I’m Sweet On This Halloween Costume

HersheysKiss_2Yesterday I posted about a simple treat involving Hershey’s Kisses, today – in light of the fact that tomorrow is Halloween – I’m doing a post about how to dress like one.

It’s almost silly to post this because the costume is so simple – but maybe it’s worth it for the idea alone? I did this three years ago. Totally last-minute, like most of my costumes are (this year’s was one of my most involved) and easy to throw together. Bonus: It actually makes for a really cute costume.

If you’re a girl who wears a lot of sparkly stuff, this one is for you. Anything in a metallic silver will work perfectly, whether it’s a sequin dress, an embellished top, light gray silk pants, whatever. I went with a long-sleeved silver top, completely covered wioth sequins of course. Depending on how true to life you want to get, you could either pair something like this with some silver leggings a la American Apparel…or you can take some artistic liberty, like I did. I just paired the top with basic black shorts and heels.

Next up comes the hair: Just get a white ribbon, write “KISSES” on it with a blue pen, and tie it up in your hair. I got extra creative and wrote the word “KISS” on my cheek as well when I did this. Feel free to add extra details like that one. If you’re in need of a quick, easy, cheap costume, give this one a spin. And don’t forget to load your (silver) purse up with Kisses to distribute to everyone you see – how’s that for getting into the Halloween spirit?

Image via Blake Design Solutions.



Seriously Simple Salty/Sweet Snacks

hershey-kiss-mm-pretzelsYou’ve heard it from me once and you’ll hear it again: I am not a cook. I am, however, really good at discovering ridiculously simple “recipes” that yield really tasty results. Like this simple yet sinful treat which is perfect for parties, game day or even a little holiday that’s looming on the horizon. They taste amazing and they look really cute and colorful when served up on a platter.

All you need is some pretzels, Hershey’s kisses and a big bag of M&Ms. Oh, a working oven would be good too.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Pre heat the oven to 300 degrees
  • Arrange the pretzels on a baking sheet
  • Add one Hershey’s Kiss on top of each pretzel. Do your best to center these on the pretzel for maximum cuteness.
  • Stick the baking sheet in the oven for two minutes (yes, really. Just two.)
  • Remove the sheet from the oven – the chocolate won’t look totally melted, but you don’t want to leave them in the oven for too long as they’ll be messier to work with if the chocolate melts too much.
  • Add one M&M to the top of each pretzel, pushing it down so the Hershey’s Kiss spreads. Again, do your best to center to M&M.
  • Stick the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour, remove and enjoy!

If you’re serving these for a Halloween party you may want to separate the orange and brown M&Ms and use only those, depending on how many you can get your hands on – you can arrange the rest of the candies in a big bowl. Also, don’t fret if these don’t look as neat as you’d like them to. When you solidify them in the fridge they come out looking much better. I also suggest going with the square-shaped pretzels, as they seem to hold the melted chocolate on top better. Last tip? When you’re adding M&Ms, make sure you choose to either face the ‘m’ up or down and stick to this throughout – consistency is key!

What are some of your favorite easy Halloween recipes?


These Fall Colors Are Nailing It


I’ve been going through a dangerous phase recently, one that involves obsessing over nail polish, wanting to switch out my mani everyday and – here’s the dangerous part – spending hours drooling over the color selection at Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue. As much as I love the mixed mani thing, it does encourage an insane amount of nail polish lust, especially since my recently fixation with gradient manis makes me want to buy five slight variations  of the same color.

The one positive about my recent nail polish kick? I’ve tried on tons of colors in the past few weeks, which means I feel qualified to make a list of some fantastic fall colors for your viewing pleasure. Have a recommendation to add to the list? Tell me about it in the comments.

