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Chef 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.


Visit the Goddess and Grocer website.

Chef Jimmy Bannos
Heaven on Seven

Jimmy Bannos, a third-generation restaurateur, 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 for 29 years. 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. 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.

Visit the Heaven on Seven website.


Chef David Blonsky
Siena Tavern

Blonsky began studying at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in New York at the young age of 17. As one of the youngest students enrolled at the time, he was forced to overcome many obstacles and persevere, despite the age discrimination he faced. At the CIA, his epicurean knowledge and skills grew beyond the basics of Trio’s kitchen to all things culinary. In 1998, Blonsky took an internship at Chicago’s Spago restaurant under Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo, during which he learned the art of global cuisine. From formal French to Chinese street food, and beyond, his cooking and techniques were diversified and elevated working at the prestigious establishment.

After returning to New York and graduating, Blonsky was ready to continue his education and did so by graduating from Florida International University with a B.A. in Hotel and Restaurant Management. During that time, he took a position with the premier catering and production company, Barton G Catering. There, he honed his production skills in catering large events for clients such as Madonna, Patrick Riley, NFL, PGA and the City of Miami, among others.

Blonsky donned his first professional toque at the renowned TRU restaurant, working under Chef Rick Tramanto and Chef Gale Gand. He began working the amuse bouche station creating an array of different dishes with which guests would begin their meal. After proving to be very proficient at this station, he was given the opportunity to slowly work through other stations within the restaurant. The experience at TRU continued to fuel his passion, and Blonsky knew he wanted to continue within the culinary world and experiment with different styles of cuisine.

Two years later opportunity knocked once again, first, as a consultant for several months with the Levy Restaurant Group, and then with childhood pal and fellow CIA grad, Jordan Spritz. At Jordan’s Food of Distinction, Spritz and Blonsky took on the catering world by planning and catering intimate events. The company became a new and innovative addition to the Chicago catering scene; however, despite a very successful year, Blonsky wanted to return to a professional kitchen.

He was given an opportunity at Quartino Restaurant, under celebrated Chef John Colleta, working with regional Italian cuisine. Chef Colleta taught him the simplicity of Italian food in a high-paced restaurant serving lunch and dinner seven nights a week, further growing Blonsky’s culinary arsenal of knowledge. While at Quartino, Blonsky met David Rekhson, Principal of Twilight Traffic Control, who eagerly convinced him to join the DINE|AMIC GROUP team and learn the process of opening new restaurants from scratch.

Four years later, Blonsky and the DINE|AMIC GROUP successfully opened Bull & Bear in January of 2009; Public House in January 2011; and most recently, Siena Tavern in February 2013, which he oversees. The hospitality company is distinctly different from the proto-typical hospitality establishment. DineAmic’s restaurants, bars and related ventures raise industry standards with cutting edge concepts and mold breaking designs, while also pioneering and shaping the future of the industry.

Keeping with the mold, Blonsky himself is transforming classic American pub fare by utilizing locally farmed ingredients and working closely with local purveyors. Blonsky continues to challenge himself and his staff to create unique and flavorful dishes, while maintaining a sense of comfort in his cooking style.

Visit the Siena Tavern website.

Chef Amanda Downing
Rockit Bar & Grill

Born and raised in Elgin, IL, a Northwest suburb of Chicago, Chef Amanda Downing developed a passion for "family style comfort food" at a young age.  The oldest of six children, she spent her leisure time in the kitchen with her siblings and eventually transformed her love of cuisine – and afterschool hobby – into an exciting career. 
After earning her Culinary Management degree from Elgin Community College and working her way up to executive sous chef at Michael Jordan’s acclaimed one sixtyblue restaurant, Chef Downing took River North’s Rockit Bar & Grill by storm as opening sous chef in 2004, with the restaurant earning numerous accolades – including Best Burger call outs from Good Morning America and Citysearch – with her as a mainstay in the kitchen.  Her passion, creativity and leadership did not go unrecognized; when Rockit expanded in 2009 to a second location in Wrigleyville, Chef Downing was named the executive chef and operating partner of both locations. 
When Rockit Wrigleyville underwent a transformation into Rockit Burger Bar, opening April, 2012, Chef Downing's ability to create familiar favorites with a gourmet twist became an instrumental and invaluable tool in the brand's evolution.

