As was widely rumored and hinted at by Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin, Danny Grant of RIA and Balsan in the Waldorf Chicago (formerly Elysian Hotel) was named one of 12 Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine yesterday. (It’s 12 this year because two different pairs of partners were named.) Grant, who worked for several years under Bruce Sherman at North Pond (who made the list in 2003), has been widely acclaimed for the upscale but unfussy food he’s making using midwestern ingredients (and some that aren’t, as at Balsan’s raw bar). Strictly speaking, the award is designated only for the more formal and expensive RIA, but as Chicagoans know, the same kitchen is making the food for Balsan as well with no dropoff in quality, and if you want to check out Grant’s food, you could easily grab a spot at the bar at Balsan tonight and sample it along with a cocktail. Grant is the only chef working in Chicago to get the honor this year… but contrary to most reports so far, he’s not the only Chicago chef to win this year.
There are probably a couple of chefs on the list who’ve worked in Chicago, but Josh Habiger has done considerably more than touch down here. As partner (with Erik Anderson) in Nashville’s The Catbird Seat, Habiger has the distinction of helping open two of the city’s best-known spots: he was on Grant Achatz’s team when they opened Alinea in 2005, and he helped open The Aviary last year as well. More than once we’ve heard Chicago chefs talk about him (before yesterday) as someone to watch. While there are other big names from other cities on his resume as well (The Fat Duck, Craft, etc.), you only have to look at Habiger’s answers to the questionnaire to see the Chicago imprint— asked what his next restaurant would be, he cites Maude’s Liquor Bar as a model, and his favorite website is Steve Albini’s Mariobatalivoice.