Chris Pandel’s Chicago restaurants, The Bristol (eclectic American cooking), and Balena (artisanal Italian cuisine), are lauded for their simplicity and seasonal, locally sourced food. But Pandel’s take on elegant simplicity is rooted in classic French technique and Mediterranean flavors, as well as good old midwestern produce. Star Chefs’ 2011 Chicago Rising Star Chef and Eater.com’s 2012 Chef of the Year, Pandel remains very much a cook enamored of his hometown.
Growing up in Riverside, Illinois, Pandel got his first restaurant gig as a teenager at a local place called the Chew Chew Café and went on to study formally at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts, in Providence, Rhode Island. An externship at chef Ric Tramonto’s upscale Tru kick-started his career, and a stint in the kitchen of New York’s Café Boulud, under chef Andrew Carmellini, was, Pandel said, “his graduate school.” Returning to Chicago, Pandel once again joined Tramonto as corporate chef in three of his restaurants, giving him, he says, the business know-how he needed to launch a restaurant all his own.
The Bristol opened in 2008, and, with its reverence for nose-to-tail cooking, quickly drew praise from the likes of GQ and Esquire magazines, which named the restaurant among the best new places in the country, and the Michelin Guide, which selected The Bristol for a Bib Gourmand award.
Balena, which Pandel launched in 2012 with the Boka Restaurant Group, was a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best New Restaurant/Midwest, and named among Bon Appétit’s Top 50 in the country. Pandel employs a wood-fired oven, a grill, and a rotisserie to create his Italian-inspired food. “It’s all based on simple preparation,” Pandel has said. “Nothing is overcomplicated. It’s nice to be able to treat these ingredients the way the Italians do.”
Next up for Pandel is another co-venture with the Boka group in Chicago’s new Google building, projected to open in 2015—a meat-centric restaurant with the working title of Armour & Swift, yet another tip of the chef’s hat to his hometown.