  • Deborah Lippmann ‘Rolling In The Deep:’ Navy is a gorgeous color, but when it comes to a navy mani things can get tricky. Buy a shade that’s too dark and it just looks black, go too light and it has more of that trendy look you get from an electric blue. This Lippmann version is a true navy and the finish is stunning and thick. I like this one as a classic mani. No accent nail, no glitter top coat, just a sleek, dark, classic navy on all ten digits.
  • Marc Jacobs ‘Evelyn:’ I love a good gray nail. American Apparel’s ‘Mouse’ used to be my go-to (it looked like a true gray on me but it can register more taupe as well) until I literally used up my entire bottle. Now the MJ version is on my list: It’s a straight-up, opaque gray that would look really amazing with a silver accent nail.
  • American Apparel, ‘Port:’ Speaking of AA polishes, this burgundy from the brand best known for producing solid colored things is so pretty. It’s a rich, vampy shade that looks sort of like an oxblood/true red hybrid. This looks great on the toes.
  • Chanel,’Black Pearl:” I’m not quite sure how to describe this shade – it could be black, gray, blue or green depending on how you look at it – but I know that after I tried this on, I could not stop looking at my nails. It’s just so interesting. I don’t actually own this one but it is on my list. It would make a killer accent color.
  • YSL, ‘Beige Gallery: This is the color you wear for job interviews, first dates, family functions, etc. throughout any season. It’s beautiful and classy and neutral, the kind of shade that goes with any outfit. When it comes to nail polish, I suggest investing in high quality formulas for a good red, a solid base coat and a perfect neutral. This is definitely the latter.
  • Clinique, ‘Indie Rock:’ Clinique polishes are specially formulated for sensitive skin, which is awesome, but I’m more concerned with how pretty this shade is. It’s a great bronzey-brown with disinct purple undertones. I love the contrast between the depth of the brown and the brightness of the purple.
  • Ginger and Liz, ‘Unconditional Love:’ This shade comes recommended straight from the G+L team, so you know it’s a good one. It’s billed as a “pistachio/colonial green,” a bit lighter than what you’d probably imagine when you think of fall colors, but still perfect. It’s a fresher take on the mint green trend that everyone started loving a while ago and I think this would look great mixed up with a good gray polish. “Unconditional Love” on one hand, “Evelyn” on the other? So cool. I need this shade ASAP.
  • Deborah Lippmann, ‘Fake It Till You Make It:’ Lippmann polishes are the holy grail of glitter. ‘Happy Birthday’ is my all-time favorite for a good sparkly look (true to its name, it’s a great birthday color) but this shade is a more subtle way to get glitzy. Flecks of red and green glitter are embedded into this gold formula, giving it an interesting texture and beautiful look. Unlike many glitter polishes, this is opaque if you use 2-3 coats.
  • Ginger and Liz, ‘Tough Luxe:’ I’m obsessed with all things army green…and when you add some gold shimmer into the mix, like the G+L girls did with this shade, the love only intensifies. This shade is going to take me through Winter – it’s dark without being drab. I especially love it underneath a coat of…
  • Butter London, ‘Jack The Lad:’ Surprisingly this was my first experience using a Butter nail color and I’m already hooked. This opaque shimmer is an insanely gorgeous blend of turquoise, green and old, pretty on its own but out-of-this-world amazing when layered over ‘Tough Luxe.’ The combo is so synergistic: The darker G+L color adds intensity; the Butter shade makes it vibrant. Try this duo – you won’t regret it.

What are some of your favorite fall nail colors? I’m loving grays, greens and glitters, in case that’s not obvious from this list. If you’re anything like me (sick of the ring-finger-accent-mani) try this: Use both your ring finger and pinky as accent nails. I love using two shades in the same color family, but with totally different textures. For example, a matte gold on the first three fingers, a glittery bronze on the other two. Do you have a favorite mixed mani combo? Shoot them my way.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out my review of this amazing polish (which I’m wearing right now.)

Image via No Army Can Stop An Idea. 


The Anatomy Of A Halloween Costume

rihanna-redLast night Marie Claire broadcasted this nugget of wisdom to the magazine’s Facebook fans:

“Not to stress you out you out or anything but Halloween is basically tomorrow.”

And while this statement isn’t technically true, it is….kind of true. Since apparently everyone and their mother thinks it’s a good idea to celebrate this coming weekend even though Halloween isn’t till next Thursday, Halloween will pretty much be going down…tomorrow.

