Best Run by a Chef Prior to a Gracious Departure

Jason Vincent, Nightwood

Critics' Picks

When I first saw chef Jason Vincent he was jiggling his daughter's child seat and talking about duck tongues. It was 2011, and he was featured in our chefs' challenge, Key Ingredient, the video for which showed him minding his baby while creating a sandwich that showcased the avian body part in question. As he worked he called on the kind of ingredients that had already made his Pilsen restaurant, Nightwood, acclaimed: fermented foie gras, deep-fried Meyer lemons, an egg poached in duck fat. But even more than technique, Nightwood's food was about its local, seasonal sourcing; those duck tongues came from Gunthorp Farms.

Nightwood opened in 2009, a spinoff of Logan Square's Lula Cafe, where Vincent had been sous chef under chef-owner Jason Hammel. Both the restaurant and Vincent went on to be nationally recognized—Nightwood has been on Michelin's Bib Gourmand list since 2011, and Vincent was named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2013. This year he was in the running for a Beard Award as Best Chef, Great Lakes.

And then he resigned, announcing in April that with a second daughter on the way, he was "stepping aside" as chef at Nightwood in favor of "changing a lot of diapers and watching the indians win the world series." The latter may be a long shot, but when I spoke to him last month he was preparing for the new arrival. He's keeping his hand in professionally, doing a few events including the dinner series Outstanding in the Field in August, but this June and July, he says, are his "sacred months" he'll be devoting to his wife and girls.