Jason Hammel, a self-taught chef and owner of the Chicago-based Lula Café, recently released The Lula Cafe Cookbook. Along with recipes, the book, published by Phaidon, chronicles the restaurant’s history from its early years as an artist–run cafe to its present as a nationally acclaimed restaurant with a James Beard Award-winning chef.
Hammel and his now wife Amalea opened the restaurant as friends and aspiring artists in 1999. Through food, the married duo have been able to build and foster a community in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.
In his role at the restaurant, Hammel considers the importance of innovation and the impact of hospitality. Below, he discusses his related interests.
“The Vaster Wilds”
I’m an avid middle-of-the-night reader. I just finished Lauren Groff’s new book, “The Vaster Wilds” . Groff’s books are about women and their relationship to power and patriarchy, as they relate to dominant political structures. This novel follows a young girl who escapes from the Jamestown settlement in the 17th century. It’s a beautiful trip through the wilds of America as they were understood by Western minds and by this young child who is experiencing them as a life-or-death scenario. This book asks the big questions about the place of God or a creator in our lives, and how this one young person considers her relationship to both the wealthy British and French society that she left behind and the savage Jamestown society as she saw its descent into chaos and cannibalism. It made me think a lot about the decline we’re experiencing in America right now.
Superiority Burger has always been an obsession. It was started by Brooks Headley who made his name as a punk-rock drummer and a fine-dining Italian pastry chef. This vegetarian burger pop-up, which turned into a small restaurant in New York’s East Village, has a punk aesthetic and is fabulously delicious. Aside from the burgers, there are these amazing salads and vegetables often featuring green market items. Everything is done in such a thoughtful way with high technical aptitude, and yet is so simple. When Headley reimagined the space post-pandemic, he moved it into an old diner, which he kept intact and laid his restaurant into. The way the restaurant has evolved is something that no one could conceptualize—it had to sort of happen from one person’s passion and chaotic brain.
Pirelli HangarBicocca, the former manufacturing building that was once an airplane hangar in Milan, is an incredible space with rotating and permanent installations. Anselm Kiefer’s The Seven Heavenly Palaces [2004–15] installation, which reflects on the Holocaust. It’s a massive and foreboding piece. The pillars are so large and domineering yet crumbling. These sculptures have an immense weight to them but are also on the verge of collapse. It made me feel like I was in the presence of something great, which was both overwhelming and incredibly moving.
I’m super-fascinated by the way designer Matthieu Blazy is working within the style and traditions of Bottega Veneta’s history as a fashion house and finding ways of being innovative. Bottega Veneta is known for intricate woven leather, but Blassy is able to do something avant-garde that is revolutionary within that framework by creating leather fabric made to look like denim, linen, or cotton. It takes incredible craftsmanship and is inspiring to see someone reworking those traditions.
The Welcome Conference
The Welcome Conference invites people to think about ways that the hospitality, empathy, and emotional labor that goes into restaurant and other kinds of work can be translated outward into the world. I think about that a lot as a leader in the restaurant industry and in the restaurants that I own. People from all industries come together to consider how to share kindness and emote with strangers, and how that can impact one’s way of life, business, art, etc. One such talk with Sam Kass, the former Obama Foundation chef, was a wakeup call to consumers to think about how acts of consumption need to be connected to acts of kindness.