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A complete list of the 2014
chefs is coming soon!

If you are interested in being a chef for the 2014
It’s Raining Cats & Dogs!, contact Mary Mills at mmills@anticruelty.org or (312)645-8006,
or click here to register.


Rick Gresh

Chef Rick Gresh will graciously be returning as the Chef Chair for this year’s event.

Brad Alexander
The Goddess and Grocer

Brad Alexander was born in central Illinois. His love for cooking began at an early age where he could be found cooking alongside his grandmother. While attending college at Eastern Illinois University, his interest for cooking was sparked again when he began working at a local steakhouse. It was here that he decided to change his career path and enrolled in the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago.
Following culinary school Brad began working at Rosebud Restaurants and quickly became a sous chef at Rosebud Prime Steakhouse. His talents were well recognized and he was promoted to corporate sous chef, overseeing the Rosebud Family of Restaurants. When the opportunity arose to become the executive chef at Restaurant’s-America’s new concept Primebar, he jumped at the chance. After heading another Restaurant’s-America’s concept, The Grillroom, Brad decided it was time for a change. Now at The Goddess and Grocer, Brad oversees the ever growing catering operation while filling the cases of the several Goddess and Grocer locations with new seasonal specials and favorites that have been bringing customers back for years.


Jimmy Bannos
Heaven on Seven

A third generation restaurateur, Bannos worked at his parents’ diner when he was growing up between the ages of 9 and 20. After receiving his formal culinary education at Washburne Trade School, Bannos became infatuated with Crescent City cooking in the early 1980s and worked with famous New Orleans chefs, such as Paul Prudhomme at K-Paul’s, Frank Brigtsen, and Emeril Lagasse.
Bannos’ bustling New Orleans-style Heaven on Seven restaurants have been some of the most popular eateries in Chicago. Serving a highly personalized interpretation of New Orleans and southern cooking, Bannos has smartly reinvented his food and his restaurant over the years to keep his concept fresh and vibrant. Today, he marries Latin, South American, Asian, and Western European methods with New Orleans techniques and ingredients.

A collector of both modern and antique cookbooks, Bannos entered the publishing world himself with The Heaven on Seven Cookbook: Where It’s Mardi Gras All the Time! and Big Easy Cocktails: Jazzy Drinks and Savory Bites from New Orleans. They invite food lovers into his kitchen and share some of his favorite down-home recipes.

What separates Bannos from the rest of chefs is his ability to season aggressively without overpowering the palate. While he uses cayenne-spiked seasoning blends and red chili pepper sauces, he also incorporates milder, well-rounded seasoning agents. The result is a complex layering of flavors that is consistent with New Orleans cooking principles, while bringing the region’s food into the 21st century.

Jimmy makes regular appearances on The Today Show, highlighting some of his seasonal specialties, as well as demonstrating his versions of holiday classics and family favorites. He is a leading figure in the community, and has donated his time and efforts to such causes as Hurricane Katrina relief, Meals on Wheels, and March of Dimes.


Cleetus Friedman
The Bar on Buena,
and The Northman

Born into a Jewish family, Cleetus Friedman was born to cook and entertain. Raised by his mother, a baker and regular entertainer for family and friends, it was Karren Friedman who forced Cleetus to get a job at the age of 14.

Cleetus started his career in the food and beverage world as a busboy and continued to work his way through the industry, spending time with everything from short order kitchens to full service and fine dining restaurants, surrounding himself with talented industry people, and developing his skills both in front and back of the house.

Throughout college at the University of Maryland, Cleetus assisted in the growth of the Silver Diner by running the kitchen, front of the house, and implementing company wide training systems. In 1995 he moved to Chicago to develop catering programs for Spoonful, Caffè Baci, and Heaven on Seven.

In 2008, Cleetus opened City Provisions with the mission to connect community with food. As a premier catering company, and in 2010 a full service delicatessen, he became a trailblazer in support of the local food movement. The 2010 Local Beet “Restaurant of the Year,” Chicago Magazine’s “Best Brunch,” and ChiTown on Tap’s “Food Industry Professional Doing Most For Craft Beer” are only a few of the many accolades Cleetus has received.

As Executive Chef of Fountainhead, The Bar on Buena, and The Northman, Cleetus has the opportunity to combine all of his passions for food and drink.


