Jun 11, 2023 - Food and Drink

Meet the new rock stars redefining Chicago's food scene

Photo of two people in velvet tuxedos pose on a red carpet.

Tim Flores and Genie Kwon from Chicago's Kasama on the red carpet at the James Beard Foundation awards last Monday. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Chicago has always been a food town, but it's now a foodie town.

Why it matters: Chicago's restaurant scene has become world-renowned for its celebrity chef culture, attracting tourism. Ever since Charlie Trotter's famous North Side restaurant opened, the city's elite restaurants have become appointment dining.

  • Based on a 2021 Choose Chicago satisfaction survey, tourists rated the quality of dining options as the best feature of their stay.

Context: The city boasts some of the world's best chefs, including Alinea's Grant Achatz, Frontera Grill's Rick Bayless, and Girl & the Goat's Stephanie Izard.

Yes, but: In recent years, the spotlight has shifted away from the bigger names and onto the next generation of chefs and restaurateurs.

  • Less than a week ago, the James Beard Foundation honored Damarr Brown, chef de cuisine at Virtue in Hyde Park, with the Emerging Chef award. Last year, the Beards named Virtue's executive chef Erick Williams Best Chef of the Great Lakes region.
  • And Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, the owners and chefs behind Kasama in Ukrainian Village, were awarded that same Best Chef title this year.

Between the lines: It's great for Chicago neighborhoods that these two restaurants have been honored with the nation's biggest awards in the business. Most tourists stay downtown, but the hope is these chefs' achievements will bring people to different parts of the city.

  • "It's great to be representing Hyde Park, and hopefully it gets people to come down and enjoy what the South Side has to offer," Brown told Axios. "The fact that people appreciate us, it's a huge win."
  • "We thought about other cities, but we are glad we stayed here," Flores told Axios about launching Kasama. "I grew up here, and the city has supported us; it's incredible."
Photo of pastries on a plate
Select pastries from a recent trip to Kasama. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

State of play: Kasama isn't only a great Filipino restaurant with a Michelin star. The spot doubles as an outstanding Filipino bakery, where Chicagoans line up early for delicious pastries like ube and huckleberry Basque cake.

  • These high-profile recognitions help, many say, especially as the city's dining scene recovers from the pandemic.

What they're saying: "Chicago feels like a small town," Flores said. "Everyone knows each other, and everyone takes care of each other."

As a treat for our Axios Chicago readers, we asked Kwon and Flores for the best time to visit the bakery to avoid long lines.

  • "Thursday, lunch," Kwon told Axios. "After 10:30am is the best move. We have a lot of pastries left around that time."
People waiting in a line to get into a restaurant.
Be forewarned: This is the line last Thursday at 10:30am. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios
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