As far as rising stars go, it would seem Noah Sandoval has already made it. He’s achieved three Michelin stars in his career so far, two of them at his restaurant Oriole, which opened in March 2016.
Now, as a partner in another project with friend Julia Momose, he is starting his journey as a rising restaurateur, but his path to this success was not always so easy, as his tough-on-himself mentality has propelled his career forward.
Sandoval dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and got a job working at a fine-dining restaurant, Helen’s, in Richmond, Virginia, where he fell in love with kitchen work. Chef David Shannon took the young Sandoval under his wing and gave him opportunities to grow and move up until he was eventually the sous chef at Helen’s.
Wanting to try out his craft in the big city, Sandoval moved to Chicago in 2007 and got a job at Marcus Samuelsson’s now-closed restaurant C-House. “It was like a slap in the face,” Sandoval says. There was a lot he still needed to learn, but he pushed himself to do so and improved. After a few other industry jobs in Chicago, Sandoval landed at Spring restaurant working for Sean McClain, where he eventually achieved the rank of sous chef. Sandoval got married and, when Spring closed in 2010, he decided to take a job with daytime hours to spend more time with his wife. That’s what led him to Senza, where he would earn his first Michelin star.
The restaurant started, actually, as a gluten-free lunch spot, but the owners let Sandoval flex his creativity. Eventually, the restaurant opened for dinner service, a la carte at first and then tasting-menu only. In its second year, Senza—under Sandoval’s guidance—earned its Michelin star. After the restaurant ran its course and closed, Sandoval was approached by a few trusting regulars to build a restaurant with them. Sandoval said yes and Oriole, a tasting menu only establishment doing 40 to 45 covers a night at $215 each (plus wine or non-alcoholic beverage pairings), was born.
After only seven months serving Sandoval’s dishes, the restaurant earned two Michelin stars and got a four-star Chicago Tribune review shortly after. “My partners were very happy with how fast we paid them back.” Sandoval says. “And they were like, ‘What do you want to do next?’”
Enter Kumiko, Sandoval’s most recent project with friend and bar goddess Julia Momose. The bar is a beverage omakase, a nod to Momose’s upbringing with a Japanese focus. “It’s very soft, serene, beautiful, and relaxed,” Sandoval says.
The bar offers a five-course, customizable experience built from Momose’s beverage expertise, which is backed up by Sandoval’s complementary food that is pared down a bit from what he normally offers at Oriole.
Sandoval loves the opportunity to be a visionary in both his food and restaurants as a whole, but the biggest perk to Sandoval as a restaurateur, he says, is that he gets to work with his wife, Cara, who is the general manager of both establishments. “I also work with a lot of friends, and, if we weren’t friends before we worked together, we usually become friends,” he says.
Looking ahead, Sandoval is determined to maintain his standards for creativity and execution at Oriole and is hoping to build Kumiko to be respected on the same level, too. As far as his role in the culinary scene, Sandoval is hoping to start an anti-trend trend. “I would really like to see the industry be more open to what people want to do, their passions,” he says. Instead of pushing professionals in a certain style direction, he thinks there’s room for everyone to succeed—white table cloth or back patio. “There’s a place for all of it,” he says.
Noah is part of FSR’s annual Rising Stars report—a list of 30-something incendiaries under 40 who make up the industry’s top talent.