20 Female Chefs in Chicago You Need to Know About
Now that you know some of Chicago’s finest female bartenders, it’s time to raise your glass, and then re-raise your glass, and then re-re-raise your glass, and triple cheers to Chicago's best female chefs who -- from big names like Stephanie Izard and Beverly Kim to up-and-coming sous chefs and next-generation pastry masters -- are flat-out KILLING IT in The City of Terrible Winters That Make You Sad.
Mindy Segal, Pastry ChefWhere to find her: Mindy's Hot Chocolate
Specialty dish: Cookies and mac & cheese (aka HERO FOOD)
What she's doing when not working: A new book launch is keeping Segal busy, but when she’s not working, she’s spending time with her husband and dog.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “The skyline.” Duh.
Christine Cikowski, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Sunday Dinner
Specialty dish: Work at HBFC and you can nosh on her famous Sunday staff breakfast tacos that include homemade salsa and fresh, seasonal veggies. Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for a chocolate toffee cocoa nib cookie.
What she's doing when not working: Music, yoga, and travel. She also trades her chef knives for a writer’s pen at achefwhowrites.com.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “How much the community embraces culinary businesses, interests, and pursuits. Also, that great big lake.”
Tanya Baker, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Boarding House
Specialty dish: Pan-seared salmon with confit potatoes, fava beans, dill creme fraiche, and cucumber salad, garnished with salmon roe that she perfected at her previous post as sous chef.
What she's doing when not working: Unwinding in Michigan and playing aunt to her sister’s two young children.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “The diversity of the dining scene here and exploring all of the pocket neighborhoods with all of their hidden gem restaurants.”
Beverly Kim, Executive Chef/OwnerWhere to find her: Parachute, which she owns alongside husband Johnny Clark
Specialty dish: Korean fusion, specifically the pork belly mung bean pancake with kimchi, black garlic, hen egg, and pickled pineapple
What she's doing when not working: Playing mom to her son Daewon (who you might be lucky to meet at the restaurant)
Favorite thing about Chicago: “I love the diversity and the distinct neighborhoods. Whenever I need a change of scenery, I check out something in another neighborhood. There is always something new to explore in this city.”
Sandra Holl, Pastry Chef/OwnerWhere to find her: Floriole Cafe & Bakery
Specialty dish: Butter flakey croissants, Holl’s gateau basque (buttery almond cake filled with pastry cream and fresh fruit)
What she's doing when not working: Either eating her way around Chicago or burning off excess calories and stress at Shred 415 down the street from the bakery
Favorite thing about Chicago: “Spring! Us Chicagoans really appreciate the early days of spring. I love seeing everyone get outside soaking up a little sunshine. I also learned to love hot dogs after moving to Chicago. RIP, Hot Doug's.”
Rachel Dow, Executive ChefWhere to find her: The Betty (formerly avec)
Specialty dish: The Fried Cauliflower (bean puree, almonds, and pineapple sofrito)
What she's doing when not working: Catching up on sleep with a Tempur-Pedic bed and going a whole day without speaking. Once she’s done with zen mode, she hits the Chicago restaurant scene to, as she says, “sit and eat like an adult.”
Favorite thing about Chicago: “I love this town and I am proud to be a part of the community of great hospitality professionals in this city. It sure doesn’t hurt that this city loves food and drink and has nurtured some amazing restaurants and bar programs.”
Amanda Rockman, Pastry ChefWhere to find her: Nico Osteria
Specialty dish: The Nico Torte, which Rockman describes as “a salty sweet gooey crunchy cake”
What she's doing when not working: When she’s not making your dentist very happy or planning a wedding (sorry guys, Rockman is taken), she likes to work out, see live music, and taste her way around Chicago.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “The summer -- running by the lake, outside patio cocktail hour, and everyone being in the best mood ever since we survived the winter... again.”
Stephanie Izard, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Girl and the Goat, Little Goat Diner
Specialty dish: The world-famous Izard may be known for goat, but she loves working with Southeast Asia, Korean, and Chinese flavors, which is evident in her soon-to-open concept, Duck Duck Goat.
What she's doing when not working: Izard loves to swim to unwind (she’s on a master’s team), but when she likes to chill, it’s usually on the couch with her husband and dog Burt.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “The people who live here.”
Iliana Regan, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Elizabeth Restaurant
Specialty dish: A maitake mushroom tea with chamomile flowers and cocoa nibs
What she's doing when not working: With the upcoming opening of micro bakery Bunny and Wunder Pop (what the space will turn into after it turns three), Regan is on a 24/7 clock. But when she’s not, she’s spending time outdoors hiking, snowboarding, and mushroom hunting, which you’ll find reflected in her foraged-inspired food.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “The seasons. I love the Midwest.”
Anna Posey, Pastry ChefWhere to find her: The Publican
Specialty dish: The Vacherin, a traditional meringue dessert served with sorbet. The current version is a sliceable layered cake of salted meringue, almond-hazelnut meringue, sweet tea ice cream, and vanilla ice cream.
What she's doing when not working: Not only is Posey creative in the kitchen, she likes to draw and sell her food-inspired art at AnnaPoseyArt.com.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “Atmosphere. This city is so unlike any other I've been to. It's got the blue-collar feel and local pride of Milwaukee (where I grew up) that makes me feel at home. The people have the kindness that can only be found in the Midwest, and there's actually still nature.”
Nicole Pederson, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Found Kitchen & Social House
Specialty dish: Vegetarians delight. Pederson likes to focus on vegetables and make them the star of the plate, whether it's a turmeric and winter vegetable stew, harissa-roasted Brussels sprouts, or braised and roasted heirloom eggplants.
What she's doing when not working: Playing in the dirt and tending to a love of gardening, then opening up her kitchen to host dinners with other chefs.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “Summertime! It's the best city to be in the summer. Concerts or movies in the park, the neighborhood festivals, the lake and beach, sailing, canoeing down the Chicago River, all the amazing bike paths, and so many patios and beer gardens for dining and drinking al fresco. And, of course, there's nothing like bocce on the boulevard at afternoon BBQs.”
Zoe Schor, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Ada St
Specialty dish: Though it changes occasionally, Schor is upping the wings game using octopus -- a crisp confit of baby octopus served buffalo-style -- smothered in house-made hot sauce and served with a creamy new potato salad made with carrots and celery.
What she's doing when not working: Konak for beers, The Office for cocktails, and then spending time on the lake, particularly sailing in the summer.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “The killer restaurant scene.”
Missy Corey, Chef de CuisineWhere to find her: Publican Quality Meats
Specialty dish: Spicy Korean-glazed beef jerky (yes, you can get it in the PQM butcher case)
What she's doing when not working: When she’s not making meat look and taste delicious, she’s getting down on some Thai food, catching a show, or hanging out with a Mastiff and his owner (aka her ”patient and fun” boyfriend)
Favorite thing about Chicago: “How different the neighborhoods are and being able to explore them. I grew up in Hyde Park and have lived in Lincoln Park, Lake View, Pilsen, and now Humboldt Park. All of them are an incredibly different and awesome microcosm with their own unique restaurants to explore.”
Dana Cree, Pastry ChefWhere to find her: Blackbird and avec
Specialty dish: Nutterbutters -- crispy chocolate and peanut butter squares with a thick vanilla bean caramel top. Translation: a grown-up candy bar.
What she's doing when not working: Recharging by relaxing at home with a fluffy cat and cooking for her guy.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “I've lived and worked in several communities on each coast and Europe, and while every place I have been is filled with wonderful people, no other city has made me feel more welcome and at home than the people I have met here in Chicago.”
Gale Gand, Pastry ChefWhere to find her: Spritz Burger, formerly Tru and Trio
Specialty dish: As a legend in the pastry and culinary world (remember her from Food Network?), Gale makes a mean lemon meringue pie that you can dig into at Spritz Burger.
What she's doing when not working: When she’s not getting her hands dirty with flour and sugar or making her specialty root beer, Gand spends her time foraging with her kids, cooking for her family, gardening, and going on bike rides with her husband.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “The view on Lake Shore Drive when I'm driving in or out of town.”
Nicole Ella, Executive Sous ChefWhere to find her: The Duck Inn
Specialty dish: Duck lumpias (the Filipino version of the egg roll) made with confit duck, shrimp, and herbs/spices
What she's doing when not working: Free time usually means sleep, but on those special days off, Ella likes to relax by checking out other spots in the city that spark her curiosity.
Favorite thing about Chicago: "What I love about Chicago is the never-ending pool of activities and the culture it provides. In every corner, in every nook there is always something to discover and experience."
Carrie Nahabedian, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Naha, Brindille
Specialty dish: As a culinary veteran (Nahabedian was one of the first female chefs to earn a Michelin star), it’s hard to pick a specialty but she loves working with squab -- which she whole roasts and serves alongside Hudson Valley foie gras, white icicle radishes, Medjool dates, and rose petal marmalade
What she's doing when not working: Taking to the pool at the Four Seasons Chicago to stay healthy and unwind, then hitting the scene for some shopping and, of course, eating
Favorite thing about Chicago: “Chicago is my home and I love everything about the city, including our long, cold, snowy winters. What I really love, though, are the architecture and people, our, style and the beauty of the city/lakeshore, and incredible community of great citizens... who LOVE food.”
Bridget Close, Sous ChefWhere to find her: Ruxbin, Mott Street
Specialty dish: Longanisa, a regional sausage similar to chorizo that reflects Close’s Filipino roots
What she's doing when not working: True to being a chef, Close spends her time exploring antique stores looking for the perfect quenelle spoon. Outside of spoon shopping, she likes to head out to the suburbs to get away from the city.
Favorite thing about Chicago: "It's the city that helped me become independent, a city of many firsts. I earned my degree here. I built a career here. I met my future husband here. It has helped me accomplish more than I would have staying back home. Plus, I'm a sucker for Italian beef and deep dish pizza."
Bo Fowler, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Owen & Engine
Specialty dish: O&E has one of the better burgers in Chicago, but its current take on spring flavors -- preserved tuna with fava beans, sugar snap peas, and a creamy wild lemon dressing for only $14 -- will make you confused in a good way.
What she's doing when not working: Watching back-to-back episodes of Twin Peaks and trying not to eat an entire sleeve of Oreo cookies.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “I grew up in a small farming community in Minnesota and like a lot of little girls, I day-dreamed of living in a big city. I love the Chicago skyline. I have my husband drive me by it whenever I am restless and it never fails to calm me. I think it is beautiful and makes me feel like I am part of something big and vibrant.”
Amanda Downing, Executive ChefWhere to find her: Rockit Bar and Grill
Specialty dish: Not Your Mama’s Tot Casserole -- braised beef, mushrooms, pearl onions, truffle tots, and gruyere
What she's doing when not working: Her answer? A chuckle, reinforcing that being a chef is really hard work, and with Rockit Bar and Grill getting ready to reopen after a complete overhaul and a new menu, you can guess she’s busier than ever.
Favorite thing about Chicago: “I love the neighborhoods, the people, and the weather. I know I might be crazy for saying that but I love that Chicago gets all the seasons.”
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Brandy is a food and beverage writer and co-founder of Daily Urbanista. Her work has also appeared in Gapers Block and the Chicago Tribune.