surf globally, eat locally
June 20, 2012

Female Chefs Are Taking the Windy City by Storm
By Kristine Hansen
Female chefs are taking the Windy City by storm, cooking up dishes rarely served in this city, such as goat, and instilling patience into not just plating desserts but keeping rooftop beehives buzzing. Here are three examples of chefs who are giving Chicago the long overdue reputation it deserves as an inventive food city.


STEPHANIE IZARD



Winning “Top Chef” on Season 4 catapulted Izard into somewhat of a celebrity, putting her restaurant – Girl & the Goat, in Chicago’s West Loop – firmly on the map for foodies everywhere shortly after it opened in 2010. What sets her restaurants apart – this fall she opens “Little Goat” next door – is she insists on meeting every farmer she buys from. Normally an easy feat, since most foods (dairy, meat, vegetables, even grains) are grown within 120 miles, she recently put her mantra to the test by trekking to a coffee farm in Columbia that will provide beans for Little Goat. “Just because it’s a local farm doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. We like to see for ourselves.”

“I was lucky enough to grow up with a mom who cooked all the time,” explains the Evanston-born Izard who grew up in Connecticut and whose last name translates in French to a type of goat. “I didn’t have meat loaf until I got to college (at University of Michigan).” Every Sunday she, along with her sisters and mother, would pore over cookbooks and plan the week’s meals.

But Chicago beckoned her home. Izard’s first culinary job was at Charlie Trotter’s. “Chicago is a great food town, almost like a family tree,” says Izard, who thinks the casual-restaurant trend – spearheaded by several new chefs – popping up around the city is here to stay. That includes Izard’s restaurants. “It’s a big party all the time. There’s no pretentiousness in our service.” Serving between five and eight goat dishes daily, such as goat ribs, goat belly and goat empanadas, Girl & the Goat introduces many to goat for the first time.


VAL BRENNER



Local-agriculture lover Brenner – sous chef at Lockwood Restaurant, inside Palmer House Hilton, just off South Michigan Avenue – is still tickled that she got beehives onto the historic hotel’s 25th-floor rooftop.

What she didn’t expect was how much she’d like the buzz. “I did not realize how in love with bees I was going to be,” she says. “I’m totally smitten.” Honeycombs will join cheese plates this fall, with the honey drizzled over desserts.

Two months after joining Lockwood in March of 2011, Brenner installed the 2,000-square-foot rooftop garden, what she refers to as “extreme gardening.” Peas, chiles, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and more are grown in containers. Formerly a food educator at Mifflin Street Co-Op in Madison, and a butcher in that city too, she started cooking as the oldest of five kids whose parents worked long hours. Her first culinary job was at the Abbey Resort in Fontana, Wis., which was the perfect precursor for her most prestigious cooking stint pre-Lockwood. “The American Club (in Kohler, Wis.) called me – out of the blue. They needed a butcher with a culinary background.”

The Pump Room, inside Ian Schrager’s PUBLIC Hotel, coaxed her down to Chicago. She doesn’t see herself cooking anywhere but the Midwest. “Here, it’s about hospitality. We’re more about warmth and making people feel welcome.”


CINDY SCHUMAN


As pastry chef at Sepia, in Chicago’s Printer Row section, Schuman, a Buffalo Grove native, gets to use her BFA in graphic design (from the University of Illinois) daily when plating desserts.

“I hope that it gives me a little bit of an edge,” she says. “Visually, you know you need these same qualities.”

After college she went into advertising and continued making desserts for family gatherings. That got her noticed – by attendees (family friends) who were chefs and suggested she pursue a baking career. “I started at the bottom of the totem pole, as a pastry cook,” she says, while holding down an advertising job weekdays. “Finally, I had to make a decision.” She followed her sweet tooth down a path that, before Sepia, included Carlos’ Restaurant in Highland Park, Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago and Eric Aubriot’s two Chicago restaurants (Eric Aubriot and Kevin). It’s also led her to her husband, who is also a chef.

When devising Sepia’s daily dessert menu (four desserts for lunch and six desserts for dinner) she sticks to a formula. “You always want something chocolate-y and something a little fruity. You want to cover all your bases.” She likes to buy fruit from local farmers. However, due to the unusual warm spell, followed by a cold front, this past spring she’ll have to chart her course a little differently. Her plan is to pickle stone fruits that are not as juicy as they might normally be, and will definitely feature strawberries.

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