I realized this a few days ago and knew I didn’t have much time to devote to a costume – and honestly I’m not someone who gets really charged up about Halloween anyway – so I did what all sensible girls do: I turned to my current wardrobe for costumes ideas. For the record, if you’re someone who buys those prepackaged “sexy” costumes….I think you can do better than that.

I decided to base this year’s look around a certain hat I bought a few months ago. This is definitely not something I’d generally gravitate towards, but when I saw it I just knew I had to have it. I just had a feeling that even though it isn’t something I’d wear in ‘real life,’ it would come in handy at some point. And that point, my friends, has come.

Initially I wasn’t sure what I could do with the hat, but then it hit me: Who is one woman who can make a snapback – or really, anything – look hot, edgy and fashionable at the same time? Obviously the answer to that is Rihanna… or maybe her new roomie Cara Delevingne but I don’t think I’d look so good as a blonde.

I picked up a few pieces for this costume (most notably the wig, which i found at Heads ‘N Threads in Wicker Park for just $27) but most of it was just sort of sitting in my closet. You could make this outfit really scandalous but I prefer to keep it covered up, especially since it’s freezing in Chicago. I’m forgoing one of her performance looks and opting for a Rihanna-street-style-inspired costume. Here’s what I’ll be wearing this weekend.

Red wig: Riri has rocked the eff out of so many hairstyles but I’ve always been partial to the fire-engine red she had going on circa “Only Girl In The World.” I’ve always sort of wondered how I would look as a redhead and while the reality isn’t exactly pretty, it is kind of a fun look. Get one here, here or here. 

Oversized tank: Rihanna has that slightly boyish, tough girl style down pat. I choose this top when I was out costume shopping but while working on this post I found that I actually prefer this one. Maybe I’ll make the switch because I can’t really see myself ever wearing a “Thug Life” shirt again. There are plenty of really cheap tanks that would work like a charm available at Forever 21.

Leather leggings: I just bought a pair of leather shorts that I am obsessed with and I wish they could have worked with this outfit. I tried and it just didn’t like anything Rihana would ever wear, though. I’m going for leather leggings instead – the fact that I’ll be warm is great consolation.

Wedge sneakers: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny that these are the perfect footwear for this costume. Also, they’re absurdly comfortable. I would never shell out for the Isabel Marant version of this trend because it’s such a…trend. If you’d rather get the sneaks for less too, these would work. So would these. I’ll be wearing these.

Hoop earrings: I’m not a hoop earring person at all but I thought these were kind of cool. Maybe I’ll actually wear them even after Halloween is over. Maybe.

Hat: Obviously I’m going with the “BAD” snapback, which seems to be sold out. Don’t worry, though: There are plenty of cool  options which are still available. 

Red lipstick: Oh, come on. I know you’ve already got this step covered. Extra points if you use MAC’s Riri Woo.

And there you have it. A super easy, cheap, and (hopefully) cool costume. Want to use this post as inspiration and dress up as Rihanna too? Feel free. I promise I won’t mind….just as long as you Tweet or Instagram me a picture of your look @Zarhus.

Image via E Hair Experts.



How Divergent’s Version of Chicago Resembles Our Own

This blog is called “STATEMENT/scene” because sometimes I like to make bold statements and this is a place for me to do just that. With that being said, the post below isn’t meant to offend anyone. It’s supposed to be fun and funny and I hope it mkes you laugh…


In Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, residents of a dystopian Chicago are divided into factions based on their values. And while the world created in this novel seems entitrely unlike the one in which we live, if you think about it, real life isn’t so different. After all, if you make the choice to move to a big city, there’s the daunting task of choosing which pocket of that city is right for you. Okay, so we — unlike the characters in Divergent – aren’t officially bound to one faction, but we are faced with the task of choosing a neighborhood in which to live… and we all know that the cultural differences from one neighborhood to another can be staggering.

We’ve all probably heard — or even delivered — the argument that Chicago is unlike any other city in the world. There’s truth to this idea: the balance our city strikes between big-city urbanization and medium-city quality of life is remarkable. But when it comes right down to it, Chicago has a few structural commonalities with every other city. And like any metropolis, Chicago is made up of neighborhoods that each represent something very different in its cultural equation.

