Bringing Back the Old with a New Twist
While rolling in pizza dough, Crafted Americana’s Chef James Little sensed his culinary calling. “I loved being slammed and in the weeds on Friday and Saturday nights,” recalls Chef James of his high school working days at Jimano’s Pizzeria in McHenry, IL. “That intensity in the kitchen drew me in. I realized the food industry is where I wanted to be.”
Originally intent on becoming a firefighter, James chose to feed rather than stifle the flames, accepting an offer as Chef at Olive Black in Richmond while finishing his Culinary Arts and Management training at McHenry County College. James introduced tapas to Olive Black, still a hot menu option at this mod martini lounge.
At The Ridge Hotel’s Crafted Americana, Chef James is making his mark by bringing back conventional recipes with an upscale twist, what he calls “new-age old classics.” Says Chef James, “We make meat loaf fancy by using Kobe beef and homemade tomato jam or adorn an old favorite like pot roast with truffle sour cream and fried carrots served on a bed or pappardelle pasta.”
This month, Chef James is leaning into his love of tacos – his proclaimed fave food ever – with a taco challenge tied to March Madness. Guests dining at Crafted Americana between March 19 and April 8 can order his sampler platter with four taco flavors and vote on which should earn a spot on Crafted’s spring menu. “Tacos are a blank canvas that you can do anything with,” says Chef James. “I like to fuse cultures, creating items like Asian tacos.” (Not surprising, then, Korean BBQ tacos have made the chef’s final four bracket.)
Crafted’s spring menu will debut in late April with a host of new offerings – from new-age old classics to jerk chicken, skirt steak, ahi tuna and of course, the winning taco.
Chef James invites you to sample the tacos and the upcoming spring menu. “There’s something about eating together that brings joy,” says Chef James. “Even long-distance friends feel comfortable reuniting around the dinner table. That’s where the best conversation takes place.”