Chef Downing has also built a tremendous following on Twitter and Facebook founded on her sharing and love for food, and she is extremely active with several charitable causes, including Bear Necessities, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network, Common Threads, Gilda's Club, In Chefs Hands, Meals on Wheels and more.

Visit the Rockit Bar & Grill website.

Chef Katherine Duncan
Katherine Anne Confections

Katherine has been making confections for over 10 years, and started designing recipes to launch Katherine Anne Confections in the fall of 2006. Over 60 “trial runs” later, she debuted with six amazing types of truffles and three exquisite varieties of caramels.

Every week during the summer, she creates a limited edition truffle or caramel for farmer’s markets. Katherine continues to work out of a rental kitchen in Logan Square with a small staff, creating the finest confections for customers to enjoy nationwide.

Visit the Katherine Anne Confections website.

Chef Phillip Foss
EL Ideas

Chef/Owner Phillip Foss turns preconceived notions of elite dining upside down with his groundbreaking EL Ideas concept. Hidden in an alleyway near Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, the 24 seat dining room opens to the kitchen and guests are encouraged to visit and mingle with the chefs.  The relaxed atmosphere is a juxtaposition to the precision and attention given to each course–classical cooking techniques combined with innovative ideas and modern gastronomy.  Since opening in the summer of 2011, El ideas was awarded 3 stars (excellent) by the Chicago Tribune, won "Best New Restaurant" by Chicago Magazine, and named Chicago Reader’s “Favorite Restaurant of 2011.”

After graduating the Culinary Institute of America in 1991, Foss cut his teeth in New York City 4 star restaurants like Lafayette in the Drake Swiss Hotel, The Quilted Giraffe, and most notably, Le Cirque Restaurant. The only culinary holdover in the move from the original Le Cirque to the second incarnation, Chef Foss had the honor of being able to cook for several presidents, countless dignitaries and celebrities, and Pope John Paul II.

Upon departing Le Cirque, Foss began what could best be described as a nomadic existence. His first stop was in Vence, France where he fulfilled his dream of staging in a European kitchen, and did so under the wings of Michelin two star chef, Jacques Maximin. Up next was a two year stay in Chicago as the chef of Bistrot Margot. From there, Foss spent the better part of a year in Brazil, and two years on the island of Maui at the Four Seasons, Wailea. From here, Foss jumped the globe and spent the next two years in Israel as chef of the fine dining La Regence in the King David Hotel. A quick stop at the 5 diamond Newport Room in Bermuda brought Chef Foss  a step back to Chicago, where he landed at the yet to open Lockwood Restaurant in The Palmer House. Since parting ways with the corporate structure, Foss has gone on instigate and  pioneer the burgeoning Chicago food truck scene and open EL Ideas.

Visit the EL Ideas website.

Chef Troy Graves
Red Door

Known for mature, composed and imaginative dishes, Chef Troy Graves most notably made his mark on Chicago’s food scene with the launch of Tallulah in 2008 in Lincoln Square. Receiving rave reviews from guests, food writers, and industry tastemakers, Tallulah was awarded 3 stars from Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune. But it was his humble beginnings, not in the kitchen, but serving proudly and dutifully in the Gulf War, which shaped his philosophy for success.

A son of the American Midwest (read: somewhere in Iowa) Chef Graves learned the importance of doing a job with efficiency, exactness and most notably pride. After the Gulf, Graves earned a different set of stripes cooking under the tutelage of Kent Buell at his restaurants in New Buffalo and Kalamazoo. Kent’s was a special place and Chef Buell had a special way with food, “simple food,” he would aver, as guests would shower him with compliments. Chef Graves was listening intently and has continued to astound his diners with this refined, simple, yet powerful contemporary cuisine.