Eric Mansavage
Farmhouse Tavern

Eric Mansavage, a proud product of Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, is passionate about working with local farmers and growers to bring the freshest local produce, meats, and dairy to Farmhouse Tavern.
Eric’s core philosophy is simple, approachable, and carefully crafted foods based on the culinary heritage of the Midwest. Under Eric’s direction the Farmhouse kitchen has become known for delicious locally sourced foods executed with tremendous technique. Eric has led Farmhouse’s efforts to reach out to various farm-to-fork non-profits. This fall, Eric will be supporting the efforts of the owners of the Farmhouse restaurants in Chicago and Evanston as they launch a new restaurant called Nordcider in Chicago.




Thomas Rice
TÊTE Charcuterie

“…it’s like when Van Halen picked up a guitar – when you’re born to do something, you don’t question it, you surrender. Let it guide you.”
Chef Thomas Rice has wanted to be a chef for as long as he can remember and that relentless passion led him to the Culinary Institute of America.

As a young chef in New York City, he launched a whirlwind career cooking with some of the city’s most respected French chefs. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten arranged for him to go to France, his childhood dreams manifesting as he worked under the acclaimed Alain Ducasse and Paul Hamberlin at their respected three star Michelin restaurants. Back in New York he joined Paul Liebrant, assisting in the acquisition of two Michelin stars.

Finally, he was ready to bring the French culinary arts back to his hometown. Drawing from a vast catalog of international experience, Chef Thomas boldly pushes boundaries while maintaining a reverence and celebration of French technique, marrying tradition and revolution with every dish on TÊTE’s menu.

For the first time, food took a supporting role in Tom’s life in 2009 with the birth of his son, Thomas Jr. – TÊTE’s “Executive Sous Chef” and biggest inspiration.


Scott Simon
Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen

Executive Chef Scott Simon was born in Evanston in 1973 and grew up in Glenview, IL. His older brother, Kerry, was already involved in the culinary scene when Scott decided to carve a culinary career of his own. At the age of 18, he moved to Miami to work alongside his brother, who was part owner and executive chef of Blue Star, the restaurant at the iconic Raleigh Hotel. Scott slept on Kerry’s couch for the first 2 years of his career while he worked his way up the line doing dishes and food prep. Serving as Scott’s mentor, Kerry taught Scott everything from knife skills and time management to how to contend with the high pressure of the business.

Scott went on to refine his culinary talents at Kerry’s next two restaurant ventures: Starfish and Max’s in South Beach. He then went to work as a sous chef for a large fitness facility in Tucson for the next 5 years.
In 2002, Kerry opened Simon Kitchen and Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Scott joined his brother there serving as sous chef for one of his mentors, Chef Chris Vaughn, and ultimately he was appointed executive chef. During this time, Esquire magazine named Simon Kitchen and Bar one of “America’s Best New Restaurants.”

Scott later served as executive chef for Cathouse at the Luxor until he received another opportunity to work with Chef Chris Vaughn – this time as Chef de Cuisine of the Palms Place Hotel. Scott worked at the Palms Place Hotel, which features the ever-popular Simon Restaurant and Lounge, before he finally received his long-awaited ticket back to his hometown of Chicago when Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen was born in November of 2013.

As executive chef of Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen, Chef Simon currently oversees all food and beverage programming, as well as menu development, service training, and supervision of culinary operations within Hard Rock Hotel Chicago.


Marc Sparacino

Catering to guests in both a literal and figurative sense for more than 20 years, Mark Sparacino has a wealth of experience in the food and beverage business locally, nationally, and internationally. His journey began at a young age and has culminated in his successful catering company, Traveling Fare, as well as in a much loved Italian restaurant, Sparacino’s, on Chicago’s burgeoning west side.

After attending Chicago’s Loyola University with a mind to becoming a marketing executive, Mark realized his true love within the kitchen of Lettuce Entertain You’s Avanzare, the epicenter of chic Italian dining in the mid-1980s. Taking the lessons from one of Chicago’s best kitchens with him, Mark embarked on a mission to learn the other side of the business, the so-called “front of the house” where guests are wowed with kindness, or not, on a daily basis. He chose as the place for this experience the uber-hot Topo Gigio, in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood.

