If you know anything about the Chicago food scene, you’ve probably heard of Blackbird. The Michelin-starred restaurant is known for its attention to detail and anything-but-ordinary cuisine — in particular, the pastries. The man behind these jaw-dropping creations, Greg Campbell, has been critically acclaimed for his work, and as of recently, snatched up by none other than our very own Northwestern Dining. (Note: Northwestern Dining is nuCuisine’s new name, they’re in the process of rebranding.)
Campbell grew up in Arizona with four siblings. While his brothers and sisters lounged around the pool, he found himself in the kitchen learning to make beef stroganoff and a mean zucchini-banana bread, spending most of his spare time hovering over his oven. “When you bring my family together, everything is about food,” he asserts. Every Sunday, before church, he made coffee cake for his whole family.
In 2012, he finally decided to pursue his culinary passions, moved to Chicago and enrolled at the Cordon Bleu. The school helped him realize his talent for pastries. Towards the end of the one-year program, he applied to Blackbird and got the job.
Located on Randolph Street next to its sister restaurant Avec, Blackbird is one of those restaurants that makes you nervous to touch your food because everything on the plate is so perfectly and strategically placed. There, Campbell worked under Dana Cree, former pastry chef for Noma in Denmark (repeatedly ranked the best restaurant in the world, though it only has two Michelin stars). The two are behind all the one-of-a-kind desserts found at Avec and Blackbird, like the almond amaretto cake and the ricotta-filled crepes. One of the team’s signature creations is the Tangier carrot cake: a blend of cardamom, roasted rhubarb and goat cheese mousse. While studying under Cree, Campbell was offered the opportunity to become the head pastry chef at the Grand Floridian in the Walt Disney Resort and accepted the position. But before leaving, he made one last trip to the Cordon Bleu to thank his teachers and say a final goodbye. Coincidentally, on that same day, the school was hosting a career fair. He was introduced to Erich Geiger and Rick Siwecki, operations manager and head of human resources for Northwestern Dining, who wanted Campbell to join the team. Even though he was already committed to Disney, Campbell considered the position. He thought of his daughter, a student at Purdue University, and how he used to cook for her and her friends. “If I’m not going to cook for your university,” he told her, “I’ll do it from my heart [at Northwestern] as if I’m cooking for you.” He cancelled his flight to Orlando and accepted the position of executive pastry chef for Northwestern Dining.
The team at Northwestern Dining is constantly trying to improve their quality, and hiring Campbell is definitely a step in the right direction. On his end, he’s ready for the challenge and eager to “bring Blackbird into Northwestern Dining.” With the full support of head chef Chris Studman and chef Joe Birdie, who share his vision to bring fine desserts to Northwestern, Campbell hopes to bring fresh, original recipes into all the dining halls on campus (think comfort foods for desserts). Campbell cooks with the students in mind and often tries to include gluten-free options. “If there’s something that will make you feel better, come to me and I’ll do my best to make that happen,” he urges. Recently, Campbell put on a tasting at Sargent Hall, serving two new recipes (his eggnog flan and a hazelnut cheesecake with chocolate ganache) to over 250 students. They were in awe, asking if it was a one-time-only event. “These kids are foodies,” he jokes, “and they know their food.”