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.
When Spiaggia opened on Michigan Avenue in 1984, it was a game-changer in the fine-dining field — an upscale Italian in a category dominated by stuffy French restaurants. But 30 years later, it too was in need of an upgrade. Owner Tony Mantuano says, “We knew we had to make some changes in order to keep up with the times.” So last year, he removed the white tablecloths and abandoned its jacket-required policy. This was not a radical act, but rather a submission to a change that was happening across the fine-dining landscape.
Known for baseball, Budweiser and something called toasted ravioli, St. Louis may not be on your list of must-visit foodie destinations. But it should be: a group of up-and-coming chefs are pushing the boundaries of Midwestern cooking, and there's a budding cocktail and craft-beer scene to boot.
The first time I spoke with Brandon Baltzley was while he was working for CRUX, an underground dinner club. He had just come back from rehab, the last stop on a downward spiral that would define him not only as a chef, but also as a personality. One of the few things I recall from that interview is that he cursed a lot. Now, three years later, Baltzley has a lot to prove with his latest endeavor, TMIP, a Native American restaurant located on Exterior Farm in Michigan City, IN. Or as he puts it: “Let’s be honest, people are more interested in the f*cking crackhead Brandon Baltzley show than what we’re trying to do here. Let’s get real.” It doesn’t get much more real than this 10-seat restaurant, which hosts two meals a day, lunch and dinner, with all of the ingredients sourced directly from the farm or nearby producers.
Tucked just over four hours south of Chicago is a city where chefs are free to have their way with farm-fresh ingredients, an endless supply of sorghum and some of the best seafood in the country. Yes, seafood. It’s a place where whiskey runs as freely as the Ohio River and the craft beer scene is on the verge of a sudsy renaissance. The heart of Kentucky is home to celebrity chef Ed Lee, the birthplace of bourbon and transforms into the biggest party for the fastest two minutes in sports on May 3: the Kentucky Derby. Louisville is, and should continue to be, a destination for not only Midwesterners, but hungry foodies around the country.
This is hardly our first food truck rodeo (although, it is the first time a food truck owner has made the list). Chicago harbors a strong collection of 30Under30 alumni, so this year, we ventured into the artisans. We not only highlighted people who present food and drinks to the table, but also the people who make the produce, sprits and even sausages that feed the industry. It is just he beginning for these culinary trailblazers, whose edible endeavors are only in their first leg. Cheers to the delicious road ahead and this year’s 30Under30 honorees.
Four pastry chefs, five bartenders, six executive chefs and a total of 30 culinary experts - what do they have in common besides a love of food and tireless ambition? We scoured Chicago to find the most passionate and promising up-and-comers under 30 years old. Why 30, you ask? Because it’s the perfect Zagat score, naturally. Meet the next generation of food-industry rock stars, and watch out, because they have no plans of throwing in the apron anytime soon.