Troy has worked in Chicago restaurants for the better part of the last fifteen years, serving as Executive Chef at Meritage Café and Wine Bar, as well as several outcroppings including Echo and Fixture. Troy was also at the helm of a project in Chicago’s Gold Coast called Eve. Eve received critical praise for Graves’ ability to constantly reinvigorate simple and recognizable preparations of classic global food.

Most recently, Graves announced his return to former Meritage space in Bucktown with the launch of his newest venture, Red Door. Opening doors in May 2012, this hip, new 1,100 sq. ft. eatery and bar boasts a gorgeous 2,500 sq. ft. garden patio, one of the city’s most expansive outdoor spaces. Along with partners Christopher Peckat and Fei Tang, Graves introduces a globally inspired culinary curriculum and a diverse craft beer and cocktail program to match.

Visit the Red Door website.


Chef Rick Gresh
Burke’s Bacon Bar
David Burke’s Primehouse

Growing Up in the Cleveland area, Rick earned his Associate Degree in Culinary Arts at the nationally renowned Culinary Institute of America.  While in school, he landed an impressive externship at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and after graduation scored a spot on the line at Trio in Evanston.  He then moved on to the Celebrity Café at the Hotel Nikko in Chicago before becoming consulting chef de cuisine at Tsunami, a contemporary Japanese restaurant in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

At just 23, Rick accepted the Executive Chef position at Chicago’s hip jazz club, Green Dolphin Street.  The restaurant thrived under his leadership and won a three-star review from the Chicago Tribune.  Pat Bruno of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “This is serious food.”  His next move was to The Wyndham Hotel Chicago and the award winning Caliterra Restaurant, where he proved himself once again and was quickly promoted to Regional Corporate Chef.  In 2006, Rick became the Executive Chef at the prestigious private Saddle & Cycle Club, where he oversaw culinary operations.  In 2007, he became the Executive Chef of David Burke’s Primehouse at The James Chicago, one of Chicago’s most award-winning steakhouses.  Summer 2013 brought the addition of Burke’s Bacon Bar to The James Chicago, where Rick worked with Chef David Burke and creating the menu and concept for the sandwich shop.

In 2001, Rick was invited to host his first dinner at the James Beard House and was named a “Rising Star of American Cuisine.”  In 2004 and 2006, he was a USA competition finalist in the world’s premier culinary competition, the Bocuse D’Or.

Over the last two years Rick has earned AOL best fine dining restaurant in Chicago, Chicago Reader “Best Steakhouse,” Chicago Magazine “Best Dry Aged Steak & Best Bread,” and “Top 10 Steakhouses in America” from Gayot.  Most recently, he has been named one of five “Men to Watch” by Chicago Magazine and Plate Magazine’s “Chef Humanitarian of the Year 2011.”

Visit the Burke’s Bacon Bar website.

Visit the David Burke’s Primehouse website.


Chef Trevor Hoyte

Trevor Hoyte, Executive Chef of IPO, has created an eclectic menu of New Urban Cuisine inspired by the diverse cultures found in Chicago. Chef Hoyte’s menu at IPO features his signature "shared dishes".

IPO, an abbreviation for Initial Public Offering tips its hat to the Loop, Chicago's financial district as well as to Chef Hoyte's initial offering of New Urban Cuisine. "My unique interpretation of Contemporary American flavors inspired me to create New Urban Cuisine. My vision is to redefine and create a new food culture in the Loop to bring intrigue and curiosity to the area," said Hoyte.

Hoyte's culinary professional positions placed him in some of Chicago's most highly regarded kitchens including Tru, Green Dolphin, Caliterra and Vintage Wine Bar.

Hoyte is a graduate of New York Food and Hotel Management School with a Certificate in Culinary Arts. Chef Hoyte has parlayed his love of contemporary American Cuisine in this beautiful new restaurant.

Visit the IPO website.