I won’t specify which neighborhood fits each description in Chicago — because frankly there may be more than one answer to each option — but these are the five archetypical parts of a major city, and each of these genres is represented here in Chicago.

They’re characterized by things that seem superficial, (the way their inhabitants dress, what they do with leisure time) but actually speak volumes about the nature of the area and what the people who have chosen it value. So without further ado, let’s look at the five standard neighborhoods each big city has and discuss who belongs in each.

The ‘Hipster’ ‘hood
For you if: You always manage to look artfully disheveled, even though you shop at Urban Outfitters and Free People. The only thing you love more than a good vegan meal is your leather jacket. You love telling people your shirt is “vintage” even though you aren’t quite sure what that means. You own at least 2 pairs of large, plastic framed glasses. Ten points if you wear said glasses (without the lenses) even though your vision is 20/20. Fifty points if you’re wearing said glasses (without the lenses) over your contacts.

The center-of-everything hood
For you if:
 Flashing lights don’t give you a migraine, you’re cool with walking in heels (if you’re a girl.) You work as a banker. Or in PR. Your parents support you. You don’t mind living in a closet-size apartment as long as your address screams “trendy!” You’re not scandalized at the mention of club drugs. You’ve perfected the subtle art of walking up to a bouncer and demanding that he let you cut the line at whatever bar/club/lounge is “so right now.” After all, your mental Rolodex includes the names of every service industry professional in town. You went to college in a big city. You enjoy good food, and by ‘good’ food, I mean food that’s served in portions so tiny, you can’t really tell if it’s good or bad because it’s gone by the time you start tasting it.

The all-American ‘hood
For you if: 
You “like beer” but you’re “cool with the cheap stuff, man.” You wear a lot of baseball caps. You think it’s socially acceptable to wear Uggs when it’s still kind of warm… or at all. You went to a state school and are trying to recreate the glory days. You were in a fraternity or sorority. You like theme parties. The most exotic thing you’ll eat is a plate of bar nachos. Speaking of bars, you only go to them because clubs are pretentious; you know this even though you’ve never been to one. Also speaking of bars: you can’t resist bursting into song when they play “Don’t Stop Believing” at “the bar.” Which they will. Every. Single Time.

The off-the-beaten-path ‘hood
For you if:
 You don’t mind living next to a family. Like, a real family, like a married couple with kids and pets. You go to bed early. You like authentic, unassuming ethnic restaurants that fly under the radar. You could spend hours pouring over a tattered novel (not a Kindle) at a coffee shop so small, it’s almost an afterthought. You wear a lot of scarves. You make your own scarves. You’re the kind of person who could be happy living in a total dump as long as you personalize it in such a way that, when your friends visit, they call it “quaint” or “charming.” You think high-rise buildings have no character. You don’t own a TV.

The not-really-in-the-city ‘hood aka the city-adjacent suburbs:
For you if:
 You own a car and actually do a decent job of operating it. You think Olive Garden has “really good food.” You have or want kids. You’re okay with playing role of DD. You shop at the mall.

Originally published online at Huffington Post.

Image via The Fremd High School English Ning. 


Gentlemen’s Club: How Make This Menswear Trend Work

photo-67-copy.jpgIf you know me at all, you know this: I wear heels whenever possible. Ballet slippers are not my thing;  my feet probably went about five years without seeing the inside of a pair of sneakers….you get the picture. I’m just a little over five feet tall, so it’s a good thing I have no problem walking in heels – in fact, my arched feet tend to sit better in high heels than they do in most flats.

But I digress. I had a very easy time resisting the ballet flat trend but the same can’t be said for the new flat shoe in town: the oxford.  I just can’t seem to get enough of these menswear-inspired shoes. And while a classic black brogue would look great paired with black pants and a white button-down, I happen to prefer a slightly flashier option. I say if you’re wearing a tame shoe like an oxford, bring on the glitter, the sheen and the studs. I fell in love with several pairs of oxfords but ultimately none compared to this glorious pair:


At $237, these Red Valentino sparkly duds were a bit of a splurge, but I am so happy I bought them. I’ve worn them nonstop for the past month or so and they get so many compliments. They really amp up any outfit – even a pair of black jeans and a plain white tee shirt (exactly what I’m wearing below) looks exciting when I add these…don’t you think?

