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Chicago Gourmet - bio: John Chiakulas
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John Chiakulas

Mity Nice Bar & Grill

John Chiakulas is Corporate Executive Chef of Lettuce Entertain You. For the last 30 years, Chiakulas has worked at more than two dozen Lettuce restaurants including The Pump Room, Scoozi, Wildfire and Foodease.

Even as a young entrepreneur Chiakulas was destined to be in the restaurant business. His mother remembers when he opened his first “restaurant” at the age of ten serving ten cent cheese sandwiches and hotdogs to his brothers. A native of Chicago, Chiakulas began his professional career in high school bussing tables at My Π Pizzeria and received his first cooking job at Gordons Restaurant.

Chiakulas’ journey with Lettuce began at Ambria in 1981 working in the kitchen as a fish butcher. Soon after he opened Avanzare and served as the saucier until 1984 when he was promoted to Sous Chef. In 1987 Chiakulas' hard work paid off and he became Avanzare’s Head Chef. While working at Avanzare, he traveled through Italy where he found a new appreciation for authentic Italian cooking. He used these new experiences extensively when he became Executive Chef at Scoozi in 1992.

In 1994, Chiakulas became a Corporate Chef giving him the opportunity to work at many Lettuce restaurants, often filling in as interim chef. These restaurants include Tru, L. Woods and Wildfire, to name a few. Chiakulas considers his time in 1997 as Executive Chef for the Pump Room to be among the highlights of his career.

Rich brought Chiakulas on as Corporate Executive Chef in August 2002, "In this position we can utilize John’s versatile talents to work with me on special projects and develop new concepts," says Melman. As Corporate Executive Chef Chiakulas manages the development, creation and maintenance of many Lettuce menus and recipes as well as overseeing every aspect of the restaurant's operations.

In 2007, Chiakulas teamed up with partner Marc Jacobs at Foodlife as a chef and supervisor, reengineering the dining stations and introducing new recipes and dishes. In 2011, Chiakulas helped bring Foodease to life and considers it a “chef’s playground” where he can work with many different cuisines while also staying close to the customer. He says, “This job is a chef’s dream. Not only am I developing recipes for different cuisines everyday but I feel truly connected to our guests. I love that side of this position.”

In addition to developing new Lettuce restaurants, Chiakulus worked with Lettuce Consulting Group on three projects in 2011. In this role he was able to travel and work with a new team at Lettuce while creating menus all over the country.

After 30 years with Lettuce Chiakulas is still inspired by Rich everyday, “Rich has taught me to not be afraid of failure and to never rest on my laurels.” Throughout his time as Corporate Executive Chef he has become more comfortable in this leadership role but is still “hungry for more” and is excited for the next challenge.

With a love for chocolate and a nickname to match (Chocco-latte), Chiakulas' passion is still cooking, something he considers to be a “labor of love.” Chiakulas is married with four wonderful sons and lives in Chicago's Northwest suburbs. In his free time he enjoys entertaining and cooking at home for friends and family, gardening, fishing and golf.

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