In spite of her award-winning history, Chef Sarah Stegner is modest in the way she approaches her life as a chef, she's an easy person to embrace, and so likeable you just want to cheer her on. As she embarks on her new venture with co-chef, partner and friend George Bumbaris, she exudes her pride and excitement with a grin and a gleam in her eyes.
With the launch of Prairie Grass Café in 2008, Stegner and Bumbaris have taken a decidedly personal approach. "Our goal has been to bring the culinary technique we mastered in the world of fine dining to the more accessible level of casual dining. We create familiar dishes that are delicious because we use the best ingredients and employ the skill we have developed over the years." They both have a commitment to incorporating fresh, seasonal produce from small, regional family farms into their dishes.
Sarah is doing what she truly loves to do and over the years has transformed a childhood filled with loving cooking memories into a very personal culinary mission that is honest and pure, yet far from simplistic. The Evanston, Illinois, native grew up in a family devoted to food. Her grandmother was a caterer "before women did those kinds of things," and the table was the center of the family and where Stegner's passion for food emerged. "My mother was a huge inspiration," Stegner recalls. "As I was growing up, we spent many wonderful hours in the kitchen cooking together."
From the beginning, Stegner was creative. She spent a year studying classical guitar at Northwestern University, and then followed her heart and enrolled at the Dumas Pere Cooking School in Glencoe, which at the time was one of the few professional culinary schools in the Chicago area. She graduated with a chef's certificate one year later and was hired as an apprentice at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chicago, under the guiding hands of executive chef Fernand Gutierrez, rising to Executive Chef of its kitchens.
In 1999, she joined Chicago food writer Abby Mandel and a small group of Chicago's top chefs to form Chicago's Green City Market, a weekly venue for Midwest sustainable farmers who produce freshly picked fruits and vegetables, meats, artisan cheeses and many other top-quality ingredients. Green City Market has become an important Chicago institution, and Stegner continues to serve on its board of directors.
James Beard Foundation Best Chef Of The Midwest (1998)
James Beard Foundation Best Chef Of The Midwest, Nominee (1996, 1997, 1998)
James Beard Foundation, Rising Star Chef Of The Year In America (1994)