City Portrait

Chicago: Meet the Locals

Four Chicagoans with Southern sensibilities

Mark Steuer
Flavor Savior
Hungry to see the country, Mark Steuer set off from Johns Island, South Carolina, for the University of Wisconsin. What he discovered, when his restaurant job had him suddenly filling in at the stove, was a love for cooking that grew into a number of high-profile gigs in Chicago, including his current stint as executive chef of the Bedford. Now, he’s returning to his Lowcountry roots as executive chef of the new Carriage House. “This is the place I’ve been waiting to do and I couldn’t be happier,’’ says the thirty-one-year-old, who has hung by the bar a large photograph of the Stono River taken from his parents’ backyard. Steuer looks to keep expanding the definition of Southern fare, using unusual and heritage ingredients, many sourced from the South, in new ways. “I see us continuing to push,” he says.

Caroline Neff
Rising Star
Caroline Neff left Texas for Chicago in 2004, intent on a major in drama and a theater career. She scored on both. Her intense portrayals of young women, most often in some sort of trouble, have garnered attention, critical praise, and a Jeff award (Chicago’s version of the Tony). Recently, Neff got her Actor’s Equity card and landed a high-profile role in Chekhov’s Three Sisters at Steppenwolf, one of the top theaters not just in Chicago but in the United States. Look for the twenty-seven-year-old actor this spring in the U.S. premiere of John Donnelly’s The Knowledge, a British play being staged at Steep Theatre, where Neff is both a member of the company and casting director. “Theater here is the best in the country,’’ she says. “Stories are told in Chicago in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else.”

Rev. Al Sampson
Man on a Mission
“There’s no culture without agriculture” is Rev. Al Sampson’s motto. The pastor of Fernwood United Methodist Church for thirty-six years, he’s been working to make those words a reality. He created a program named for George Washington Carver to connect today’s African-American farmers “down South” with African-American consumers “up South,” in cities such as Chicago and New York. One gets needed revenue, the other good, healthy food. Sampson knows the North-South dynamic well. Massachusetts-born, he attended Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the 1950s, became active in the Civil Rights movement there and in Georgia, and was ordained by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “You can’t be a shepherd,” Sampson explains, “and not lead the sheep to green pastures.”

Josh Cooley
Head Honcho
Josh Cooley’s idea of a pompadour ain’t your daddy’s, or Elvis’s either. His take—short on the sides, long on top—is classic American, with a dab of pomade for a Boardwalk Empire brio. Owner of the Belmont Barbershop, the thirty-five-year-old barber and his staff have a passion for their craft that translates both into a brisk business and a place on practically everybody’s short list of top barbershops in the United States. Prices are reasonable ($19 for a cut), and Cooley’s clients range in age from six months to ninety-nine years, including Roscoe Village locals, knowing visitors, and the occasional celebrity (rocker Mike Ness of Social Distortion, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon). “We’re trying to live up to an unspoken standard of what barbershops were and should be,” Cooley says.