Chef Boris Kirzhner
Saloon Steakhouse

Chef Boris Kirzhner has been with the Saloon Steakhouse since the summer of 2008. He trained at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC), graduating with degrees in both Culinary Arts and Baking. Chef Kirzhner is comfortable with many different styles of cuisine and enjoys fusing those styles in different and exciting ways. He has worked at numerous hot spots in and around Chicago since 2002 and has served in the brigade of some of Chicago’s most renowned chefs.

Tucked away on East Chestnut Street, just steps from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, The Saloon Steakhouse has been pleasing guests with its quality steaks and seafood since 1991.

The Saloon is known by locals, tourists, and visiting celebrities as the place to dine for steak, in its casual, yet stylish atmosphere. The Saloon introduced Chicago diners to the bone-in filet mignon and was the first steakhouse in Chicago to offer Wagyu beef, a flavorful, low in cholesterol type of beef, originally bred in the Kobe region of Japan.

Of course there are many other choices such as the creative daily specials, fresh fish, and seafood that round out the menu that Zagat designated as an Outstanding Performer, “This Streeterville spot is a great steakhouse... enhanced by excellent sides and service; like prime beef, it has aged well.” Chicago Magazine selected

The Saloon Steakhouse as having the best “Chicago-Cut” bone-in filet in the city.

Visit the Saloon Steakhouse website.


Chef Michael Kornick
mk The Restaurant
DMK Restaurants

Chef Michael Kornick, founder and owner of mk, is a nationally recognized leader in the culinary arts. Kornick works with the freshest seasonal ingredients and stays true to classical cooking techniques. It is his belief that ingredients should speak for themselves. 

Michael Kornick graduated in 1982 from the Culinary Institute of America and went on to work with some of the most influential chefs and restaurant operators in the United States. These include Barry Wine at New York’s legendary, The Quilted Giraffe; Gordon Sinclair, of Gordon Restaurant and with Richard Melman at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises on various themed restaurants. Chef Kornick at the age of 28, was one of the youngest Executive Chefs hired by the Four Seasons Hotel Company in 1991.

Kornick was then sought out to develop two successful restaurants Red Light and Marché, for KDK Restaurant Group in Chicago. Both restaurants received critical national acclaim and Red Light was included in John Mariani’s annual survey, “Best New Restaurants of the Year,” in Esquire Magazine. 

In 1998 Kornick, together with his wife Lisa, opened mk, the restaurant. Since opening, the restaurant has been acclaimed by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, and Chicago magazine, all recognizing mk with a three-star review.  Condé Nast Traveler selected mk as one of the “Hottest Restaurants in the World,” and Esquire chose mk as one of the “Top Restaurants to Open in 1999.” Kornick was nominated five consecutive years as Best Chef, Midwest by the James Beard Foundation.

mk continues to thrive with a new décor and new menus celebrating its 15th anniversary in November, mk continues its reputation for great food, beverage and service in a contemporary and timeless setting.

In November of 2009 Kornick launched DMK Burger Bar in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. DMK serves grass fed beef burgers along with hand cut fries and craft beers. DMK has received national critical acclaim for not only its fine food, but great service and hospitality. In March of 2011 Kornick launched Fish Bar, a thirty-seat counter service restaurant featuring sustainable fresh seafood with Belgian Ales and citrus-based cocktails.  In March of 2012, DMK Restaurants opened Ada Street, which features farm to table cooking, craft cocktails, a cost plus wine list and music played at the bar on vinyl. In July 2013 County Barbeque, a forty seat American Heritage barbeque restaurant opened on Taylor St. in Chicago.
Although known primarily for his accomplishments as a chef, Michael Kornick has developed into one of the country’s leading restaurateurs. He is highly sought after as an authority on restaurant management and hospitality and is known as a generous mentor to those who have worked under him past and present. As consulting chef partner for the 9 Group Kornick opened sixteen restaurants and nightlife venues between 2000 and 2007. He continues as a consultant to the Palms casino Resort/9G in Las Vegas, a position he has held since 2001.

