Nicole Pederson

Nicole Pederson
Photo © Galdones Photography

Restaurant: Found (Read a review)

Location: Evanston, IL

Why She's Amazing: Because she's updating familiar comfort foods with global flavors (like harissa, za'atar and garam masala), and the results are incredibly addictive.

Culinary School: The Art Institutes International Minnesota (Minneapolis)

background: C-House, Lula Café (/sites/default/files/hicago); Gramercy Tavern (New York City)

Quintessential Dish: Roast squash and brussels sprouts with house-made harissa, cilantro and pepitas

How She Got into Cooking: "When I was 19, I took a trip to France and stayed with a friend's family. They really opened my eyes to food. I came home to Minnesota and got a job in a little French restaurant waiting tables, but I spent every spare minute in the kitchen asking questions. The chef there told me, 'I don't know why you don't go to culinary school; you spend all day in the back watching the guys, you know every ingredient in every dish.'"

What She Craves When She's Not in the Kitchen: "I have an obsession with Asian food."

On Helping Cook President Obama's First State Dinner: "It was amazing. It was like being in someone's house, which was a bit weird. It's a professional kitchen but with armed guards with machine guns walking around."