Like many people, Kenneth Geary had a childhood nickname. “Skinnie Piggy.” The moniker was bestowed upon him by his grandmother due to his large appetite and high metabolism. The name has stuck, as Kenneth and co-owner, Monica Rodriguez, have not only dubbed their sweets shop "Skinnie Piggy" but have also incorporated its meaning into the concept of the store. Executive chef Elizabeth McCabe handcrafts a daily menu of freshly-baked pies, poundcakes, and cupcakes, most of which come in Hog (huge), Skinnie (regular), and Piglet (mini) sizes, an innovation that gained praise from ABC7, Chicago Magazine, and Pop Sugar. Amid pink polka dotted walls decorated with local artwork, customers can dispense gourmet treats such as Jelly Belly’s from clear containers, and peruse more than 25 types of nostalgic candies, from Fun Dip to Zotz Fizz. The sweets boutique also caters special occasion parties and business meetings with confectionary bouquets and candy boxes.
Attention to detail is key at Ipsento, where staffers artfully decorate lattes and taste test roasted coffee beans daily to guarantee their perfection. This kind of culture starts with Ipsento’s owner, who flies around the world sampling coffee while building rapport with bean producers and paying them more than fair-trade and market prices. Ipsento serves its freshly roasted coffee in a cozy café where patrons can chat or type studiously on a fake laptop made out of cardboard. The front room is dominated by a small roaster and a counter behind which talented baristas steam milk and pull shots from a rebuilt and retrofitted La Marzocco machine. Using Jo Snow and other locally made syrups, they create cardamom-rose lattes and the signature Ipsento latte, flavored with coconut milk, honey, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. A small set of stairs leads to the back room, which is decorated with framed photos and windows repurposed as wall art. In this serene environment, music plays as patrons sip coffee and eat made-to-order sandwiches on croissants or sliced bread.
Chef Naveen Sachar elucidates the fine art of Indian-fare preparation during a live BYOB cooking demonstration at Naveen’s Cuisine. Customers who opt for the demonstration-and-dinner night, held bimonthly, quickly find themselves enthralled by Naveen’s zest for northern-Indian delicacies as he chops and combines meats and vegetables before simmering them into sumptuous and spicy dishes. To enlighten and entertain his audience, the chef proffers extensive knowledge of Indian cuisine, cooking techniques, and terrifying anecdotes of mutinous kitchens throughout the demonstration. When the steaming entrees—be they masala, masoor dal, or murgh curry—announce their readiness by filling the room with their tantalizing aromas, patrons sit down to partake of a multiple-course dinner with their new comrades, allowing bottled drinks brought from home to lubricate conversation about the demonstration, their favorite dishes, and whether their esteemed chef might have an equally talented bachelor brother.
Sometimes finicky eaters can become fascinated by food when they have a hand in making it themselves. The Kids' Table's proprietor Elena Marre discovered this with her own sons when they started helping her prepare meals. Eventually she took this idea and created her own family cooking school geared toward children aged 2–16.
During classes, kids prep produce at tot-sized countertops and sinks. They whisk together ingredients with tools calibrated to their little hands as they learn to appreciate varied flavors and textures apart from “plain” and “unslimey.” Parents can get in on the action by working alongside their tots during classes or by signing up to learn how to make baby food, create family meals, or please picky eaters.
Pied Piper Parties & Playschool provides enriching play for children of all ages with active classes and themed events. Using her experience working at a Montessori preschool, Stephanie Williams oversees the youth playschool and camp, while colleague chef Janelle Rinehart leads hands-on cooking classes that introduce nutrition and discuss where dinner comes from and why it can never go back. Youth playschool helps children 5 months–3 years gain social skills with four progressive classes filled with music, art projects, and story time. In cooking classes, youths up to 10 years old prepare sweet and savory treats with supervised use of cooking equipment. Two-hour parties celebrate kids with custom themes ranging from dinosaurs to princesses, and include games, cake, and take-home gift bags.
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.