oyster.

Stephanie IzardGirl & the Goat

Last year the Boka group teamed up with the celebrity chef to open this Randolph Street monster hit; a diner/bakery/bar, the Little Goat, is up next.

Chris Pandelthe Bristol, Balena

A pioneer of snout-to-tail cookery, Pandel, a Tru vet, is teaming up with the Boka group on Balena, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria.

Benjamin Schiller—Boka, GT Fish & Oyster

The Boka group’s mixologist does double duty at both the namesake restaurant and the downtown seafood spot.

Kady Yon—the Pump Room

Formerly at Boka and GT Fish & Oyster, Yon has now joined Bradford Phillips at the new Pump Room.

Giuseppe Scurato—Ceres’ Table

Formerly at the now-closed Landmark and Boka, the Sicilian-born chef opened his own restaurant in Uptown last year.

Ryan Poli—Tavernita

Poli, who in 2006 was at Butter, went on to Perennial and is now working with the Mercadito group on this upcoming restaurant and bar.

Elizabeth Dahl—Nostrano

Formerly a Boka pastry chef, Dahl now works alongside her husband, Tim, at Madison’s Nostrano.

Download the complete chef’s tree here.

Credit: Paul John Higgins


Fine-dining stalwart, 1999-

Tamny included the Lettuce Entertain You fine-dining flagship on her original tree, but in the years since, still more heretofore low-profile cooks who came up under former executive chef Rick Tramonto have distinguished themselves outside the nest. Tramonto’s replacement is Anthony Martin.

Eddie Lakin—Edzo’s Burger Shop

Lakin opened his old-school burger joint in Evanston in 2009, featuring house-ground meat, hand-cut fries, and shakes.

Charlie McKenna—Lillie’s Q, Lillie’s Q Meat Mobile

McKenna, who’s a veteran of Avenues and Tru, opened his Wicker Park barbecue joint last year and launched his food truck in August.

Tim Graham—Paris Club

Graham, who also cooked at Brasserie Jo, is executive chef at R.J. and Jerrod Melman’s River North remake of the River North spot.

Meg Galus—NoMi Kitchen

Tru was arguably as well known for Gale Gand’s desserts as for its dinner menu; Galus follows in her path at the remade NoMi.

Download the complete chef’s tree here.

Credit: Paul John Higgins


Hamstrung food-truck reform (a proposed ordinance to allow cooking a la minute remains stuck in committee) hasn’t stopped former and current restaurant chefs from rolling out their own mobile operations.

Matt Maroni—Gaztro-Wagon

While still peddling his naanwiches, Maroni, formerly of the Mid-America Club, has now opened a fine-dining restaurant, Lincoln Park’s MorSo.

Phillip Foss—Meatyballs Mobile

Fired from Lockwood, Foss started up this food truck; at his southwest-side space El he and Andrew Brochu are offering prix fixe fine dining.

Cary Taylorthe Southern Mac Truck

Taylor, chef at the Southern, spun off this food truck earlier this year and has now branched into a Loop storefront, the Southern Mac and Cheese Store.

Troy Marcus JohnsonChicago All Fired Up

Johnson, formerly of the soul food restaurant Miss Minnie’s, found a loophole that allows him to serve his made-onboard barbecue and wings.

Vince DiBattista—Hummingbird Kitchen

The Evanston City Council passed an ordinance allowing cooking onboard, so last year Union Pizzeria and Campagnola chef DiBattista and his partners took off.

Aaron Crumbaugh—Wagyu Wagon

The Peninsula vet has a cook-ready food truck offering Wagyu beef burgers, banh mi, tacos, hot dogs, and chili at fairs and festivals.

Paul Kahan, Justin Large—Big Star Food Truck

Kahan has vowed to go rogue on his forthcoming taco truck, which is equipped with a kitchen.

Download the complete chef’s tree here (PDF).

Editor’s Note: This story has been amended to reflect that our chefs’ family tree incorrectly identified David Ford as the executive chef at the Violet Hour. He’s moved on to Telegraph Wine Bar, replaced by Benjamin Caulfield, a veteran of Big Star. Also, Cary Taylor of the Southern and Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social were inadvertently omitted from the Blackbird hub; Van Camp also worked at Tru.