The Dessert Diva
Chicago-based pastry chef, restaurateur, and entrepreneur Mindy Segal is well on her way to building her own sugary empire. A former employee at top national restaurants such as Spago and Charlie Trotter’s, Segal eventually opened her own restaurant, HotChocolate in 2005, and a bakery at Revival Food Hall this past summer. In 2012, Segal won the James Beard Foundation Award for her work with pastries. As if that wasn’t enough, Segal turned her talents into a bestselling cookbook, Cookie Love, in 2015 and, this past year, launched her own line of cannabis-infused treats. From milk chocolate peanut brittle to vanilla bourbon butterscotch, these delectable treats will relieve pain and taste better than those brownies you and your friends attempted to make back in college.
You wrote a cookie cookbook and run a dessert bar. What’s appealing to you about sweets and what drew you to this part of the culinary world in particular?
It’s been so long that I honestly can’t remember. I’ve been cooking for more than 30 years! I have always really enjoyed the challenge of creating something out of nothing and pulling a variety of unexpected flavors together on a plate. Cooking and baking are both so much a part of me. Besides, who doesn’t love a good pastry now and again?
Your brunch menu at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate is pretty incredible. How, in particular, do you compete for the massive brunch crowds in Chicago? How have you seen brunch in the city change since you started in 2005?
I don’t view my restaurant as competing against others. At HotChocolate, we work our hardest to top ourselves with a new, exciting menu every weekend. My team of chefs and I work hard to challenge each other to evolve the menu, continuously honing our current skills and learning new ones. It’s all about evolving at HotChocolate!
Our menu focuses heavily on seasonality. Usually, I work in the kitchen for brunch on the weekend, so I don’t get out to see what other spots are doing on the weekend very often. I can only really talk about my restaurant. My chef de cuisine is super interested in developing brunch dishes. He is so talented at embracing what each season has to offer and adds new dishes and flavors that really interest him while remaining closely in tune with what the customers want.
How have you seen the Bucktown neighborhood, where your restaurant is located, change / what would you like to see more of there?
The rent has skyrocketed and has become a much more gentrified community, which in some ways is great and in other ways not. I have been very lucky that HotChocolate has a lot of regular, loyal customers in the area.
The 606 has been a major part of the expansion of the neighborhood. It connects different parts of the city and has brought all walks of life to Bucktown that I hope can enjoy my restaurant. Most days, I walk the 606 from my home to HotChocolate, which is about 5 miles. It’s my “Me Time” and one my favorite parts of the day.
As far as the future of Bucktown, I want to see more vintage stores! I’m lover of all things vintage. I regularly stop at Ipsento in the morning for coffee, Arturo’s Tacos has been my go-to for authentic Mexican Food for years and my husband and I love to have a date night at Le Bouchon. I would love to see more places like these who can be staples that draw people to Bucktown time and time again.
Any big plans for St. Patrick’s Day / other spring fetes, culinary or otherwise?
I have a St. Patrick’s Day–inspired chocolate coming out for my cannabis line! It will be a mint chocolate, unfortunately not sold at my restaurant. The menus at HotChocolate will stay true to the season, using ingredients like rhubarb, asparagus, artichokes and more. I haven’t been the pastry chef at my restaurant in almost two years, but I am back in the kitchen making pastries. For spring, these are MY desserts with our usual use of seasonal flavors and ingredients.
I’m turning 50 this July, and have been on a journey over the past year to lead a more healthy lifestyle filled with regular exercise and more mindful eating habits. I am planning to transform my @mindysegal Instagram account to have a strong focus on my healthy journey to 50, sharing tips on how to be a chef and still enjoy going out to dinner, drinking alcohol and maintaining a workout routine on a busy, chef schedule.