I personally love these shoes, but there are plenty of other options out there if you want to cop the menswear-with-a-side-of-sheen trend. I’d recommend shelling out a little more cash and getting a pair that is made with real leather, as they’ll be so much more comfortable. Man-made materials may cut or blister your skin and if you get a pair that doesn’t irritate, your oxfords could very well become your go-to comfortable shoe. They’re a great way to add a little flair to a work outfit and you’ll be okay if you have to be on your feet all day. I tried this Sam Edelman pair first and even though they looked amazing I had to return them as they chafed my ankles way too much. Then again, I have sensitive skin and am not used to wearing flats – so maybe you’ll have better luck with a synthetic pair than I did. Even the pair I bought needed some serious breaking in: I wore them at home with thick socks under them, but what really worked for me was spreading a little Vaseline along the edge that hit my heel.

Another pro tip? Don’t be afraid to wear these in unexpected ways. I think a really feminine outfit – like a full skirt and tucked-in top – could look really fun and a little bit edgy with a pair of these added. And while I’m a huge advocate of wearing heels for a night out, I think these would actually look really amazing. Use your imagination!

Here are some other sparkly oxfords I love.



Product Review: Two Sephora Gift Sets

Sephora’s value sets are always…well, a great value. Because of this, it’s no surprise that these kits fly off the shelves. In fact, I’m surprised to see that the two I recently purchased are both still available. With that being, said: Get ‘em while you can. They’d make great gifts, either to yourself or to someone else.

I opted for “Draw The Line,” a kit that includes six top-selling eyeliners, and “Give Me Some Lip,” which has six popular lip shades.

The best part about these sets isn’t just that you get five or six products for the price of one or two – it’s the fact that you can try out each product, see how it works with the rest of your makeup and decide which works for you, at which point you decide to buy that one product over and over again.

For me, that one product is the Stila “Stay All Day” Waterproof Liquid Liner from the Draw The Line set. I’ve never even considered wearing liquid liner before because I have shaky hands and my idea of liner used to be a pencil smudged along my water line (not a good look.) The ‘value’ of this value set is that it forced me to try something new, only to discover I actually love it.

Overall I would definitely recommend the “Draw The Line” set. The “Give Me Some Lip,” on the other hand…well, I could take or leave that one. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a nice collection of lip colors, and someone who wears something on the lip regularly would probably love it. Personally, though, I wish I had held out for this set instead because Tarte Lipsurgence crayons are some of my favorite products. But let’s look at the merits of both these sets.


Draw The Line: This set may be worth it for the Stila liner alone. I can’t say enough good things about this liner. It’s got a fat felt tip that doesn’t go anywhere you don’t want it and it really stays put on the lash line. I love the dramatic look it gives my deep-set eyes and I love the fact that I can actually apply it properly. Runner-up for best product in this set would have to be the Eyeko Skinny Liquid Liner, which is similarly easy to work with but slightly less intense than the Stila liner. I’d use Stila’s take for night, Eyeko’s for day – they’re both great liners, and I do enjoy the slightly translucent, smudgy look of the Eyeko version. I haven’t used to other products as much, but I do have one gripe about this set: The lack of variety. I wish they had thrown in an edgy colored liner or perhaps a smudge pot. Still, I got six high-end liners for $30, so who am I to complain?


