Executive Chef Dale Levitski
Dale Levitski was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, into a family who appreciated a home cooked meal, and to a Mother who knew the importance of her family sharing time together at the dinner table. Whether it was his Grandmother, making Gooseberry Pie, Swedish meatballs, or oftentimes, Skorpa; his Dad busy at work in the kitchen canning the goods from his carefully tended garden; or his Mother, making the youngster’s favorite - chili & pasta with meatballs; he grew up in a house filled with the aromas and memories of cooking. Without realizing it, in the kitchen he had found a passion.
Like many teens, Levitski worked in restaurants during high school and college. When his financial aid fell through, he left the University of Iowa and began working at a local restaurant full-time. Levitski fell in love with the culture of the kitchen – the energy, the physicality, the sense of accomplishment with each service – and decided to pursue a career as a chef. He returned to Chicago (1998), and began learning as much as he could, working first for Carol Wallack at Deleece, who taught him basics, and then for Koren Grieveson at Blackbird, which he often cites as “his culinary school.” After eight months at Blackbird, he accepted a position as Executive Chef to open the breakfast-focused Orange, which was an immediate consumer and critical smash. His next move was to La Tache, a neighborhood bistro in Andersonville, where he enjoyed numerous accolades. One of the regulars was Henry Adaniya, who owned the critically acclaimed Trio (the restaurant that launched the careers of Rick Tramonto, Shawn McClain, and Grant Achatz) and Adaniya offered Levitski the opportunity to take over upon Achatz’ departure to open Alinea. In Adaniya, Levitski found a mentor.
After 18 months at Trio’s helm, Adaniya chose to close the restaurant (2006) to return to Hawaii. On a whim, Levitski applied to appear on season three of “Top Chef”, and was selected, the first Chicagoan to compete on the popular show. He did very well, finishing as runner up and was poised for big things. In a series of personal and professional blows, the young chef went through a difficult period, losing his mother after a long and arduous fight with cancer, and his dream restaurant to the financial meltdown – the combination of the two led to a profound period of depression for Levitski. True to his character, he fought through and in 2009, took over at Lincoln Park’s Sprout restaurant, where he found a new home. Owner Mike Causevic allowed Levitski the freedom to express himself creatively as a chef, and the accolades followed, including being selected a semifinalist by the esteemed James Beard Foundation for the “Best Chef: Great Lakes Region” in 2011.
In late 2011, Causevic and Levitski began talks to develop a second restaurant together, and Levitski was adamant about one thing – the neighborhood. His family spent summers at the lake sailing from Belmont Harbor, and he lives just blocks away from where they spent many happy times. For him, it was important to support the neighborhood that brought him so much joy as a child.
At Frog n Snail, Levitski offers a Midwestern Bistro menu, his local take on European classics. He continues to experiment with flavor combinations, and focuses on layers of flavor, balance and texture; at Sprout, he’s known to deconstruct a classic while at Frog n Snail, he focuses more on familiar, comforting food. If you ask Levitski what he loves most about cooking, he’ll tell you “There is so much I love about cooking. The creativity first and foremost. I love that my job is to make people happy, and I love that every day is a reset.” Levitski continues to plan for the future, and when not in the kitchen, loves to travel the globe, exploring the flavors and cultures of those childhood memories and beyond. Levitski lives in the Lakeview neighborhood, just down the street from Frog n Snail.
Chef de Cuisine, John Hagedorn
Originally from the North Suburbs of Chicago, John’s father works for Barry Callebaut, the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world, while early in his life, John’s mother instilled a passion for European dining, hands-on, fresh food preparation and a culture of epicurean family bonding around the kitchen table.
John studied commerce at DePaul University, with a concentration in Marketing, International Business, and Spanish. It would be these disciplines, along with those memories of the family dinner table, which would refine his craft and propel his aspirations towards one day leading a kitchen of his own.
All John needed then was a break to get into the industry, and that opportunity came with The Charlie Trotter Organization where John spent the first 4 years of his early career.
After his time at The Charlie Trotter Organization, John became Chef de Partie at Art Smith’s, Table 52, and followed that up by accepting a position as Chef de Partie/Butcher at Grant Achatz’s, Alinea, where he spent 12 months.
John’s passion and desire to expand his knowledge and skill soon found an outlet in his childhood memories of Europe and the wonderful meals he had enjoyed with family. Having studied Spanish, John embarked on a 4 month internship at Ferran Adria’s, Alicia Foundation in Northeastern Spain (www.alicia.cat).
“Hugely influential impact on my philosophy, style, approach and attitude towards cooking and life in general. The internship was comprised of lengthy trials and research into modern techniques and equipment (methylcellulose, rotary evaporators, gastrovacs, etc.), while simultaneously learning classic Catalonian dishes that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. All of this under the guidance and teachings of the supremely talented Ferran Adria, the executive management and the creative staff from El Bulli.”
Returning to Chicago, John continued to hone his expertise by soon finding a home in the kitchen of Sprout Restaurant in Lincoln Park where, after a brief time, and impressed with John’s leadership and culinary skills, he was promoted to Chef de Cuisine.
While John continues to develop new preparation techniques and flavor combinations, coupled with striking plate presentations, he still remains true to his guiding philosophy and ultimate calling when it comes to his dishes:
“…fresh, utilizing the highest quality ingredients and blending and evolving the old styles with the daring…but ultimately, to create something to be shared and enjoyed by family, friends and everyone we welcome at Sprout.”
-CDC, John Hagedorn