Chicago’s Favorite Non-Native Son

Graham Elliot has won over the Windy City with his fresh approach to food done well.
Seattle-born Graham Elliot started in the food business at the ripe old age of 16 as a dishwasher and never looked back. His culinary adventures took him to Providence, Rhode Island; Dallas; and Woodstock, Vermont, before depositing him in Chicago where he spent time working under the likes of Chi-town pioneer and local favorite Charlie Trotter.

Elliot’s casting call came in 2007 when he faced off against Iron Chef Bobby Flay in “Iron Chef America” over … chocolate. The challenger put up a good fight, but Flay prevailed in the end, by a drizzle. He later appeared in “Top Chef Masters” and served as a judge on “MasterChef.”

In 2008, he opened his first restaurant, the eponymous Graham Elliot, followed by deli-bakery Grahamwich and, more recently, the bistro g.e.b. His warm personality and enthusiasm both for his craft and for delighting patrons has endeared Elliot to his adopted hometown, securing him a spot in the local hall of fame and a nod from the mayor himself.

Graham Elliot has won over the Windy City with his fresh approach to food done well

Appetite for Life: When did you first know you’d made the ranks of the “celebrity” chef?

Graham Elliot: When people started stopping me in the airport asking to take pictures with them. It's so cool to meet people and hear that they enjoy what you do.

You light up when you’re in the kitchen. What is it about cooking that gives you joy?

I love that it's a way to express yourself creatively, that you feel a connection with people and Mother Nature, and that at times it can almost be a full-contact sport.

You were recently inducted into the Chicago Culinary Museum's Chefs Hall of Fame — and Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed September 19 “Graham Elliot Day.” How did that make you feel? Did you ever think you’d have a day named after you?

Never in a million years did I think something like that would happen, especially to me! I dropped out of high school and started work in the kitchen as a dishwasher. To be embraced by a city that is as incredibly diverse as Chicago leaves me humbled and honored.

Chicago is an adopted home for you. If you could say one thing to the good people of Chicago, what would it be?

Thank you for your continued support throughout the years! I can't think of a better city in the world in which to live and cook.

Graham Elliot has won over the Windy City with his fresh approach to food done well

What three factors do you think make Chicago such a hotbed for good food?

The economics (cheaper to live, open a restaurant), the clientele/dining public (more open-minded to food as art), and the history, culture and diversity that makes it fun to explore this city each day.

What’s it like to be a judge on “MasterChef”?

It's amazing! To be able to taste different foods and provide feedback to passionate home cooks is truly rewarding. I am truly blessed to be able to do what I do, in restaurants and on television.