Give Me Some Lip: To be completely honest, I’ve thought about returning this set but I have opened it and sampled some of the colors, so it just seems a little tacky to try to take it back now. My main complaint is that the colors just don’t really work on me, which is no fault of Sephora’s. If you think about it, it is much easier to create a set of liners that’ll work on everyone than it is to curate a collection of lip colors – after all, skin tone plays a huge role in determining how a lip color will look on you. I like the Tarte Lip Luster shade: “Glitzy” is a lovely, easy to wear champagne shade, but that’s really the only color I see myself wearing. Turkish Delight, a gloss by Nars, was particularly disappointing for me. This shade got really popular when Kim Kardashian announced that she wears it all the time, so it makes sense that it appears in the set….but it is, IMHO, very hard to wear. I’m surprised, because Kim and I have very similar complexions, so you’d think that a color she loves would flatter me too. Instead I just look like a corpse when I try to wear “Turkish Delight.” It’s very pale, almost milky in color, and really washes out my skin. Also, as much as I love NARS products, the finish of this is just sticky and smells of chemicals. Not a winner. The other shades in this set are fine. Bite Beauty High Pigment Pencil in “Rhubarb” is a nice, neutral reddish brown that I plan on giving to my mom as it just seemed to age my whole face. If you’re a major lip color person, get this. If not, maybe opt for this set….


Lash Stash: I didn’t actually buy this set but I think I might have to since I just realized it includes two of the only makeup products I actually use regularly. My go-to makeup game pretty much includes just concealer and mascara, and for the latter I’ve been switching back and forth between YSL’s “Babydoll” and Benefit’s “They’re Real,” both of which are fantastic. I actually got both of these free (as samples) but I realize those won’t last forever, so I may have to take the plunge and get this set. You should too because “Babydoll” might be the best mascara ever created.


Buy them now: Give Me Some Lip, $25 here. Draw The Line, $30 here . Lash Stash, $45 here.

Images from Sephora. 


Robert Rodriguez On The Power Of The White Shirt


Models in new looks from Robert Rodriguez

I had the pleasure of meeting contemporary designer Robert Rodriguez at an event held to showcase the brand new CUSP department at Michigan Avenue’s Neiman Marcus location. Rodriguez was a special guest at the event so naturally he was swarmed with people waiting to talk to him – but luckily I was able to snag a quick interview. Here’s how it went:

Statement Scene: What are some things that you think are going to be really big in the next few months?

Robert Rodriguez: In fashion? The white shirt in every which way, whether it be a shirtdress, an oversized shirt or a cropped shirt – shirting is very important.

SS: What’s your favorite piece in your current collection?

RR: In the Spring collection, the one I just launched, I love all my marble prints and I think one of my favorite pieces, again, is one of my white shirts that I have in the collection. I think it’s just a really great piece.

SS: Have you been in Chicago before this? 

RR: I was about 4 years ago, here at Neimans.

SS: What’s your take on style in Chicago or the way Chicagoans dress?

RR: I think it’s very…women here are very eclectic. It’s very much like New York. Very cool, very hip, very city-like.

SS: What are some pieces every woman should have in her closet?

RR: Of course the white shirt, a pair of leather jeans, a fur coat, a white tee shirt and a little black dress.


The takeaway from all this is, of course, that the white shirt is an essential. In need of a good one? Check out my picks below.



The Easiest, Cheapest DIY Project Ever.

photo 5-1I live right in the heart of the city, which is great except for one thing: the lack of space in my apartment. My bedroom at my parent’s house seems downright palatial in comparison to the one I inhabit in Chicago. Would I change it? No. But making the most of a smaller space is undoubtedly challenging.

 Also challenging: Making a space – any space, regardless of size – one’s own. In college I thought an Audrey Hepburn painting was the answer. It took me about two weeks to realize every other college girl has the same idea.

So here’s a solution: why not make something that can act as a decorative piece? Let me make one thing clear: I am not an artist. If I can pull of this project, anyone can. All you need is a box of crayons, a piece of poster board, some glue, a blow dryer and a place in your home where you can make a little bit of a mess.

Here’s how it goes:


A few tips:

  • Make sure you have enough crayons to cover the entire top of the poster board before you start. The last thing you want is to start attaching crayons only to find that you need to go buy more and change up your order at the last minute.
  • While applying heat to the crayons you can drag the blow dryer down to get the wax to reach the bottom of the poster board. Move the dryer from side to side so the colors really blend together and splatter over the page.
  • Before you start blow drying be sure to wax-proof your area. Definitely put newspaper or a garbage down on the floor below the poster board and cover your walls as well. It goes without saying: don’t wear anything you don’t want to ruin while doing this.


