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Restaurateur Amy Morton and Chef Debbie Gold Join Forces

The James Beard Award winner is throwing her weight behind Morton’s suburban fine dining spots.

Photo: Tara Young

A dream duo of culinary women is quietly revamping a local restaurant empire.

Amy Morton, the mastermind behind Found Kitchen (1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston), Barn Steakhouse (1016 Church St., Evanston), and Stolp Island Social (5 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora), has brought in chef Debbie Gold to manage all of her properties. Most recently of Tied House, Gold has had a storied decades-long career, including a James Beard Award, appearances on Top Chef Masters, and her own successful restaurant in Kansas City.

Morton and Gold have known each other for more than 20 years, and hearing them talk about their reunion is like sitting in on a conversation between old roommates.

“I’ve never been happier in my entire life,” Morton says. “Literally, I walked into the restaurant and saw [Gold], and it was like all the time in between had totally collapsed.”

According to Morton, the two worked together at her first restaurant, Mirador, in Old Town in the mid-’90s. But Gold soon decamped for Kansas City, where the James Beard Foundation recognized her as the Best Chef in the Midwest in 1999 for her work at the American. The two have tried to collaborate ever since.

“We have very similar sensibilities about how things are supposed to be done,” Gold says.

When she joined the company, Gold first revamped the brunch menu at Morton’s newest project, Stolp Island Social. Because it’s a pre-theater spot, creating a menu that appeals to everyone but is still unique can be a challenge. But Gold was up to it, crafting dishes like crab cake with green goddess aioli, avocado toast with pink grapefruit and goat cheese, and bourbon French toast with cinnamon sugar.

“She came in on day one and created a brunch menu with a snap of her fingers that perfectly matched the restaurant,” Morton says.

After working on Stolp, Gold has moved to Found and is revamping the menu there. The focus, according to Gold, is on technique, preparation, and doing everything right — not in creating whiz-bang new dishes that sound great on a menu.

“A big part of what I do means no shortcuts. You have to start from the beginning product. Each step along the way is important, and if you skip one, it changes the food drastically,” Gold says.

She points to a simple Caesar dressing as an example. A chef might design a dressing, but if they don’t keep an eye on it, six months later, it’s an entirely different product.

“I’m a mom of two – and I’m one of those moms who catches you doing things you aren’t supposed to do,” she quips.

In terms of what diners can expect at Found, Gold wants to expand the restaurant’s focus on local products, bring in her expertise in French cuisine, and incorporate some recent trends she’s geeking out about, like fermentation. The goal isn’t a re-concepting or overhaul of Found (or of any of Morton’s restaurants), but a fine-tuning.

Morton seems excited and a bit relieved to have a talented, experienced partner to help her run her ventures — and, of course, whatever new restaurants are in her future.

“Life is way too short not to enjoy what you’re doing,” Morton says. “We all spend way more time here than we do with our families. We need to make sure we’re having fun.”

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