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Amanda Barnes Takes the Reins in HotChocolate’s Kitchen

The former Packing House chef has been in place at Mindy Segal’s spot for the past month.

HotChocolate   Photo: Scott Shigley

“She’s got a lot going on: a new book coming out, events. She’s going in a lot of different directions. I think she thinks that after ten years, it’s time to step back and enjoy the fruits of her labor,” says Amanda Barnes of Mindy Segal, the spoon that stirs HotChocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave., Bucktown, 773-489-1747). Shifting into a more managerial role at the restaurant, Segal hired Barnes as HotChocolate’s executive chef about a month ago, and Barnes’s menu is now mostly in place.

Barnes says her homey, approachable style of rustic American food with European influences is simpatico with the philosophy Segal established at HotChocolate, and that she has slid right into place. Her painstaking roast chicken, for instance, already appears on the menu. Barnes brines the chicken, and then hangs it in the walk-in refrigerator to dry for at least 24 hours, and preferably 36 to 48. She serves it with a soy-caramel sauce and sides of celery leaf, parsley, cilantro, and pickled jalapeño salad and smashed fingerling potatoes.

Barnes did stints at Moto and Purple Pig before a brief sojourn at Packing House, which hired her when it did a 180 from the sports bar Market to scratch-cooking restaurant. She left when it 180ed back to where it started. But HotChocolate seems to her like a good landing spot. “I admire Mindy a lot and really feel at home here,” she says.

Between Barnes and the pastry chef Kym DeLost, who started this past spring, Segal now has time freed up for when her cookie cookbook comes out next spring. Hopefully she can use some of that spare time to come make cookies at our house.

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