If you don't know Halee Raff and Hardbitten, you need to quickly get her on your radar. You have probably seen Halee's delicious homemade pop tarts around town, but the insanely talented chef offers so much more including customizable in-home dining experiences, cooking classes, and custom cakes. Her grazing tables make a typical luxe buffet seem dull and her cakes will light up a room. Halee truly elevates food to the level of edible art and we are obsessed!
Halee's company Hardbitten was born at the beginning of the pandemic. As we recall, the restaurant industry suffered terribly for 2 years and Halee lost her Executive Position at a notable restaurant. After 7 years of hard work at Chicago's best and Michelin starred restaurants including Tru, Band of Bohemia, Sixteen, Naha and Brindille, and Momotaro, Halee decided to bet on herself and create her own amazing company where she can celebrate food the Halee way. Her pandemic loss is definitely our gain and GG is so excited to watch Halee's career evolve. We sat down with Halee- recently named Chicago's Best Up-and-Coming Chef 2021 [Reader's Choice]- for more insight into her life:
Q: Tell us about your background. What inspired you to become a chef?
A: I went to Johnson and Wales University and graduated in 2014 with my bachelors in business, food service management. I came home to Chicago and started working in Michelin restaurants including Tru, Sixtreen, Band of Bohemia, and Naha. I also worked for the Boka Group. I was an executive with a restaurant before the pandemic and was laid off.
I did not go into this with the intent of becoming a chef. I just wanted to cook food and felt leading came naturally to me so it all fell into place. I wanted to cook because I liked food… enough.
Q: Do you have a funny memory or story when you were just starting out that you wouldn't mind sharing?
A: I was a cold side cook at Tru first starting out. I had asked for my responsibility and would take on more projects to learn and keep busy. We had a special on the menu for 2 weeks which was a lobster custard that was served in a clay plate. If you got any of the liquid on the plate before it was steamed, it would stain and I would lose that portion. So I had a really good system of how to handle and cook them. Service was about to start and I had already cooked 12 ahead of time while the other 80 still needed to be cooked so chef had some ready to go.
Our new sous chef, Steve, thought he could’ve been helpful so forcefully grabbed my trays of liquid lobster to put into the oven but messed up all of the plates doing so, purposely. Dropping them back on the counter and shouted, “it’s too bad you have to make these again! You need these right now!” 1 second later, chef asked for 2 lobster and Steve looked at me so proud of himself that I probably didn’t have those lobster. But I did, and his face of utter disappointment of my great planning made it all worth doing all of my 80 lobsters again.
Q: Do you have a favorite dish to make?
A: I really love making Beef Wellington. It’s because I know how it will come out once it’s cooked that makes all of the hard work worth it.
Q: Can you share any advice for other aspiring chefs?
A: If you’re having a bad day, it will show in your food. Suck it up and produce the best food you possibly can without anyone doubting your work.