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Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Northalsted

Chicago’s Alisha Elenz In The Running For Rising Star Chef As James Beard Finalists Announced

Chicago restaurants and chefs have been nominated in nearly every category of the "Oscars of the food industry."

Alisha Elenz became the executive chef at mfk. in Lakeview when she was 23 years old.
Kelly Bauer/Block Club Chicago
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LAKEVIEW — For a 24-year-old, Alisha Elenz’s resume was already pretty impressive, having been named executive chef at Lakeview’s mfk. restaurant in early 2018.

Now she can add a James Beard Award nomination as Rising Star Chef.

Elenz was one of more than a dozen Chicago restaurant professionals to receive a nod during Wednesday’s announcement of the finalists for the “Oscars of the food industry.”

Despite a lack of formal culinary school training, Elenz has quickly shot to the top of her profession.

She started at mfk., 432 W. Diversey Parkway, as a part-time prep cook in 2015, joining a team that’s since racked up prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmands three years running.

Being tapped to helm the kitchen was slightly overwhelming, Elenz told Block Club Chicago in 2018.

“It’s funny when you doubt yourself and you think you can’t do something and then you’re kind of just thrown in the situation and you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, this is hard, but I can do this,’” Elenz said. “It’s weird. But I guess that’s part of growing up. It’s part of life. You think things are impossible until they’re not.”

Being a young chef can be intimidating, she admitted, but Elenz said she’s “fortunate” to have a staff that works together as a team and respects her.

“You don’t need to scream. You don’t need to stretch your voice,” Elenz said. “You just need to work, and work really hard. And work harder than everyone else.”

The James Beard Awards will be handed out May 6 at a gala reception held at the Lyric Opera House, with “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson returning as host.

In addition to Elenz, the Chicago nominees are:

Outstanding Baker: Greg Wade, Publican Quality Bread

Outstanding Bar Program: Lost Lake

Outstanding Pastry Chef: Meg Galus, Boka

Outstanding restaurateur: Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm, Boka Restaurant Group, Chicago (Boka, Girl & the Goat, Momotaro, and others)

Best Restaurant Design, 76 seats and over: Land & Sea Dept. for Lonesome Rose; Parts and Labor for Pacific Standard Time

Outstanding wine program: Spiaggia

Best Chef Great Lakes:

Diana Dávila, Mi Tocaya Antojería

Jason Hammel, Lula Café

Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, Parachute

David Posey and Anna Posey, Elske

Noah Sandoval, Oriole

Lee Wolen, Boka