I don't take any national list too seriously, but if there's one I tend to give some credence to, it's Food & Wine's best new chefs list, which is genuinely national (not six New York chefs and four from the rest of America) and intelligently reflective of who's won respect from diners, reviewers, and peers in a relatively short time. Most of Chicago's standout chefs have made it at some point—we have someone on it more years than not—and I'm happy to note that Jake Bickelhaupt of 42 Grams has added this honor to his two Michelin stars and assorted other honors. (Or rather, I should say that Bickelhaupt and his wife, Alexa Welsh, have added it, since her presence and personality with the diners is equally essential to the experience 42 Grams offers.)
Everything about 42 Grams' success can offer us hope right when the restaurant scene can seem too big and conceptually overwrought. It started because Bickelhaupt, who'd worked at Charlie Trotter's, was obsessed with doing his own thing, cooking as an underground-dinner chef in his apartment as Sous Rising. The two of them threw a restaurant together on a shoestring in a space below their apartment. They built and the diners came; before the restaurant got the media attention it now enjoys, it grew thanks to word of mouth spread by delighted customers who loved the food and intimate experience.
Various people at the Reader have covered them (since our first, somewhat mocking reference to Jake's attempt at Kickstarting a restaurant, which didn't work), and our coverage tells the story of their rise. Here's the Key Ingredient that first impressed us; I interviewed them right when 42 Grams first started; Mike Sula reviewed them not long after; and in last year's Best of Chicago issue, they were named Best Kitchen Table and Best Up and Coming Chef. Congratulations again to Jake and Alexa.