Celebrated chef Mariya Russell, the first Black woman to lead a Michelin-star kitchen, will leave her position at Kikko, the elegant West Loop omakase restaurant, as well as connected cocktail spot Kumiko, according to the Tribune. Russell told reporters that she needed to step away for her mental and physical wellbeing, and she and husband Garrett (a sous at Kumiko) plan to move to Hawai’i in August, where they’ll consider what comes next.
In a hospitality industry that has long undervalued the contributions of women and Black individuals, acclaim can bring a complex set of new responsibilities. Russell was forthcoming about the challenges of being first in an interview with Eater in 2019. “It’s a lot of pressure — not that there wasn’t that pressure before, but it’s a different kind of pressure now,” she said at the time.
There’s no word yet from Kumiko/Kikko owner Noah Sandoval (Oriole) about who may step in at the restaurant. He did tell reporters that though he understands her decision, he’s sad to see her go. Russell’s local resume also includes now-shuttered Randolph Restaurant Row spot Nellcote, pioneering vegetarian restaurant Green Zebra, and Sandoval-owned tasting menu Senza.
And in other news...
- The saga of Nobu Chicago, the celebrity-backed Japanese restaurant and hotel brand, finally features a new twist after more than six years: the West Loop’s 115-room Nobu Hotel will open at 854 W. Randolph Street on July 1, according to a news release. The restaurant and bar, which will include patio seating, aren’t yet ready to launch and will debut at a vague “later date.”
- Chicago food writer and critic Michael Nagrant is raising funds for hospitality industry workers through paid subscriptions to his pandemic-era newsletter, Love in the Time of Coronavirus. He’s raised almost $4,000 over the course of three months and plans to continue using the platform in the coming months. A good deal of the stories are free to read, and include interviews with prominent industry members like Alpana Singh (Terra & Vine), Todd Stein (Quartino, the Bristol), and Zach Engel (Galit).
- Local taco giant Big Star has launched a canned version of its popular margaritas for those who aren’t up for the summer scene at its popular patios, according to a news release. “Big Star Margaritas” will start appearing on shelves this week at Binny’s, Foxtrot Markets, and some Whole Foods locations in four-packs for $19.99. Each can contains two full margaritas. A portion of proceeds will go to Chicago hospitality industry mental health nonprofit Support Staff.
- Long-running South Side restaurant Ware Ranch Steak House was severely damaged after it was vandalized and set on fire on June 8, and its owners are now seeking donations on GoFundMe to help repair the 51-year-old establishment in Roseland. “The restaurant is the only sit down restaurant in the community,” co-owner Judy Ware wrote on the fundraising page. “It has history, it holds a lot of memories for the community, even those that have moved to other communities often come back to eat at the Ranch, as it is locally known, to relived those memories and create new ones with their children.” The fund aims to raise $5,000.
- James Beard Award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer, formerly of Cleveland, has relocated to Chicago to open a restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel on North Michigan Avenue, according to Crain’s. The new American restaurant is as yet unnamed, but will draw on Sawyer’s travels in Europe and Asia. Sawyer closed his Ohio restaurants after filing for bankruptcy in March.
- Milwaukee keeps trying to make Malört happen: Adored Wisconsin ice cream shop Purple Door has introduced a new flavor that features Chicago’s iconic bitter liquor after a successful test run last winter. Some fans of the brand aren’t yet convinced. “Is this really what 2020 has come to?” one commenter wrote on Facebook. “Purple Door, I love you, but I really think quarantine got to you.” Last summer, a Milwaukee bar held a Jeppson’s-sponsored Malört festival for Brewers and Cubs fans.