Posted in Uncategorized |

Statements From Master Chef’s Graham Elliot

graham_elliotChicago native Graham Elliot has already established himself as one of the city’s most prominent restaurateurs – but his achievements also shine on a national scale. Elliot is a judge for hit TV show Master Chef and its spinoff, Master Chef Junior. Rounding out his list of nationally televised projects is Covert Affairs, a special that will show Elliot putting aspiring chefs to the test as they turn unfinished locations into a full eateries – complete with food, music and ambience – in just 36 hours.

Master Chef comes to Chicago on October 19 for an open casting call and naturally Elliot has some advice for wannabe chefs from his hometown. Read on to find out more about his favorite dish, why he loves Chicago’s culinary scene and what hopefuls can do to impress him this Saturday. And don’t forget to preregister for your shot at a stint on Master Chef.

Statement Scene: What’s one of your favorite things about working on Master Chef?

Graham Elliot: It’s a way to learn about the different cuisines of the world. It takes place in America, which is a great melting pot of backgrounds, religions, everything. To take food from all across North, West, South, East is the best thing about it.

SS: You’re holding a casting call on October 19. What is something that a hopeful could do to really impress you that day?

GE: You know, it’s not just about the food. Anyone can take something, put it in a pan, apply heat to it and have it go from a raw to a cooked state. It’s the story that goes with it. It’s ‘this is who I am, this is what I’m willing to do to win, this is how I was raised and this is how I problem solve’ – all that stuff. That’s what gets my attention.

SS: If you were to go to a casting call like this one, what signature dish would you prepare?

GE: That’s a good question. For me it would probably be like a soft shell crab, sort of a Maryland flair. That’s where my extended family is from. I was an army brat – my dad is in the Navy – so I didn’t really have a place I was from, but that’s where I feel the closest. I’d probably try to do something from that region.

SS: What do you love about Master Chef Junior that you don’t get on the main show?

GE: I think with regular Master Chef, the contestants – they’re still amateurs, they’re not professionals by any means – but they’ve been through life and been through trials and tribulations and the kids are much more innocent and much more open. They’re like clay, you can sort of form them. It’s much more of a mentoring program, which I love.

SS: Were you one of those kids who was always in the kitchen cooking or did you discover it later in life?

GE: Well I was always a fan of experimenting and trying new things. The weirder the better: snails, octopus. I had dog and monkey in the Philippines, things that would freak most people out. I started working at 17 in a kitchen and from there realized that was my calling and what I wanted to do. But I didn’t have the ‘cooking with grandma by the stove’ thing at all.

SS: Covert Kitchens will have a lot to do with building an entire restaurant, which you obviously understand. What’s the most important element of that other than the food?

GE: Everybody wants a restaurant to have authenticity and personality, so it’s got to be an extension of the chef, whoever is running it. Everything from signage, name, music, logo, all has to be of equal importance. That’s what we’ll be doing on Covert Kitchens, giving someone the ability to transform a space for a night. If they do something great then the people dining can really influence their career.

SS: What would you say is the must-try dish right now at your restaurant?

GE: Probably the octopus. It’s been braised for hours so it kind of melts in your mouth. We do it with ratatouille and olives and squid ink and charred eggplant, a lot of elements you’d get in the Mediterranean but in a different way. It’s just really yummy

SS: What do you think sets Chicago’s dining scene apart from the restaurants in other cities?

GE: The fact that everyone who comes up through the ranks and wants to own a restaurant does it in Chicago. We’re very supportive of our own and everyone here pushes the envelope and sees food as art instead of just serving salmon and beef on the menu. It’s far and away the most creative food town in the country.

SS: What advice would you give someone who wants to become a better cook?

GE: Throw away everything you’ve learned. A cookbook can only take you so far. You have to understand food and flavors and know what each thing represents: something rich and fatty versus something sweet and tart or something with crunch. Figure out how to put those things together and find your voice. That’s what it’s about, just like in music.

Image via Mobile Cuisine.