In addition to his professional responsibilities, Michael is very active in the community.  He has raised awareness and money annually for Share our Strength, the Chicago Food Depository, Healthy Schools Campaign, Steppenwolf Theater, Perspectives Charter School, Sweet Water Foundation, Children’s Oncology services Inc., and many other worthy organizations. Chef Kornick lives in Evanston, Illinois with his wife and business partner Lisa and their children.

Visit the mk The Restaurant website.

Visit the DMK Restaurants website.

Chef Charlie McKenna
Lillie’s Q

Chef and restaurant owner Charlie McKenna has brought award-winning competition BBQ and elevated Southern favorites to Chicago since opening Lillie’s Q in Bucktown in July 2010. McKenna and Lillie’s Q have garnered critical praise and awards from local and national media – including being named “Best New BBQ Restaurant in the Country” by Food & Wine magazine in 2011.

McKenna, a former sous chef at two of Chicago’s four-star fine-dining landmarks in Tru and Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, also opened a second Lillie’s Q location inside the Chicago French Market in January 2013. McKenna also co-owns and co-opened a Lillie’s Q outpost in Destin, Florida, with his parents in July 2008. McKenna also rolled out a food truck, the Lillie’s Q Meat Mobile, in the summer of 2010 in Chicago. McKenna also opened a Lillie’s Q outpost in the Chicago French Market in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago in February 2013.
Opening Lillie’s Q in Chicago allowed McKenna to return to his BBQ roots, and he’s slow smoking pork shoulder, tri tip, baby back ribs, hot links, and chicken in custom-built smokers over peach wood and lump charcoal that go perfectly with his award-winning homemade rubs and sauces. Lillie’s Q is named after McKenna’s maternal grandmother who taught him how to cook Southern fare in Greenville, South Carolina, as a child – and the elevated Southern favorites on the Lillie’s Q menu are inspired by grandma Lillie.

The Lillie’s Q traveling BBQ team (McKenna, his father, and two friends) has won numerous awards on the competition BBQ circuit including wins at Memphis In May -- which is widely regarded as the world championships of BBQ. Lillie’s Q took first place in the Memphis in May pork shoulder category in 2007, placed in the Top Ten five years in a row from 2006 through 2010, and finished 12th in 2011.

Previously McKenna took over the role of opening general manager of Lucky Strike in Chicago specifically to learn about the financial and front-of-the-house aspects of the business from 2005-2008, and he also helped open four other Lucky Strikes around the country.

McKenna graduated from Culinary Institute of America in New York in 2000, and cooked at Norman’s in Coral Gables, FL, under legendary chef Norman Van Aken. McKenna is also a Florida State University graduate. The son of an Air Force colonel, McKenna was born in Santa Maria, California, and spent most of his childhood in Greenville, South Carolina.

Visit the Lillie's Q website.

Chef James O’Donnell
Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse

An experienced chef who has honed his craft on the job at restaurants throughout the country for the last 20 years, James O’Donnell brings a culinary passion and attention to detail to his role as executive chef at the new Michael Jordan’s Steak House in Chicago.

O’Donnell’s first job as a teenager was in the kitchen of a local steak house, where he learned the ins and outs of the trade. Within 6 months, he began doing prep work and soon after became a line cook.

Realizing his passion for cooking, O’Donnell moved to the emerging restaurant mecca of Las Vegas and managed kitchens at Caesars Palace and New York New York. In 1997, O’Donnell was scouted by House of Blues Los Angeles and became the venue’s executive chef, working there for the next 3 years, followed by a stint at China Grill’s rumjungle in Las Vegas.

In 2001, he met Cornerstone Restaurant Group CEO David Zadikoff, who hired him as executive chef of Michael Jordan’s Steak House at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. “I love working with James,” Zadikoff says. “He is an intelligent, passionate chef who brings creativity and personality to his menus.” O’Donnell continued working as the group’s director of culinary operations from 2003-05. In 2006, he pursued the opportunity to become partner and executive chef at The Capital Grille in Jacksonville, Florida.

