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My Chicago: Rebecca LaMalfa

The "Top Chef" season 12 contestant and executive sous chef at Trenchermen cooks up a list of Chicago musts, from restaurants to pet-friendly coffeehouses.

Raised in Chico, Calif., Rebecca LaMalfa literally went from farm to table. Her father was a second-generation farmer, and she's married to the executive chef of Sixteen. But make no mistake: She's got incredible culinary chops. When a "Top Chef" producer casted season 12 in Boston, she was the one pursued. In her off time, she's a proud pet owner, and always in the mood for an Italian beef at Vinnies and nightcap at Sportsman's Club. 

"Top Chef" season 12 contestant and executive sous chef at Trenchmen Rebecca LaMalfa
"Top Chef" season 12 contestant and Trenchermen executive sous chef Rebecca LaMalfa on her Chicago hidden gems.

What is it about Chicago that people are starting to take notice? 
The people of Chicago are very welcoming to chefs. I have never been in a place where as a chef you can really do your own thing and people embrace it, and are excited that you are not doing what is just popular. There are so many chefs from different backgrounds that are thriving here. It is great to see.

How did you get involved with “Top Chef?"
One of the producers called Trenchermen last January looking for me. They asked if I was interested and I said I would think about it. I thought it was a joke at first, but alas it was not...  This season on "Top Chef" they have changed a lot of things—there was so much going on all the time. There are twists and turns in every episode.

You live in Wicker Park. What about the neighborhood appeals to you?
There are so many boutique shops and restaurants. There is something new popping up all the time, and I am within walking distance to Black Dog Gelato what is not to like? A perfect night is taking our dog out for a walk for some after dinner gelato.

How would you describe the cuisine of Trenchermen? What is your signature dish?
The cuisine at Trenchermen is very reflective of our Chef/Owner Pat Sheerin. He has such a deep-rooted Polish heritage, he was trained under classic French, and he loves to travel and that is reflected in our food. There are many references to Asian cuisine and then we will have a riff on something he had as a child. Our signature dish hands down is the pickle tots with red onion yogurt and chicken bresola.

What do you love about the holidays?
Every year at Trenchermen the day before Thanksgiving I make Thanksgiving dinner for staff meal, and I make a huge Christmas spread on Christmas Eve. I drag a huge tree in the restaurant and we get it all decorated...

What's your favorite takeout place?
My favorite sandwich joint on Earth is right down the street called Vinnies Sub Shop. I would eat there every day if I could.

My Perfect Day

10 am: Java run  
A walk over to Caffé Streets for a pour over on the way to the dog park in Wicker Park with my hubby Tom and my wiener dog Horton. Darko (the owner) all ways has great coffee and it is truly amazing.  

12:30 pm: The Beauty of Bayless 
We hit Xoco in Wicker Park. Their ahogada and cochinita pibil sandwiches are so satisfying and spicy. They also have traditional michelada, one of my favorite drinks. 

1:30 pm: Of Course, the Shopping
Xoco is perfectly positioned in Wicker Park for some shopping! I love Akira. Between the clothing and shoes a girl can't go wrong. I will also most definitely make an appearance at Benefit cosmetics and Moon Voyage Women's Boutique.

6:30 pm: A Night in Paris
I love French bistro food and JoHo nails it every time. I all ways order oysters to start, either escargot or the steak tartare, the skate as my entrée and for dessert the chocolate mousse! It is truly one of the pleasures in life.

1:30 am: Late-night Fixes
The day is not over unless I have an Italian beef double dipped from Duks on Ashland. They are amazing. This is the best-kept secret in Chicago. Yes it's old but the ladies who do all the cooking are great and full of sass, and it is a neighborhood icon. Get ready to get dirty. They are so good. The juice will be running down your fingers and your chin.