Prairie Grass Cafe (601 Skokie Blvd.; Northbrook, IL) supports Chicago's Green City Market and local sustainable farms, selecting the freshest ingredients to reflect the season.The restaurant is owned by Chef/Partners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris with Rohit Nambiar, Enjoy magnificently prepared meals in a warm, comfortable decor. Fresh dishes, tastefully seasoned and classically prepared, are created using locally produced products. The service is top-notch and the restaurant provides a wide selection of wines to pair with your dish.
In spite of her award-winning history, Chef Sarah Stegner is modest in the way she approaches her life as a chef, she's an easy person to embrace, and so likeable you just want to cheer her on.
The two-time James Beard award-winning Stegner left the Ritz Carlton with George, to open Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, Illinois.
With Prairie Grass Cafe, Stegner and Bumbaris have taken a decidedly personal approach. "Our goal is to bring the culinary technique that we mastered in the world of fine dining to the more accessible level of casual dining. We create familiar dishes that are delicious because we will use the best ingredients and employ the skill we have developed over the years."
Stegner is the recipient of many awards. In 1990 she represented the United States in the prestigious Prix Culinaire Internationnal Pierre Taittinger, a multinational cooking competition. She was the only woman to compete; she placed fifth. The recognition began in earnest in 1994 when she received the Rising Star Chef of the Year award from the James Beard Foundation. In 1995 she received the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award Of Excellence. In 1996, 1997 and 1998 she was nominated for Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation, winning the prestigious award in 1998.
Under Stegner, in 2000, Condé Nast Traveler magazine named the Dining Room at the Ritz as the "Second Best Hotel Dining Room in the World." In 2002 and 2003, Food & Wine magazine named the Dining Room "One Of The Top 50 Hotel Restaurants In America."
Local critics were equally enthusiastic. The Dining Room received a rare 4-star rating from Chicago Magazine, which also named the Dining Room the "Best Hotel Restaurant in Chicago in 2003." The Chicago Tribune also gave the restaurant four stars.
While she certainly enjoyed the recognition, Stegner continues to stay focused on her main culinary mission: cooking with the best seasonal ingredients she could find. She accelerated her search for locally produced ingredients. In 1999 she joined Chicago food writer Abby Mandel and a small group of Chicago's top chefs to form Chicago's Green City Market, a weekly venue for Midwest sustainable farmers who produce freshly picked fruits and vegetables, meats, artisan cheeses and many other top-quality ingredients. Green City Market has become an important Chicago institution, and Stegner continues to serve on its board of directors, currently serving as its co-president.
For Bumbaris, "it started out as a hobby; I just wanted to learn how to really cook. But once I got into the kitchen, I got hooked." In 1983 Bumbaris began a 21-year journey at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Chicago that crowned him executive chef in 1991.
Bumbaris went to the Ritz-Carlton in 1983, right after completing his studies at culinary school Dumas Pere in Glencoe, Illinois. "I went to the Ritz-Carlton with the idea that I would be there for a couple of years and I would then open a restaurant," he chuckles now, doing the math and adds, "It ended up being a couple times ten."
Before his culinary education George studied architecture, opened a body shop to work on cars, and dabbled in construction. He felt cooking was a job that was also fun. "I never found myself looking at my watch when I was cooking and wondering when my next break was," he says.
His philosophy about managing a top-notch kitchen is all about building a strong base and training the staff from the bottom up. "If you continue to train from the bottom up, then people are going to work with your technique, the way you want them to work."
Bumbaris also is the recipient of numerous awards. He won first place for the United States in the 26th Prix Culinaire International Pierre Taittinger in 1992 representing America at the finals in Paris.
Bumbaris also took first place in The Bocuse D'or American Culinary Gold Cup in 1990. In January 1991, he represented the United States in the International Bocuse D'or competition that was held in Lyon, France during the Salon des Metiers de Bouche, a leading French gastronomic show. He competed with chefs from 22 countries from around the world and captured a top prize for his original "Sole Of The Four Seasons."
For Bumbaris, opening Prairie Grass Cafe with long-time friend and colleague Sarah Stegner made perfect sense. They had talked about it for a long time, the timing was right, and "we've worked together long enough where there are no surprises- and a lot of trust," he says. He also adds that they both have reached a level of culinary maturity that's important for what they want to accomplish. "We don't carry the ego with us. We just want a good restaurant with good food."
In addition to the joy of working side by side with Stegner, Bumbaris has enjoyed developing a menu that is fun and accessible. The duo still thrives on using seasonal produce, locally grown when possible.
"My vision for Prairie Grass Cafe is a restaurant packed with smiling faces, enjoying their experience with us and enjoying our food," he adds. Bumbaris always teaches his staff to cook the way one would cook for oneself. With a rule of thumb like that, we offer our guests great food at Prairie Grass Cafe.
When looking back at Rohit Nambiar's professional history in the hospitality industry, it really is like a dream come true. The Bombay, India native recently left the exquisite Four Seasons Hotel, after working with the company since his arrival to the United States in 1997, to collaborate with his wife, co-executive chef Sarah Stegner, and join the Prairie Grass Cafe team.
As general manager and director of the restaurant's wine program, Nambiar shows only excitement for this adventure that is also a family affair. "Colleagues have always joked that Sarah and I should work together at some point, so this is all very natural," he adds with a warm, reflective smile.
Nambiar's background in the hospitality industry is worldly and extensive. He was first exposed to the business through an aunt and uncle who own five high-end hotels in India. They encouraged him to build a career in the hospitality industry and gain exposure to all facets of the business.
"I got to taste the wines, high end wines, really fine wines while training at the Four Seasons and since that groundwork it has been a passion of mine that I bring to Prairie Grass Cafe. We offer a selection of wines that ranges regionally, with about half being American wines and the rest being choice options from France, Italy and Australia (prices by the bottle will range from $25-$200 a bottle and $6-$12 a glass.)"
Prairie Grass Cafe has been featured in numeous publications including Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Food and Wine, and Condé Nast Traveler.
|Address / Location:||
601 Skokie Blvd.
Northbrook , IL , 60062 , United States
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