Meet the Chefs of The Mag Mile
This year, Chicago hosted the James Beard Awards, which awards culinary professionals top honors for excellence and achievement in their field. It's the Oscars of the food world, if you will; and it’s no secret that Chicago has an incredible food scene.
From swanky rooftops to soul-warming comfort food, you’re guaranteed to find a restaurant that fits your "food mood". We had the honor of sitting down with some of the humble and hardworking chefs on The Magnificent Mile, whose passion for the culinary arts shines in every bite, and proves no limit to their success. And after we had the chance to taste some of their favorite creations, we can see why Chicago is the place to be for unbeatable cuisine.
Allium | Executive Chef Michael Zachman
Upon visiting Allium (located in the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel) I had the privilege of sitting down with Executive Chef Michael Zachman. Although Chef Zachman has only been working at Allium for six weeks, he is a seasoned Four Seasons Chef and an extremely experienced cook. Chef Zachman has had a diverse culinary experience: he started his career at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale, and soon after that found his was across the pond as Chef de Partie at Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, UK. From there he worked at the Ritz Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico and the Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii. His worldly travels have allowed him to learn each country's cuisine, and so he brings techniques to the Allium kitchen that provide authentic flavors and creations. There is no doubt you’ll want to check out Chef Michael Zachman and his team at the Allium. Get ready for an upscale twist on your favorite comfort food!
Q: What is your favorite dish on the menu?
A: The menu is still in the works and we’ll be rolling something out in September. But we are going for a Contemporary American theme - like classic dishes, but taking them to the next step. For example, preparing the perfect cut of steak with hash browns. But not your ordinary hash browns. Rather than just mashing up the potatoes they would be sous vide (which means vacuum sealing your food prior to cooking and immersing it into hot water). Sous vide allows you to cook your vegetable or protein at the perfect temperature without them being over cooked. By really highlighting the product on the plate by not making it too simple or too complicated, you really get the perfect meal.
Q: How have you incorporated your worldly travels into your cooking?
A: When travelling to a new place I like to focus on the food, culture and geography. Really immersing yourself into your cooking environment helps you get a real understanding for what you’re trying to make. You try, taste, and try again until you get it right.
Q: Do you have a favorite place you’ve been?
A: Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui. I wasn’t working there - I was just on vacation - but it was by far my favorite.
Q: How has it been working at other Four Seasons compared to the one here in Chicago?
A: It’s hard to say, each one is so different and unique in their own way.
Beacon Tavern | Executive Pastry Chef Kevin McCormick
Named “a hidden gem” by the Chicago Tribune, Beacon Tavern is a gorgeous, casually-upscale restaurant with rustic vibes, tucked away behind the Plaza of Americas. The best part (besides the food) is that it’s just steps away from The Magnificent Mile and the Chicago Riverwalk. Not only does the restaurant have a wonderful dining and drink menu, but it also features a savory dessert menu created by Executive Pastry Chef Kevin McCormick. He showcases classic favorites like cheesecake and a strawberry sundae, as well as baked brie and liquid desserts. There's no limitation to what can satisfy your sweet tooth, and let’s face it... who doesn't love dessert?
Q: What made you want to become a pastry chef?
A: As a child, I spent a great deal of time involved in art projects, building things and cooking. Moving into pastry was a logical transition for me as it combines all of those elements. It gives me an outlet to be creative and make people happy every day.
Q: What’s your signature dessert?
A: My favorites would be the pastries we make for brunch which include different varieties of croissants and seasonal types of coffee cake or scones. I also really enjoy making our cheesecake dessert that is based on a family recipe. I make an updated version of it every year and continuing tweaking the recipe to share with my family.
Q: What are some unexpected ingredients that you’ve used in your desserts?
A: We have a pie for two on the menu right now that has roasted corn ice cream that pairs well with the blueberry. Blueberry and corn is an intriguing combination. I’m also a big fan of using green chartreuse in fruit desserts to bring out more of the floral notes. We never use it as a main ingredient it’s something to use as a seasoning and to accentuate the flavors of a dish.
