Top Chicago Chefs – Carrie Nahabedian of Naha

Carrie Nahabedian wasn’t your typical teenager growing up in Chicago.  While her high school friends were busying themselves with SATs and college applications, Nahabedian cooked the entire provincial France cookbook from her mother’s Time Life series.

“My parents were willing participants,” Nahabedian jokes. “I was the last one at home so they were happy to have me cook for them.”

Nahabedian’s love for food stems from family and her love for the arts. From the delicious meals served by her grandmother and mother to the occasional grilling done by her father, Nahabedian grew up with a family full of culinary inspiration.

Combined with her passion for the arts – including jewelry design and architecture – this naturally led her to a career as a chef.

Nahabedian was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America, but turned down the opportunity. “I was working with such tremendous chefs and I had this genuine feeling that I could learn more with practical experience,” she says.

Nahabedian went on to travel Europe before returning to Chicago, where she completed her training at restaurants like Sinclair’s.

Trained in French cooking, Nahabedian soon realized that she didn’t know what she calls “the basis of what makes America great, the regional cuisines.”

After building up her reputation as a strong, all-around chef in Chicago, Nahabedian was tapped by the Park Hyatt. She then transitioned to the executive sous chef position at the new Four Seasons Chicago.

Nahabedian stayed with Four Seasons for ten years, including stints in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.

Today, Nahabedian runs Naha with her cousin Michael. Now in its eighth year, Naha boasts critically acclaimed New American cuisine.

The kitchen emphasizes locally farmed ingredients and handcrafted items while taking a spin on American dishes using French technique and Mediterranean influence.

In addition to gourmet cuisine, Naha prides itself as a restaurant with personality, style and warmth. “It’s not an anonymous restaurant,” Nahabedian says. “There is a reason why people come back two and three times a week, they are comfortable.”

Carrie Nahabedian is one of the 2008 Charleston Food and Wine Festival’s featured chefs. She was chosen to cook at the festival, one of the premier festivals in America. Nahabedian has been nominated for three consecutive James Beard Foundation Awards as well as Best Chef Midwest and Best Chef Great Lakes for the past three years.  For more information see the website.

? April 2008