During her rotations as a pastry chef in culinary school, Uzma Sharif caught the eye of her head chef by drizzling chocolate with the same technique she used to decorate hands with henna. “You’re going to be a great success with that someday,” he predicted. The roots of her talents as a chocolatier go back even deeper, however. In Pakistan, her pastry-chef grandfather was well known for his delicate pink macaroons, and her mother and seven aunts each inherited their father’s baking skills. In January 2011, Uzma followed in her family members' footsteps, founding her own shop to purvey her hand-crafted chocolate creations as Chocolat Uzma Sharif.
These confections brim with unexpected ingredients, such as candied rose petals, Kashmiri chai, and cardamom, or glow with floral colors, such as the pinks and blues on the ombre butterflies that are Uzma's current favorite. The chocolatier handpicks the ingredients that go into her sweet creations, choosing all-natural, organic options when possible. Focused on perfecting a small selection of goods, she makes her chocolates in small batches and packages them in eco-friendly boxes she’s designed herself.
During chocolate classes at her Pilsen kitchen, Uzma teaches students about the origins of raw chocolate and the science behind making a bar with the right sheen and snap. Uzma also shares methods for choosing good chocolate from store shelves, starting with deciphering the percentages on the label and asking it whether it’s been naughty or nice.
Skinnie Piggy’s cupcakes come in three sizes—hog, skinnie, or piglet. The menu juxtaposes classic flavors, including birthday cake and german chocolate, with seasonal selections such as the piña colada, a coconut-infused cake topped with pineapple-and-coconut buttercream.
I Wish Lessons’ professionally guided classes convene in various venues throughout Chicago, Boston, DC, and Detroit, uniting and educating like-minded learners in vibrant social settings. The company’s hundreds of teachers have educated countless learners while introducing them to new friends and planning private events, including birthday parties and baby showers. Classes broach a multitude of engaging, lighthearted subjects, such as beer and bacon pairing, scotch tasting, cupcake decorating, and sushi rolling.
Flip Crêpes got its start on the Chicago Farmers Markets circuit in 2003, slinging its warm and sweet or savory treats to steadily growing flocks of customers. Eventually, the company outgrew its humble beginnings and expanded to a location inside the Ogilvie Transportation Center, where customers stop in for the crowd-pleasing crepes alongside a burgeoning roster of sandwiches and paninis. Four distinct menus address any and all cravings the day might present, including selections that tackle breakfast munchies with eggs and bacon, a passion for the savory with toasted options, salad cravings with fresh and crisp selections, and sweet teeth with desserts chock-full of Nutella, strawberries, and dulce de leche. The tender crepes will only wrap their eggy arms around healthy, high-quality ingredients, so the chefs avoid high-fructose corn syrup and other undesirable foodstuffs.
Signature service: Teaching decorating classes
Staff Size: 2–10 people
Average Duration of Services: 2–4 hours
Pro Tip: Don't stress about your decorating skills—this isn't Cupcake Wars. Just come have a good time.
Besides making clients happy, what do you like most about your job?
Being creative, trying new things, and meeting fellow cupcake lovers.
What's one tip for first-time customers that will make them feel like regulars?
Wear comfortable (but cute) shoes, along with clothes that won't be too expensive to clean if they get covered in icing.
Is there anything else you want to add that we didn't cover?
We cater and also offer birthday party classes for kids.
Housed inside the Illinois Institute of Art, The Backstage Bistro is unique in its all-inclusive approach to food from around the world. But its staff, comprised entirely of students from the school's culinary-arts program, is just as unique. As the final step of their education, students embark on an 11-week program during which they rotate through all the restaurant's positions, from front-of-house duties to the kitchen. Some students design and implement menus that change weekly, focusing on a chosen theme or culinary region. Others may ferry dishes to and from the dining room or unmask pairs of children disguised as one adult food critic in a trench coat. In the dining room, guests can take a peek at the kitchen's activity through glass walls as they enjoy lunch or prix fixe dinners. The restaurant's adventurous food and unique approach have also earned it appreciation from top chefs, including Rachael Ray, who filmed there for the Food Network show $40 a Day.