Q: If I’m dining at Beacon Tavern, what’s the one dessert you would recommend?
A: A must-try when you come in is our seasonal tart. I change up the flavor based on the season and currently it’s a chocolate cherry tart. In the past we’ve done malted milk, hazelnut and lemon flavors that diners love. Every time you come in there is more than likely a new tart try.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs?
A: Be patient, take the time to learn as much as possible and see as many different facets of the industry you can. Don’t be afraid to work at a restaurant that offers a different cuisine than the one you previously worked at. This will allow you to learn different techniques and styles and become a more well-rounded chef.
Learn More About Beacon Tavern
NoMI | Executive Chef Eric Damidot
With gorgeous views of Michigan Avenue and the amazing French-inspired cuisine by Chef Eric Damidot, it’s not wonder NoMI is a hot-spot in Chicago. Not to mention, they grow their own herbs right on the rooftop terrace including dill, mint, scallions and more!
Simple ingredients, cooked to perfection and paired with an exquisite rose, manifique! Born and raised in France, Chef Damidot has always had a passion for cooking. He attended the Golf Hotel Culinary School in France at the age of 16 and went on to have apprenticeships with Gilbert Mallet and Jacques Chibois. When he came to America, Chef Damidot worked in The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach’s Grill Room and The Ritz Carlton San Francisco, until he found himself in Las Vegas as the Executive Banquet Chef at the Bellagio. Passionate about working in the Hyatt Family, in 2011 Chef Damidot became Executive Chef at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans and then joined the Park Hyatt Chicago team as Executive Chef of NoMI in January.
Q: What made you want to become a Chef?
A: Mainly my family. Growing up in France my parents were always passionate about sitting around the table with good food, good wine, and good company. My dad was a hunter and my mom was a chef so he brought in the food and she cooked it so I was always around it.
Q: Do you have a signature ingredient you like to work with most?
A: I wouldn’t say I have one ingredient I use more than others, but I am most particular about vegetables. They can easily be lost in a dish but if you cook them properly, they can be the highlight.
Q: How do you incorporate your French background into NoMI's menu?
A: The concept for the menu is French cuisine with Midwestern flavors. Using the right techniques and using local ingredients, we are able to keep the dishes simple but well-executed.
Q: What would you say is the proudest moment of your career?
A: Besides being Executive Chef at NoMI? One is when I see cooks and chefs who I have helped and mentored become successful. Another is when I have a customer come back and order a dish even if it might not be on the menu anymore. They don't come back for me but they come back because they enjoyed that dish so much.
We had the privilege to chat with Chef Damidot on the rooftop patio to try some of his favorite dishes including:
- Dijon Mustard Deviled Eggs: Yes, these deviled eggs are as good as they look! Shaved truffle, mushroom julienne, and micro cress make for the perfect bite on the NoMI Garden.
- Smashed Cucumber Salad: Cucumbers topped with butter beans, yellow frisee, and shallot dijon vinaigrette. It's official: cucumbers taste way better smashed!
- Skuna Bay Salmon: As a seafood lover, the perfectly cooked salmon, smoked spring onion, fresh polenta, and BBQ pork broth made this dish irresistible!
Siena Tavern | Executive Chef Fabio Viviani
Siena Tavern is a gorgeous rustic Italian restaurant with a modern industrial twist. With a notable wine collection, hand-crafted cocktails, and the expertise of Executive Chef Fabio Viviani, Siena Tavern is a must stop on your restaurant bucket list.
Growing up in Florence, Italy, Chef Viviani has had a passion for food since he was a kid. He is widely known for competing in the fifth season of Top Chef: New York, where he earned the title of "Fan Favorite." in 2013, he teamed up with DineAmic Group owners and opened Siena Tavern. I had the pleasure of stopping in and tasting some Chef Viviani’s incredible creations for myself, and the results were amazing.
Q: What made you want to become a Chef?