After 5 years, O’Donnell is once again working with Cornerstone—this time as the executive chef at Michael Jordan’s Steak House at the Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile. “Our menu honors the traditions of a true steak house, while going a bit outside-the-box.” he explains. “Instead of serving steaks à la carte, we plan to have fun and complement them with seasonal ingredients and interesting sides.”

Visit the Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse website.

Chef Ryan Pitts
RL Restaurant

Executive Chef Ryan Pitts, RL Restaurant, believes the secret to great food is the combination of great ingredients, sound technique and an unwavering dedication to customer service and satisfaction. He brings this honest, straightforward approach into the kitchen to refine classic American cuisine and renew the respect that diners have for these traditional dishes.

His philosophy is a result of his nearly two decades spent in the culinary industry. After graduating from the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, he worked under Chef Bruce Sherman at the acclaimed North Pond Café, where he learned the importance of selecting local, seasonal ingredients. At Bistro Zinc, he developed an appreciation for the comfort of the bistro-style dining experience, where the food was simple and the atmosphere welcoming. In 2002, Chef Pitts began working at RL Restaurant.

Today, RL is nationally regarded for its simple, classic dishes and the overall experience it creates for its diners. Forbes magazine has recognized RL as one of the “Top 10 Restaurants Across the Country for a Power Lunch”.

Located adjacent to the flagship Ralph Lauren store on Michigan Avenue, RL Restaurant is iconic designer Ralph Lauren’s debut into the restaurant industry. The restaurant features the vision and décor of Ralph Lauren and offers modern city-club cuisine inspired by American classics.

Visit the RL Restaurant website.

Chef Ryan Poli

With national awards and accolades, international training and a charismatic personality –Chef/Partner Ryan Poli is one to watch. The Chicago native has been at the forefront of the Chicago culinary scene since opening Butter in 2005, which was voted one of the country’s “Best New Restaurants” by Esquire magazine.

Trained in classic French and American cuisine, Chef Poli refined his techniques by working at esteemed restaurants like Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Jean Banchet’s Le Francais. He also trained with Sergi Arola’s La Broche, El Celler de Can Roca and Martin Berasategui in Spain, where he first fell in love with the country and its cuisine, both traditional and modern.

In 2008, Chef Poli opened Perennial with the BOKA Restaurant Group, receiving numerous awards including a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide; “Best New Restaurant” from Travel +Leisure and Chicago magazines; “Best Dish of 2009” from Food & Wine. He was also honored with the Rising Star Chef “Community Chef Award” from StarChefs.com, and was nominated for Food & Wine Magazine’s the “Peoples Choice Award for Best New Chef”.

Tavernita is the first of his restaurants in collaboration with Mercadito Hospitality, and unites his love of Spanish flavors and products with his personal culinary style. Since its January 2012 opening, the restaurant – and its adjoining “stand and eat” pintxo bar, Barcito – has been named one of Chicago magazine’s top three “Best New Restaurants” and earned rave reviews from dining critics at the Chicago Tribune, CS and Time Out Chicago. Restaurant Hospitality featured Chef Poli on the cover of the April 2012 issue for his inspired interpretation of Spanish cooking, while Food & Wine praised the restaurant’s innovative, kegged cocktail program.

Poli’s newest venture, Little Market Brasserie, which recently opened in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood in December 2012, is also an extension of his growing role with the Mercadito Hospitality. In late 2012, he was named a partner of the group and now oversees the culinary direction of all future projects as Chef/Partner. Poli traveled with partner Alfredo Sandoval to 12 cities, including New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Montreal, to cull inspiration for the new restaurant’s menu. Little Market diners enjoys American brasserie fare inspired by these travels.

When not in the kitchen, Ryan is highly involved in charitable efforts, particularly those that advocate for the hungry and provide nutrition education, support and guidance for our youth.

Visit the Tavernita website.


Chef Kristin Subido
Pecking Order

Kristine Subido helmed the stoves at the Chicago W Lakeshore’s WAVE restaurant for a decade before flying the coop to open Pecking Order.

