Dan Smith and his partner in business and in life, Steve McDonagh, are the Hearty Boys, a duo that has a thriving Chicago catering business, won the 2005 series Food Network Star, and, after launching several restaurants, has partnered with pastry chef extraordinaire Gale Gand in their latest venture, SpritzBurger. There, customers can nosh on burgers, from the Poutine to the Veggie to the Merguez, and sip Gand’s artisan root beer, among other house-made bubbly drinks.

Smith and McDonagh attended the culinary school of life—as aspiring young actors in New York they both worked in restaurants to support themselves and learned the food world from the inside. Meanwhile, in 1999 their love of cooking blossomed into a Bethel, Maine, café, which they dubbed the Hearty Boys as a play on the fictional teenage detectives. That sense of play, and of putting the fun in entertaining, led to the launch of their catering business, which, in 2003, they relocated to Chicago, where they also launched the Café at Hearty Boys.

Two years later, the Food Network Star win was entrée to their own show, Party Line With the Hearty Boys, in which they laid out no-fuss, delicious tips for entertaining. And they opened HB: a Hearty Boys Spot, which showcased their takes on classic comfort foods. Their follow-up restaurant, HEARTY, received three stars from the Chicago Tribune. Says Smith, whose memories of his Italian grandmother’s cooking and of classic comfort foods loom large, “I’m always looking to re-create those iconic dishes of childhood but with a grown-up twist.”

In Smith and McDonagh’s first cookbook, Talk with Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook (2007), they demystify party-throwing, and with 2012’s The New Old Bar, they bring mid-century cocktail culture to the modern cook with recipes for classic drinks and small bites.