A: I always loved to cook, even as a kid cooking with my grandmother. My first job was working the overnight shift in a local bakery when I was 11 years old back in Florence.
Q: Do you have a signature ingredient you love to work with?
A: I have a signature ingredient I DON'T love to work with... cilantro!! I absolutely hate it. Otherwise, if I need something, my go-to to top off my pasta dishes is grana padano. BOOM! Herb-wise, I choose basil. The runner up is parsley. Hear me out…chopped up basil and parsley both taste great on fish, on pasta, in a salad. But only basil makes a great pesto.
Q: What is your favorite dish on the menu?
A: I would have to say, well... I love them all, but I can't pass up a plate of fresh made pasta from scratch! And if I'm feeling like I should eat healthy that day, the Brick Chicken is amazing!!
Q: How did growing up in Italy influence the way you cook?
A: A LOT of my recipes in my cookbooks and restaurants are dishes I learned to cook from my grandmother and mother back in Italy. I was always in the kitchen with them — Probably so they could keep an eye on me and keep me out of trouble! haha!!
Q: What inspired your move to the US and what stood out about the culinary scene in Chicago?
A: I just wanted a change. I was very successful in Italy, and it took me a very long time to get there. Once I sold my business, I couldn't picture myself working for anybody. I literally had to move nations to find the motivation to start over again. I love the culinary scene in Chicago. It's competitive and exciting and new restaurants are opening and closing every day, but it is also a very big foodie town so we have to stay at the top of our game!
Here are a few of their must-try dishes:
- Watermelon Salad: A wonderful seasonal salad, with countless flavors blending together for a flawless bite. The honeycomb brings a sweet twist to the spiced yogurt and mint vinaigrette.
- Wagyu Beef Meatball: Nicknamed "The Magnificent Meatball," covered in roasted tomato sauce, bellwether ricotta, and shaved basil. Let me tell you, it lives up to its name!
- Gnocchi: By far one of our favorites we tried. Gnocchi covered in truffle cream, fried sage, and crispy pancetta. Every bite melts in your mouth!
Learn More About Siena Tavern
Z Bar | Executive Chef Toni Robertson
The Peninsula Chicago's brand new Z Bar recently celebrated their grand opening this summer. A lounge inspired by the world’s cultural and culinary riches, it boasts a cool, casual, and soulful vibe set above The Magnificent Mile. Executive Chef Toni Robertson is The Peninsulas Hotels’ first female executive chef overseeing Z Bar’s cuisine, inspired from flavors of Asia, Europe, and America.
Before becoming Executive Chef at The Peninsula, Chef Robertson served as an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force in locations across Europe. She was awarded three times for outstanding performance, including the Meritorious Service Medal. During her time serving, Chef Toni fell in love with the dream of being a chef on her travels. After leaving the military, she enrolled at the Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. Her career has taken her around the world, and she has embraced different culinary cultures that helped create Z Bar's globally inspired cuisine.
Q: What made you want to become a chef?
A: I've always wanted to be a chef. I love food and I love to cook. When I was in the military in Germany, every chance I got I wanted to try the food, and every restaurant I went to I just knew this was something I wanted to do. Cooking doesn't feel like a job; it's my hobby.
Q: Do you have a signature ingredient you like to work with?
A: I don't have one ingredient I work with all the time, but I work a lot with seasonality. For example, tomato season is coming up and there are going to be really great tomatoes on the market. I like to use what's in season because it's fresh. Spring and summer are my favorites.
Q: How does it feel to be the first woman chef at The Peninsula?
A: To me it is no big deal. I am a chef and I am a woman.
Q: What's your biggest inspiration?
A: I love to travel. I'll go to different places just to eat. But inspiration comes from a lot of things, like flowers, magazines, the farmers market. When we create the menu, my chefs and I will sit down and talk about things that help spark ideas. And when we take them to the kitchen they might not always turn out the way we envisioned, but we keep trying until it turns out the way we'd like.
Q: What's your favorite dish on the menu?
A: The Daikon Frites, which is an Asian style fry.
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