At Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood, Christine Cikowski serves a menu full of unique and inspiring comfort food made with high-quality ingredients from local farms. HBFC originated in fall 2013 and has since grown to become one of Chicago's most popular dinner spots.
As a culmination of unique chefly touches and traditional comfort food, HBFC creates a simplistic yet sophisticated atmosphere for diners. Despite its polished image, however, HBFC was born from a happy accident. Spoon spoke with chef Christine Cikowski about the origins of her restaurant and about being a woman in the food industry.
Spoon: What inspired the creation of Honey Butter Fried Chicken?
Cikowski: A couple of different things. My co-chef Josh Kulp and I ran Sunday Dinner Club for twelve years, and we created more of a community in addition to a dinner party. We changed our menu based on what was in season, and that kept us creative so that we didn't subscribe to just one cuisine. We cooked the things that we would want to eat.
A couple years in, we were serving fried chicken with corn cakes and honey butter. We always plated a portion for a family meal in the back, and one night the honey butter melted all over the chicken because we plated haphazardly. This was the greatest accident that ever happened. It was so delicious that we ran out into the dining room to tell everyone to put the honey butter on the chicken.
The most important part was that we stumbled upon this great flavor combo with the honey butter at the chicken. At the time, we wanted to expand Sunday Dinner Club, so we took one of our favorite menus and turned it into a restaurant. The honey butter fried chicken had a great following and it was unique and accessible, so we knew people would easily come to a restaurant that serves it.
Spoon: What's it like to be a woman in the male-dominated industry of restaurant management?
Cikowski: This is always challenging to answer because I've never been anything but a woman, so I only know my perspective. It's hard when you're labeled as a female chef, instead of just "chef." I have had my share of harassment, and of situations that I was looked down upon because I was a woman, but I tend to fight past that. I hope to get to an environment where we are all just treated as people, not as male or female.
For me, I set up my business in a way that is inclusive and non-discriminatory. Josh and I are committed to fair employment and raising everybody up together. Part of that is taking care of women. All that being said, it weighs on me when I have to identify as a female chef when mostly I just think about myself as a chef.
Spoon: What is your favorite dish to cook?
Cikowski: I have two answers to that. First, I love the little seasonal touches on the HBFC menu. We classify it as comfort food. I love the little touches that make dishes a little elevated or a little upgraded. That comes from studying flavors and textures. I like to think about how can we can take mac and cheese and make it both a little bit different and something everybody will eat.
When I'm cooking at home, I tend to cook mostly vegetables. I don’t cook any big meals by myself. I eat lots of soup, lots of veggies with scrambled eggs, or some PB&J toast. As a chef I'm constantly tasting things, so it's nice to have purity and complicity in my home diet