The Places They’ll Go! – BHS 2015 Grad Lea Kriesberg is Cooking in the Windy City

December 20, 2023

We often joke in our Citizen editorial meetings about how there always seems to be a Bedford connection to most things. It happens more often than you would think. Some of them are quite unexpected. Like this next one for instance: What does a story about a dish in a Chicago restaurant have to do with Bedford? Well… A new story from the Michelin Guide called  MICHELIN Guide Inspectors’ Favorite Dishes in Chicago listed The Cappelletti, from the restaurant Giant, as one of the five favorite dishes. And it was the brainchild of 2015 Bedford High School grad Lea Kriesberg.  

Lea is a line cook at Giant and has been there a little over a year. So how does one go from BHS to creating one of five “must-try dishes” in one of the foodiest cities in the world?

After graduating from BHS, Lea went to American University in Washington, D.C. where she earned a degree in Public Health. She was especially interested in the issues of food security and nutrition. While at school she started a blog with recipes and other food-related topics.

After a few years working in DC away from her passion, she decided she would shift gears and start a couple of assignments WWOOFING. What is to WWOOF? It stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.”

Lea spent time at various farms in California wwoofing for six months. After that, she got a seasonal job working in a restaurant in California. She was always interested in cooking and while thinking about her next step, decided she would try cooking for a while.

She had some close friends from Bedford living in Chicago and thought she would move there and try her hand at restaurant life. She got a couple of stages (Stage  – pronounced “stahj” –  is the French word for internship) assignments in Chicago. 

Chicago is quite a foodie city, ranked #3 in the country from Travel + Leisure Magazine. Chicago has lots of fancy restaurants, plus many small independent ones.

When Lea arrived in Chicago, she had a few different stages at various restaurants in the city. One of those was at a small, critically acclaimed restaurant called Giant in the Logan Square neighborhood. Giant has recently been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award.   

The Chicago restaurant scene has been in the spotlight recently with the success of the Hulu series “The Bear.”  In one scene from last season, the character Sydney does a tour of various Chicago restaurants to find inspiration. One of the restaurants in the scene was Giant. Lea was there for the filming, but did not make it into the final scene.  

At Giant, Lea started as a prep cook making pasta and worked her way up to working on the hotline. One thing she really enjoys about Giant is the culture of the restaurant. For people who have watched “The Bear,” you know working at a restaurant is hard work with various degrees of dysfunction.  

According to Lea, Giant is very supportive of their staff, encourages their employees to try new things, and is receptive to new ideas. In reaction to Lea’s dish making it into the Michelin Guide, chef-owner Jason Vincent said the following:

“This is an especially meaningful blurb for me. Not that it came from Michelin (although, cool!), but that it celebrates the work of the line cooks.

“At the beginning of the year, I started working with some of the cooks on ideas they had for the menu. It’s not easy from any perspective. ….

“….If you come to Giant, you’ll see initials on some menu descriptions. Those are the initials of whoever took the lead on that dish. If you like it, let them know. 

“In the meantime, I’m just so unbelievably proud of each and every one of them. Really great people and great cooks.

“This one isn’t on the menu anymore, but it was Lea’s dish and she’s got plans for another one cooking.”

– Jason Vincent, owner of Giant

Quick update: The plans for that other dish will be on the menu at Giant very soon. 

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss for all Bedford grads, “Oh, the places they’ll go.”

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December 25, 2023 2:06 pm

What great story Gene!
As a lifelong “foodie” myself, BHS and hotel school graduate and veteran of hotel purchasing, seeing the success of a young person in a high end, award-nominated kitchen is very rewarding. So often we hear that restaurant kitchens are toxic places, especially for women. Lea seems to have lucked into one with great management — her personality and talent will take her far.

Bedford is full of talented people and this series is always interesting to read.

December 25, 2023 2:04 pm

What great story Gene!
As a lifelong “foodie” myself, BHS and hotel school graduate and veteran of hotel purchasing, seeing the success of a young person in a high end, award-nominated kitchen is very rewarding. So often we hear that restaurant kitchens are toxic places, especially for women. Lea seems to have lucked into one with great management — her personality and talent will take her far.

Bedford is full of talented people and this series is always interesting to read.

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