Iliana Regan of Chicago’s Elizabeth is a 2016 F&W Best New Chef
Secret-weapon ingredient: Sassafras twigs. Read more about this amazing Chicago talent, one of the new Food & Wine Best New Chefs.
Where: Elizabeth, Chicago
4835 N. Western Ave.; 773-681-0651; elizabeth-restaurant.com
Why Regan is amazing: Her exquisite Nordic-style cooking highlights Midwestern ingredients (acorn puree, pickled crab apples, wild greens, cured bear meat). It’s fascinating, beautiful, rustic and modern all at once.
Born: Merrillville, IN, 1979
Résumé: Stages at Trio, Schwa, L20 and Table Fifty-Two, Chicago. Regan started Elizabeth as an underground supper club, which she opened in her Chicago home, hosting elaborate tasting menu dinners on weekends.
Education: Studied chemical engineering at Indiana University; degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago
Quintessential dish: Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms with edible weeds, juniper vinaigrette and roasted garlic aioli. "We collect the mushrooms in the fall; we rub them with white oak acorns and panko, so they have a very distinct taste and flavor. We dress them with a juniper vinaigrette made from juniper berries we harvest, plus roasted garlic aioli. So there’s this element of comfort but with all this other wild stuff."
Other food-related experience: While she was in college, Regan waitressed at elite Chicago restaurants like Trio and Alinea to pay for school. In 2008, she started her own business making preserves and homespun foods to sell at local farmers’ markets and stores. (Chicago magazine named her pierogies the best in 2010.)
Side project: She also owns and operates Bunny, the Micro Bakery. As the name suggests, this is a tiny space with a menu that includes doughnuts, breads, jams and ice cream, and toasts like the Foie Gras Toast: brioche with jam and an owl-shaped foie gras terrine.
Where the name of her restaurant comes from: Elizabeth is named after her sister who passed away in 2003.
Guilty-pleasure food: "I love hot dogs from The Home Depot. I get a Chicago Dog with everything on it."
Hidden talents: "I’m pretty good at skee ball. I can bowl and shoot a bow and arrow, too."
Secret-weapon ingredient: "We use sassafras twigs a lot from a hunting and game reserve here. They have this really amazing minty, menthol, root beer smell. We toast them and use them in our brine and make ice cream out of them."
Follow @elizabethrestaurant on Instagram.