Now that the young and fiery Chuy Valencia has departed the kitchen of Chilam Balam (3023 N. Broadway; 773-296-6901), the top chef’s position there has been filled by the promotion of another young cook: the 25-year-old Toledo, Ohio, native Natalie Oswald.
Oswald came to cooking through pastry. She grew up baking and decorating cakes with her grandmother and then attended the Culinary Institute of America to round out her food knowledge. While still in school, she spent six months at Frontera Grill on an externship, where she met Valencia. She landed a job as a pastry chef at Otom after graduating, and Valencia called her to do pastry at Chilam Balam for its August 2009 opening. Eventually she became sous chef, which meant running the kitchen when Valencia was filming Top Chef.
Signature dishes such as the guacamole and the blue marlin seviche will remain on Oswald’s menu, and she has already introduced her own creations in the portion of the menu that changes monthly. A current Oswaldian contribution is grilled pork loin with a blue-corn waffle, chorizo gravy, and zucchini pickles. She’s still doing desserts, as well, keeping three permanent items—hibiscus flan, chocolate chili mousse, sweet peanut butter empanadas—and introducing one rotating item per month, now Meyer lemon pie.
Given the restaurant’s success (and Valencia’s notoriety), Oswald has big, outlandishly colored, spike-studded shoes to fill. Of course, looking at it another way, she has a built-in customer base, and she’s bound to look serious in contrast with Valencia. There are two sides to every tostada.