Executive Chef/Partner Paul Kahan has become the nationally recognizable face for a new guard of Chicago chefs. With an ever-growing list of international accolades for Blackbird, avec, The Publican, and now Big Star, Kahan has been honored by selection as a James Beard nominee for Outstanding Chef in 2007 and 2010 as well as winner of James Beard Best Chef of the Midwest in 2004. Passionately seasonal, unconventionally creative and dedicated to the inspiration of classical cuisine, Paul has earned the praise of many who claim him to be one of America’s most influential working chefs.
“I grew up around food,” says Kahan. “My father owned a delicatessen and a smokehouse in Chicago. When I wanted to make a buck, I would help my dad take the fish out of the brine, hang them on the racks and wheel them into the smokehouse.”
After a brief, post-college stint as a computer scientist, Kahan took a job in the kitchen of Erwin Drechsler’s Metropolis, where Kahan quickly realized his own true calling. Throughout his 15-year apprenticeship and advancement in Drechsler’s kitchens at Metropolis and erwin, Kahan developed his own relationships with Midwestern farmers and integrated many of their offerings into dishes that he created for those restaurants, and later for award-winning chef Rick Bayless at Topolobampo.
In 1999, shortly after Blackbird opened, Food & Wine placed Kahan on their Best New Chefs list, recognizing his highly individual approach to cooking and the talent that Chicago diners have celebrated for years. Years of accolades and awards followed until, in 2007, Kahan was honored with a nomination for James Beard Outstanding Chef, an amazing achievement for a chef from a small restaurant without a cookbook or TV show to promote his name nationally. Paul earned his nomination by working five days a week in the kitchen with “his guys,” commuting year-round on his bicycle.