He moved to Chicago a little more than a year ago, but chef Christian Hunter has taken the city by storm, earning a Michelin star for his restaurant Atelier, receiving the Young Chef Award from the Michelin Guide along with a James Beard semi-finalist nomination, and being named one of Chicago Magazine’s best new restaurants. Hunter is currently the only Black chef in Chicago with a Michelin star, and one of only two Black chefs in the country with the honor.

Hunter grew up in Lexington, Kentucky with six siblings and a single mother, whose work ethic he inherited. 

“I grew up around traditional Southern food,” he says. “My mother, grandfather and great aunt were all amazing home cooks. And because Lexington is a pretty diverse place, I was exposed to a lot of cuisines that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.” 

Hunter fondly recalls trying Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese and Taiwanese food as a kid. At Atelier, Hunter aims to honor familiar flavors and dishes with high quality Midwestern ingredients.

“We want to blow you away with the flavor and presentation,” he says. “But overall, we want to give a feeling of comfort in the sense of how the food hits, tastes and the story behind it.” 

In January 2023, Hunter was the executive chef at Community Table in Connecticut and felt like he was ready for his next challenge. He was considering opportunities in the Midwest and Bay Area when he responded to Atelier owner Tim Lacey’s ad on Culinary Agents looking for an executive chef. 

“I knew Chicago was a great food city,” Hunter said. “Some of the best restaurants in the world are here.” 

Chef Christian Hunter prepares charred cabbage topped with harissa butter and Michigan cranberry za'atar at his restaurant, Atelier. Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE®

When he arrived in Chicago and opened Atelier in February 2023, Hunter was an unknown chef serving a 12-course tasting menu in Lincoln Square, a part of town far from the trendy West Loop and River North neighborhoods. 

“A lot of our initial support came from our neighbors who were curious (to) what was going on in the new space,” Hunter says. He cherishes the relationships he’s built with the Lincoln Square community and is committed to using local, seasonal ingredients as much as possible, saying he and Atelier are “always looking to make friends with new farmers.” Don’t be surprised if you spot Hunter and his kitchen team at the Lincoln Square and Logan Square farmers markets before service.

Hunter’s biggest breakthrough, and a turning point for the restaurant, was his receiving his first Michelin star in New York in October. 

“When we got the invite, I personally was not certain that we would get a Michelin star,” Hunter says. “It was very surreal. Luckily I was able to bring out most of our kitchen team to New York City, so it was really cool to be able to share that experience with them. It wasn’t my accomplishment, it was our accomplishment really.” 

That night, Hunter also received the Young Chef Award and legendary chef Gabriel Kreuther invited Hunter to his eponymous restaurant for lunch the next day, which was his first experience dining at a two-star Michelin restaurant. “I learned so much and just wanted to soak up as much as possible.”

When it comes to building a great restaurant, it’s not just about the food. Hunter prioritizes building a strong and supportive kitchen culture for his team. “It’s important to me to create a culture that’s inclusive, and push to better our industry,” he says. 

“Kitchens need to be more diverse and I want to give my team consistency, both in hours worked and my leadership temperament and attitude.” 

Hunter says he’s met many lifelong friends working in various kitchens, and wants to create an atmosphere that’s less about drinking and partying and more about fellowship, empathy and striving to achieve as a team. 

“Leadership is something I have to work on everyday,” he says. “I think it’s hard to be a leader because it requires you to take a step outside of yourself and view things from the perspective of the people who work for you and with you.”

These days, Hunter has partnered with Lacey to start their own hospitality group and he’s looking at locations for a second, more casual a la carte restaurant, named for his mother LaVerne. “Atelier is very much a special occasion kind of place, and I want to provide our neighborhood the same quality food that we do at the restaurant but at a price point that is more approachable on a daily basis.” 

Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE®

Hunter goes on to say he wants La Verne’s to be a fun restaurant serving fine comfort food that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

“I landed here by choice and by chance, but the community has been coming in since day one, and Chicago already feels like home,” he says. “If I open up another restaurant, I want it to be in the neighborhood that I live in and a neighborhood spot. A lot of my time is spent in Lincoln Square and I plan on sticking around for a bit. I’m definitely putting roots down.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.