During the winter months of his 5 years at Topo Gigio, Mark decided to combine his two passions—fine dining and travel—with several seasons in Aspen, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and British West Indies. In 1994, Mark and his family opened Traveling Fare, a catering company that focuses on upscale, social, and corporate events for groups as small as 12 and as large as 1,200.

All of Mark’s years in the business culminated in the 2001 opening of his namesake restaurant, Sparacino Ristorante. Along with his family, Mark has operated this 50-seat dining room to rave reviews ever since. The Chicago Reader commented on the “sophisticated classics...and tempting pasta dishes;” Chicago Magazine the, “sinfully rich gems;” and Dining Entertainment called it “a little spot of heaven.”

As Executive Chef of Prosecco, Mark is tailoring a menu of regional Italian favorites. Whether the daily menu offers simple, earthy fare or more complex items, each dish is carefully created to allow the inner flavor of the freshest ingredients to emerge with every bite.

Tom Van Lente

As the executive chef of the Jean Banchet Award-nominated best new restaurant TWO, Tom Van Lente showcases Midwestern ingredients at their prime. For him, it’s all about seasonality, sustainability, and making everything from scratch—no walk-in cooler, can-opener, or shortcuts in his kitchen. He sources the best products available from local farms, allowing them to shine on the plate by cooking them with respect and not overpowering their flavors, a mantra held true by his entire restaurant team. “This isn’t about me, this is about us,” says Van Lente, who also earned a nomination for the Jean Banchet Award rising chef. “It’s truly a team effort at TWO, and I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished by being true to ourselves and having fun at the same time.”

Born into a family passionate about both food and business, Van Lente was reared from a young age to appreciate cooking and hospitality. The most inspiring person in Van Lente’s life was his mom. Before she passed away in 2007, she always told him that he had the ability to do anything he wanted, but that nothing would be handed to him. He says she pushed him to work harder, not to worry about the small stuff, and to be a good person—philosophies he shares with his cooks today.

Van Lente pursued his love of cooking after graduating from DePaul University with a B.A. in public communications. He went on to attain his culinary arts degree at Kendall College. His rise up the culinary ladder began at Landmark, a Boka Restaurant Group institution at which he started as prep cook before becoming sous chef. There, he worked closely with Landmark’s Chef Benjamin Browning. “He showed me that there is so much more to it than just the food you put on a plate every night,” he says. “He not only taught me how to cook, but how to maintain your sanity in this difficult and highly stressful business.” Van Lente also worked as chef de cuisine at Flatwater, followed by executive chef at Westend Bar and Grill, at which he worked for 2 memorable years before opening TWO.
On his days off he enjoys cooking for his wife, Shannon and playing with his two dogs, Piper and Mr. Bananas.


Scott Walton
Howells & Hood

Scott Walton serves as executive chef of Howells & Hood, implementing his naturally green thumb and farm-to-table ethos with great aplomb at the restaurant on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Freshness, local sourcing, and simplicity are paramount for the chef, who has established enduring relationships with nearby farmers to ensure Howells & Hood’s cuisine is as vibrant and wholesome as possible. “Simplicity can never be overstated,” he says. “Quality of ingredients combined with simple technique let the food speak for itself.”

Walton got into cooking at a young age. “Being the youngest sibling of four, I spent a lot of time with my mother in the kitchen,” he recalls. “I remember making cheesecakes for the parents of my friends on our baseball all-star team in between traveling for tournaments.” From cheesecakes to the big leagues, Walton’s career path started in Illinois, taking him from an executive sous chef role at Magnum’s Prime Steakhouse in Lombard to the Olympia Fields Country Club as chef de cuisine. His first executive chef foray came at Stoney Point Grill in Mokena in 2005, followed by tenures in Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, the Sheraton Chicago Hotel Towers, and most recently Markethouse where he was showcased on the cover of National Culinary Review in June 2012. Additionally, Walton stands as a leader in urban gardening as he oversaw the largest rooftop garden spanning 6500 square feet at Markethouse, which included 16 planter beds.

Walton joined the team at Bottleneck Management as executive chef of Howells & Hood in early 2013. He curates a menu of globally infused American cuisine, with local sourcing and seasonality as a guiding light. Among his proudest career moments are his victory at the Hamburger Hop 2013 and the accolades he and his team earned at Markethouse.

Outside of work, Walton is a member of the American Culinary Federation and Club Chefs of America. Walton resides in Streeterville with his wife, and their daughter Winnie Rose.