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The Future of Taste


Ten Years Later: Building Restaurants That Last

Sarah Zorn



We’re intimately familiar with how tough it is to make it in NYC’s intensely saturated, cutthroat, and prohibitively expensive dining scene, and the increasingly food-obsessed Chicago is no different. Which is why we’ve gathered some of the city’s most seminal chefs, restaurateurs and industry folk together for Ten Years Later: Building Restaurants that Last, including Donnie Madia of One Off Hospitality, Jason Hammel from Lula Cafe, Michael Nahabedian of NAHA, and Paul Virant from Vie, to discuss how they’ve maintained their proven customer base, all while continuing to build buzz and push the limits, after a decade or more of success. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s kept these acclaimed eateries far in front of the pack.

Blackbird: Opened in December 1997, Blackbird is one of Chicago’s most respected modern fine-dining establishments. It’s helmed by Executive Chef Paul Kahan, winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2013 and Best Chef of the Midwest in 2004. Together with Chef de Cuisine Perry Hendrix and Pastry Chef Dana Cree, Kahan crafts elegant and imaginative Midwestern cuisine, showcasing farm-fresh ingredients. Managing partner and owner, Donnie Madia, also helped craft Blackbird’s unique interiors, earning a James Beard Award for Best Restaurant Design and Best Restaurant Design Graphics in 2002.

Lula Café: Lula Cafe opened in a small storefront on Kedzie Boulevard in September 1999, with a four burner home stove and a dented collection of thrifted pots and pans. Today, stretching three storefronts, it’s the founding member of the nationally recognized Logan Square culinary community, and a celebrated forerunner of the ‘farm to table’ movement in Chicago. Lula has been featured on NPR’s “This American Life,” in The New York Times, and in Chicago press, named an LTH Forum Great Neighborhood Restaurant, a Michelin Bib Gourmande, and a member of the “Eater Essential 38.”

NAHA: After departing her position as Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, Carrie Nahabedian returned to her native Chicago to open NAHA in 2000, along with her cousin, Michael Nahabedian, which highlights their Armenian roots. The duo has since garnered a James Beard Award as well as four consecutive Michelin stars, and went on top open Brindille in the spring of 2013, as a nod to their favorite local spots in Paris.

Vie: “Tastes of the seasons, preserved,” is the kitchen staff’s mantra at Vie. Chef Paul Virant, formerly of local favorites Charlie Trotter, Ambria, Everest and Blackbird, is committed to supporting local farmers and artisans at the 10-year-old restaurant, which has been deemed one of the Top 40 Restaurants in the USA by Gayot Restaurant Guide, a Top 25 Farm to Table Restaurant by Best Life Magazine, and received Three Stars by critic Phil Vettel, in the Chicago Tribune.

Taste Talks Food & Drink hits Chicago October 3-5, 2014. See the full schedule and buy tickets here.