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Carol Brandin, Chef, Mirador, Chicago, IL

What the Mirador needed before it opened a year ago in Chicago was a chef who could bring sophistication to comfort, integrity to whimsy. Carol Brandin was the answer. "This is a very casual, informal setting. But I'm very serious about what I'm doing here. The food I'm preparing would work as well in a more formal setting as it does in this bistro," says Brandin.

Her style can best be described as French country cooking "with Mediterranean influences." Some items on her ever-changing menu are pumpkin soup with roasted chestnuts, braised pheasant with French green lentils, burgundy-style rabbit stew, roast veal kidneys with portobello mushrooms, and roasted, free range chicken--her signature dish.

Brandin credits Chef Pierre Gagnaire with influencing her more than anybody else. She worked for Gagnaire, considered one of France's most creative, avant garde chefs, for a year, during which time his restaurant earned a second star from Michelin. Brandin's appearance on the scene often has an uplifting effect. At N.Y.C.'s Quilted Giraffe, where she was sous chef for three years, the restaurant's New York Times rating rose from two to four stars.

Brandin's resume also includes a year at Michel Richard's Citrus in Hollywood and another assisting in the opening of Eze, a Mediterranean-style restaurant in New York City. "It was a fantastic experience working at the Giraffe, where a menu was periodically developed and then recreated to perfection night after night," says Brandin. "But with Gagnaire, a menu item would never be the same from night to night because he was in a constant process of change. That style of cooking reflected his spirit and had so much more life and spontaneity to it. That's the way I like to cook." "I love Carol's cooking because the forcefulness of her flavors are refreshing." says Mark Miller of Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe.