The Midwest is generally not spoken of in the same terms as the dynamic food scenes along the East Coast. This is despite the fact that the region is buzzing with a great combination of inner-city eating and farm-to-table produce located further afield. From Kansas to Illinois, here are 10 chefs matching tradition with innovation in the heartlands of the USA.
Aaron Sanchez | Image courtesy of The Door Online
Sanchez is a familiar face from culinary television programmes. As well as being a judge on Food Networks’ Chopped, he is co-star of the new Spanish language series Motochefs, where he takes a tour through the southern American border, home to the food influences that have inspired his main venue, Mestizo, in Leawood, Kansas. The third generation in his family to work in the food industry, Sanchez’ menu at Mestizo underscores the real nuances of Mexican cuisine, including dishes such as chille rellenos and chilaquiles.
Mestizo, 5270 W 116th Plaza, Leawood, KS, USA, + 1 913 752 9025
Nominated on five occasions for ‘Best Chef in the Great Lakes’ at the James Beard awards, Alex Young is a specialist in producing regional comfort food, including eight varieties of macaroni and cheese. Despite having no professional culinary training, Young cut his teeth working with Mako Tenaka in New York and Reed Heron in San Francisco, getting a hands-on education with American food on both coasts. Based at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Young is another advocate of farm-to-table fare and sources from Conman Farms. Also cooking on an open barbecue pit at the Roadhouse, Young is a master of producing American staples in a welcoming environment.
Zingerman’s Roadhouse, 2501 Jackson Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan + 1 734 663 3663
Art Smith is a chef unfazed by the big occasion – he has cooked Thanksgiving dinner for Lady Gaga, VIP meals for numerous heads of state including Barack Obama and for 10 years, he was the personal chef for Oprah Winfrey. Owning restaurants across the country, his signature venue is Chicago’s Table Fifty-Two. Smith is eager to reinvest his skills in the next generation: he operates the charity Common Threads, a social enterprise dedicated to teaching children culinary skills and cultural diversity. Table Fifty-Two shows off the best of Southern hospitality and soul food, turning it into a fine-dining experience. Catfish is paired with miatake mushrooms and white corn grits, whilst fried green tomatoes are accompanied by duck ham.
Table Fifty-Two, 52 W Elm Street, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 573 4000
Dave Beran is the head chef at Next, Chicago, a venture founded by Grant Achatz but which Beran has come to make his own, winning the ‘Best Chef in the Great Lakes’ category at the James Beard awards in the process. Inheriting a penchant for conceptual cooking, Next boldly revamps its menu every four months according to a different theme. Previous selections have included ‘Kyoto’, ‘Vegan’ and ‘Childhood’. Dining at Next is truly an experience, diners don’t book a reservation but rather they buy tickets from Next’s website in the manner of a play, with prices varying according to the time and menu. Beran is following in the footsteps of giants but is confidently positing his own individuality, turning dining into an all-round experience.
Next, 953 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 226 0858
Grant Achatz is the owner and proprietor of Chicago’s Alinea, the only restaurant in the Midwest to hold three Michelin stars. A chef who trained under Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria, Achatz has continued the latter’s philosophy of modernist cooking. Alinea has only one menu, a tasting menu of 18 to 22 courses that delights and surprises in equal measure. At any time you may find yourself presented with edible green apple balloons, corn with white chocolate and mango, or Dungeness crab with scallop blossom. It is difficult to secure a reservation, but Achatz’ work at Alinea is a testament to the awe and sense of fun that food can inspire.
Alinea, 1723 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 867 0110
Jimmy Bannos Jr.
Jimmy Bannos Jr. was born to be a chef; a fourth generation restaurateur, he was put to work in his parents’ establishment from the age of five. A winner of the James Beard rising star award, he presently operates The Purple Pig in Chicago, importing a love of Mediterranean cuisine into the Windy City. Described by Bannos as a tribute to ‘cheese, wine, and swine’, the restaurant is an advertisement for the possibilities of all three. There’s an exhaustive cheese platter to choose from, and no part of the pig is wasted in dishes like pig’s ear with crispy kale and neck bone rillette. The menu is impressively long without feeling overloaded.
The Purple Pig, 500 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 464 1744
Chicago’s overlap between the Midwest and the Lakes ensures the Midwest region as a whole sees a fair share of James Beard award winners. Justin Aprahamian is the latest winner in the category of ‘Best Chef in the Midwest’. At his establishment in Milwaukee, Sanford restaurant, diners can choose between a la carte – an exploratory four course tasting menu – or a seven course surprise. Aprahamian makes ample use of the fresh catch, serving swordfish, halibut, and scallops. To accompany, diners are spoiled with a choice of beers just as extensive as the restaurant’s wine menu, drawing on Wisconsin’s rich brewing heritage. Aprahamian is an exciting chef who marries his Armenian roots with Wisconsin tradition in dishes like duck breast with grilled peaches and sumac spiced yoghurt.
Sanford Restaurant, 1547 North Jackson Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA, + 1 414 276 9608
Lenny Russo is a chef keenly involved with all parts of the process of food preparation. In addition to being the proprietor of the Heartland restaurant in St. Paul’s, Minnesota, he also owns the Farm Direct Market. The market sources all its ingredients from local farmers within a 200 mile radius, the same ingredients that are used in the restaurant. Accordingly, Heartland has a menu that changes twice daily: recent highlights include walleye fish with a cornmeal crust and Marget duck breast with wheat berries, giving a real taste of the Midwest. A true advocate of regional food, Russo serves on a number of advisory boards, including the American Chef Corps, a body that brings food to the frontline in diplomatic relations.
Heartland Restaurant, 289 E 5th St, St. Paul’s, MN, USA, + 1 651 699 3536
Rick Bayless needs little introduction to Chicago diners, as he is the owner of four distinct eateries in the city: Tortas Frontera, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Xoco, all delivering consistently excellent Mexican cuisine. Topolobampo is a classy, menu dégustation affair, arranged not by traditional courses but by striking adjectives such as ‘vibrant’ (halibut escabeche) and ‘bold’ (venison with pasilla). Providing a step-up from the usual fajitas and tacos fodder, Bayless’ restaurants are characterized by an immense attention to detail – the chocolate at Xoco is delivered from Tabasco and is roasted, winnowed, ground, and formed into bars at the restaurant before being turned into cacao.
Frontera Grill, 445 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 661 1434
Topolobampo, 445 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 661 1434
Xoco River North, 449 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL, USA,
Xoco Wicker Park, 1471 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL, USA,
Tortas Frontera, various locations around Chicago
Stephanie Izard is a mainstay of the Chicago food scene but she came to fame as the first female winner of the reality series Top Chef. Following her success, she opened her current eatery, The Girl and the Goat, adding Little Goat to the portfolio later. The Girl and the Goat is full of light yet substantial dishes that offer up uncommon and unusual ingredients, such as beef tongue, pig face and grilled brassica vegetables. As the name suggests, the goat is the star of the show, with no parts going to waste. Take your pick from goat liver mousse, goat carpaccio and, if you pre-order, goat legs.
The Girl and the Goat, 809 W Randolph Street, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 492 6262
Little Goat, 820 W Randolph Street, Chicago, IL, USA, + 1 312 888 3455
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