Chuy Valencia, one of six Chicago chefs to compete on Season 9 of the Bravo reality TV show"Top Chef," is taking a “sabbatical.” Valencia said he is selling his shares of Chilam Balam (3023 N. Broadway), the seasonal, small-plates Mexican restaurant where he’s been co-owner and chef since 2009, to pursue other interests, which include a new restaurant and a book project.
Valencia is teaming up with coffeehouse entrepreneur Philip Tadros (Dollop, Kickstand) on a new concept that he describes as “a really hearty, Midwest, but kind of modern-day Chicago take on diner classics and cafeteria food.” The spot will fresh-roast coffee up front, operate a two-kettle brewery in back, and serve up old-school dishes like buttered noodles, lasagna, patty melts and meatball sandwiches, cafeteria-style (and undoubtedly updated).
Valencia wants to stay on Broadway – for now, at least; he’s in the process of securing the location for his new spot just south of Belmont, but he hopes to eventually franchise. He’s also trademarking the name of his new company, Ursa – as in the constellations Ursa Minor and Ursa Major, to signify his upcoming projects, minor, major and everything in between.
One of them: becoming a published author. In addition to pursuing the new restaurant concept, Valencia is working on a book, tentatively titled “M.E.A.L.S.: Menus, Entrees, Anecdotes, Lies and Some truth to protect the innocent and equally evil.” He plans to shop it around to publishers this spring, with hopes of having it land on shelves by Christmas. In the meantime, catch him next door to Chilam Balam at Monsignor Murphy’s, where he’s making “cameo appearances” bartending in the outdoor beer garden.
Valencia – who was just 25 when he appeared on Top Chef – seems to be maturing. “I’m trying to be a grown-up businessman now,” the now-26-year-old said, “and it’s working out.”