Pilot Light works with CPS for food education and inspiration

Sunday, October 29, 2017
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Hungry Hound: Pilot Light brings chefs, students together for food education

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Nearly two dozen of Chicago's best chefs are getting together for a unique fundraiser on Friday for a non-profit called Pilot Light, which works with Chicago Public Schools children.

One of the key chefs involved is Jason Hammel, renown for Lula Cafe now opening a new restaurant.

During a recent visit, Hammel is giddy even while working on barely a few hours' sleep and just returning from the farmer's market.

"You get stuff like this; it's a moment when you have flowering bok choys and cabbages, that it's just because of the temperature and the season and it's only gonna last like a week and here we are," he said.

A former artist, Hammel now takes a hyper-seasonal approach inside Marisol, the new restaurant in the revamped Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood. He still oversees Lula Cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood, but here it's a slightly different mission.

"Their slogan is 'Where art is now,' and so for us, we see a real connection between seasonal cooking of this kind and living in the now," said Hammel.

Hammel showed how those farmer's market finds result in a salad with smoked whitefish, yogurt and burnt orange vinaigrette, with charred Brussels sprouts and candied poppy seeds. He takes that level of creativity to his upcoming Pilot Light fundraising dinner, which brings together the city's top talent for one night.

"Pilot Light is a group of chefs that are working with teachers in CPS to create food education experiences for kids all over the city," he said.

The group has worked with CPS for the past eight years.

"Economics, we've taught history lessons - both about Chicago and the world - we've looked at the place that corn has in our economy. Some deep and heavy things, all through the use of food," Hammel said.

Each chef will prepare a three-course meal for a table of guests. Hammel showed me his first course - a complex dish of compressed kohlrabi with dehydrated Asian pears and sesame seeds.

"You can even see it changes the cell structure a little bit and loosens them up, makes them translucent and really pliable," he said, referring to the thin sheets of kohlrabi.

He carefully plated the endive, pears and kohlrabi, dressing it with lemon juice and baking spices. Chestnuts are grated on top. He said the big blowout will showcase Chicago's best, for a fundraiser that goes beyond the usual walk-around-tasting-while-standing.

"Interacting, making three courses of great food and getting to tell their own stories individually," he said.

So Pilot Light's big fundraiser features 21 of the city's best chefs, each cooking for just 20 people. And if you want to pick your own chef, you better get your tickets ASAP because the event is less than a week away.

EXTRA COURSE: Marisol at the MCA


205 E. Pearson St. (at the MCA) in Chicago

(312) 799-3599


For more information about Pilot Light:


To get tickets to the Feed Your Mind Gala, Nov. 3: