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Take everything that connotes Midwestern charm: effusive goodwill and a love of community coupled with a killer work ethic, and you’ve got its embodiment in 2011 Chicago Rising Star Chef Chris Pandel. His food is just as appealing—rooted in classic French technique and mostly local Midwestern ingredients, it is unfussy and hearty, and at the same time fresh, clean, and elegant.

Pandel began his career as a chef by helping out at a restaurant in his hometown of Riverside, Illinois. Before long, the head chef picked Pandel up by the scruff of his neck and plopped him down in the kitchen, where Pandel says, “I've been working my tail off ever since.” His next job was at Courtright’s in Willow Springs, a favorite fine-dining excursion for Chicagoans. Next, Pandel attended Johnson & Wales University and grabbed the chance to intern at Chicago chef-factory Tru under Chef Rick Tramonto.

Pandel spent what he calls “graduate school” in New York City, at Café Boulud under Chef Andrew Carmellini. Love of home brought him back to Chicago, and Tru, which led to a position as corporate chef at three Tramonto restaurants. Of his mentors, Pandel says Carmellini molded him into a cook, and that under Tramonto, he earned a “sense of self” in the kitchen and the know-how to run a business.

In 2008, Pandel opened neighborhood eatery The Bristol with partners John Ross and Phillip Waters. Time spent at Chris Pandel’s The Bristol is time invested in cozy good humor: communal tables encourage conviviality, the staff spreads the warmth, and Pandel’s cooking follows through with just the right blend of comfort and creativity.

Balena, Pandel’s second restaurant with John Ross and Phillip Walters, an ode to Italian Influenced simplicity, opened Late March 2012.