Through her work at WAVE, Kristine developed a reputation for big, punchy flavor and playful restaurant programming such as the innovative Remedy Brunch and “The Streets at WAVE,” an indoor street cart that boasted a monthly rotation of global street foods.

Kristine opened Pecking Order as an homage to the generations of women and men in her family who passed down their passion for cooking to her. The signature chicken marinade at Pecking Order is a family recipe that she grew up eating and craves endlessly. When the time was right to put her signature chicken in the spotlight, she opened the doors of Pecking Order with her mother, Melinda – making it a family affair all the way.

Visit the Pecking Order website.

Chef Eddie Sweeney
Catch 35

A Southside native of Chicago, Eddie Sweeney began his culinary training at the Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago in 2000.  He developed his skills at a Southside seafood restaurant, where he began by shucking oysters and clams.  He saw a chance to assert himself in the kitchen when he offered to hand make all of the pastries and desserts, which they were previously outsourcing. 

An opportunity came knocking in 2003 to work for Catch 35, and help open a new one in Naperville.  Seafood being a staple of his childhood and having a desire to increase his abilities, he made a change.  He expanded his palate and culinary skills as the Pastry chef, then Sous Chef, and eventually Executive Chef at Catch 35 in Naperville.
Over the past 10 years of hard work and determination, Chef Sweeney became the Corporate Chef for Taste America Restaurants.  He now oversees the Catch 35 Chicago and Naperville locations, Lloyds Chicago, and The North & Clark Café at the Chicago History Museum.  He has cooked at a variety of community events in Naperville and Chicago, appeared on radio and TV for cooking advice and demonstrations, and traveled to both the East and West coasts to learn about the seafood that he so passionately cooks for guests.   For the past ten years, Chef Eddie has not only achieved a rewarding professional career but also a very supportive family, his wife Beth and their two boys Olliver and Elliot.  This family of four also includes many pets, Bruno and Oscar who are pugs, and Dorothy, the goldfish.

Although, Chef Eddie has accomplished much in the past 10 years, his hopes and dreams include developing more restaurants and having another child.  He believes you should enjoy each moment for what it is and definitely wants his guests to enjoy each bite of the seafood they eat at the Catch 35 restaurants.

Visit the Catch 35 website.

Chef Mark Sparacino

Catering to guests in both a literal and figurative sense for over twenty years, Mark Sparacino has a wealth of experience in the food and beverage business locally, nationally and internationally.  This 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.

Mark’s deep passion for the hospitality industry started at a bustling home filled with the love of two parents from different parts of the world, both vying to impress upon their son the importance of opening up their home to visitors both from around the neighborhood and the world.  It was a lesson that shaped his hospitality philosophy moving foward.  With Mark’s father Steve’s large, boisterous Sicilian clan, he learned to create mouth-watering bracciulittini arrustuti (veal cutlets stuffed into succulent fresh fish preperation.  He learned from an early age that the world was full of wonderful things to eat and cook!

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 1980’s.  Here he delved into the world of rich sauces, complex plating and elegant presentation.  One of the lessons learned working with one of the country’s most successful corporations was the importance of food cost and working within the margins.

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.  At its original location, Topo Gigio was one of the first trattorias in early 1990’s Chicago.  As such, it catered to an eclectic mix of the city’s movers and shakers, from visiting and local celebrities to politicians, business moguls and the Ladies Who Lunch.  Mark’s magnanimous personality was a perfect mix with the lusty Roman cuisine, helping to create a Fellini-esque astmosphere that has kept Topo Gigio among the City’s dining treasures.

During the winter months of his five years at Topo Gigio, Mark decided to combine his two passions – fine dining and travel – with several seasons in Aspen, the United States, Virgin Islands, and British West Indies.  In the USVI, he worked with the renowned Chef Patrick Pinion at the four star Grand Palazzo Resort Hotel.  As Captain on the floor of this 100 seat Mediterranean restaurant, visited by well-to-do European travelers, Mark polished his hospitality skills and developed his flair for anticipating the needs of highly sophisticated Guests.

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 1200.  During the dozen years that Traveling Fare has been wowing its Clients, Mark has added new types of food to his repertoire, from French classics to sultry Carribean cuisine.  Along the way, he has learned the basics of Kosher catering, the importance of working within a budget, regardless of its size and that at the end of the day, the Guest is always right.

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.”  Other publications have lauded his efforts there as well, including Metromix.com and Chicago’s Italian community stalwart, Fra Noi.

Mark’s years of hands on food preparation is augmented by years of class work locally as well as at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley.  At CIA, Mark has taken coursework in soups, stocks and sauces, charcuterie, desserts and chocolates and catering.  He has studied wine from around the world one vineyard at a time, as well as in courses at the Chicago Wine School.

For the Prosecco project, Mark is tailoring a menu of regional Italian favorites.  Whether the daily menu offers simple, earthy fare like crostini con rucola e carpaccio de carne con formaggio gorganzola ( thin-shaved rare beef with gorgonzola cheese) or more complex items such as risotto zafferano con funghi di bosco, asparagi e taleggio (saffron rice with wild mushrooms, asparagus and taleggio cheese) or quaglia con salsa balsamico (roasted quail with balsamic reduction) or orrecchiette con tartufi neri, carciofi e pomodori secchi (orrecchiette pasta with black truffle, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes), each dish will be carefully created to allow the inner flavor of the frest ingredients to emerge with every bite.

Mark Sparacino has spent his life traveling the world, visiting ports of call as far flung as Rio de Janiero, Monte Carlo and Capetown. In each new locale he has looked for unique ingredients to incorporate into his dishes, each plate a mini-masterpiece filled with flavor, heart and soul.  And this culinary journey is far from over. His deep passion for cooking, entertaining people and his first-hand knowledge of how to run successful hospitality businesses will be the guiding light to the food side of the Prosecco operation.

Visit the Prosecco website.

Chef Randy Zweiban

Executive Chef/Owner Randy Zweiban, who first brought Nuevo Latino cooking to Chicago with Nacional 27, has crafted a dynamic menu that is grounded in American cuisine and influenced by Central and South American and Spanish dishes.

Born in Queens, New York, Zweiban learned the restaurant world from a customer's perspective. Working as a diamond-setter, pursuing a dream of being a drummer in a rock band, Zweiban explored New York's tremendous restaurant scene with the passion
and curiosity of a true gourmand. As he tasted through the cuisines of the world, available as only in Manhattan, he soon realized his passion was in the culinary field.

Zweiban enrolled in Peter Kump's New York Cooking School (now called The Institute of Culinary Education) in the mid-1980s. He is one of 77 inductees, to its Alumni Hall of Achievement, in its 36 year history. After graduating, he opened a boutique catering business in Manhattan, creating food for exclusive gallery openings, private parties and other prominent events.

In 1989, Zweiban headed south to Miami, where he could open a catering company with a similar clientele in a warmer clime. He then went to work with celebrated chef Norman Van Aken, first at a mano and then at Norman's, where he was Chef de Cuisine and partner. Over the seven and a half-year period that the two collaborated, Zweiban immersed himself in the vibrant culture and cooking of Miami's Latino community, while continuing to work with Van Aken's New World Cuisine. He also, during this period, took a one-year hiatus from Miami to work as Executive Chef at The Gate, a popular Los Angeles supper club.

In the summer of 1998, Richard Melman and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. (LEYE) brought Zweiban to Chicago to unveil the city's first Nuevo Latino concept. At the helm of Nacional 27, Zweiban received numerous accolades, including being named "One of the Best New Restaurants" by Chicago magazine which Chicago magazine also recognized Province for. Province was given a three out of four star review by the Chicago Tribune.

In March 2011, Province opened its second location in the Downtown Phoenix Westin Hotel in Arizona. With a similar menu, this restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year.

Zweiban has been featured in Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Newsweek, Food Arts, USA Today, Metropolitan Home and Esquire, among other publications.

Visit the Province website.