Giving Back: Chicago Philanthropy at Its Finest

Alison Holmes

Mindy Segal Preparing for an Event

Dining at a gourmet restaurant may be a special occasion for some, but for others, simply having a hot meal can be a challenge. Mindy Segal, Owner and Executive Chef of the wildly popular restaurant Hot Chocolate, has proven that she has a passion for more than just food; she has a passion for helping others. When Hot Chocolate opened in 2005, Segal held her first Taste of the Nation fundraiser, the main platform benefiting Share Our Strength, a national non-profit organization that is working to end childhood hunger. It seems great food not only brings people together, but also helps those in need. And Mindy Segal’s philanthropic efforts don’t end there. She has recently begun efforts to leave a mark of her own on the fight against hunger.

What made you decide to really get involved with your community and community organizations?

Last year I decided I was at a point in my career, that I needed to not only make a difference in my community, but that I wanted to focus my time and attention to one organization. And I’ve chosen Share Our Strength to be it. It’s a very big, national organization that’s been around for 25 years. It was founded by Billy Shore and his sister Debbie Shore. They are really in the platform of ending childhood hunger in many different ways. Their beneficiaries are non-profit organizations that educate, that give food stamps and that are health clinics…they do it in many different ways.

It’s pretty impressive for a non-profit organization to be around that long. How do they do it?

One of the ways they do it, is they have a national benefit every year called Taste of the Nation, and it was the first tasting event of its kind in this country. He [Billy Shore] came up with this concept that chefs cook, they understand food…and what better way to connect food and hunger, but through chefs?

Absolutely, but how do they choose who gets the funding?

Each city’s Taste of the Nation benefits people in the local area. So it’s not like the money goes back to corporate headquarters and then its disbursed. We know exactly who we’re giving the money to. The proceeds for the event go towards funding Taste of the Nation. I’ve met all the beneficiaries, I’ve gone to all the places…I know who they are. And I am the chair for Taste of the Nation in Chicago. I’m also on the national council for Share Our Strengths, and I was also chef/restaurateur for 2009 for Share Our Strengths.

Share Our Strength Advertisement

I took Taste of the Nation, which was dying in Chicago…the benefit was dying. They only raised $30,000 two years ago and we raised $150,000 last year. I revamped the platform and started from scratch…and now we have a template for a very, very, very good benefit on a yearly basis. So this year it’s August 12th, at the Aragon Ballroom. It’s a big job, but it’s such a good cause.

Pretty impressive.  Tell me more about the fundraiser that you host here in Chicago at Hot Chocolate.

There’s always a theme. Last year it was beer chefs…chefs who have beer-friendly restaurants. And the whole concept of how I started this dinner…was that I thought it would be really cool to ask a bunch of chefs who were into beer…and they would each take a course, then I would pair them with a brewer and together they would create a pairing. It connects the chef to the brewer and it connects the brewer to the food.

I heard a rumor that you had a star-studded line up for this year’s chefs.

Well, this year it’s very special. I put together a list of all the chefs that I would want to be pastry chef for…and they all said yes. We had Bill Kim [Le Lan] who’s a very dear friend of mine…my chef [Aric Miech] who of course I’m the pastry chef for…my mentor Michael Kornick [Mk Restaurant]…Paul Kahn [Blackbird]…Paul Virant [Vie], and Rick Bayless [Frontera Grill]. I would love to be any of their pastry chefs. This is what I do. This is what I am. So I’m really committed.

I’m also working on starting another program, that’s actually through Operation Frontline, which is one of our beneficiaries [through Share Our Strength]. They teach families and people that immigrate here how to cook with food stamps, naturally and with whole products. And they try to teach people the understanding of the food chain. It’s a great program.

Segal Skinning Apples

Yes. I’m starting it this year…it’s going to be in October. And I’m starting it in Chicago, but then we’re going to take it nationwide. It’s gonna to be called An Apple a Day…it’s pastry chefs, once a year through Operation Frontline, that are going to bus inner-city kids—and people that are part of Operation Frontline—to an apple orchard. We’re gonna have the farmer take them on a tour of the farm, pick some apples, and then we’re going to go back to Operation Frontline and we’re gonna make apple sauce, apple pie and apple crumbles…so they can see what you can do with a raw product. Most people don’t know…they don’t know where apples come from. These kids eat junk food…they have no idea. We’re going to be teaching people how to do this.

What does the future look like for Mindy Segal?

Well, I opened up a restaurant so I could have an avenue for my creativity. I thought that opening up a restaurant…a full service restaurant…from the eyes of a pastry chef is interesting, because we’re detail focused. Since I had been working with a lot of really great chefs, and I saw a lot of really great food go out in my career I thought that I could interpret the things I had seen and learned throughout my years in my career, [and put that] into my restaurant to help others.

[Now] I’m really refocusing what I do for a living because I think it’s important. And my restaurant is doing very well and I think that it’s important to give back. And I love it. And I’m very happy, it’s very rewarding.

For more information on Share Our Strength and Taste of the Nation, please visit:


Mindy’s Hot Chocolate

Interior of Hot Chocolate, 1747 N Damen Avenue

Alison Holmes

Bucktown is known for its eclectic and trendy music, fashion, and food—and Mindy’s Hot Chocolate delivers on all levels. Located on Damen Avenue on Chicago’s north side, Hot Chocolate is the epitome of decadent indulgence. The contemporary artisan-American restaurant offers upscale yet casual dining with a variety of seasonal menus for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.

The restaurant prides itself on giving guests a special dining experience from start to finish—including a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere, exceptional service and amazing food. Interior décors feature a modern, industrial-style design with exposed brick, dark wood-work, clean lines, wood-beamed ceilings, local artwork and a rich color palate of deep chocolates and tans. A sleek, streamlined bar offers full menu service for those looking for a casual dinner, sweet treat or after dinner drink. The warm and inviting atmosphere, neighborhood charm and intoxicating aromas of Hot Chocolate are enough to enchant even the harshest critics.

Owner, Executive Chef Mindy Segal

Since its inception in 2005, Hot Chocolate has become a fixture of the local Chicago dining scene. The decadent cuisine is a created with high quality, locally sourced ingredients. However, in order to understand the creative menu, one must understand its creator.

Owner and Executive Chef Mindy Segal’s passion for her craft is undeniable. No stranger to the Chicago restaurant scene, the three-time James Beard Award nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef prides herself (as well as her staff) on not only being a master of her craft, but for also fully immersing herself into her greatest loves, food and cooking.

The cornerstone of the menu, and the restaurant itself, is Segal’s use of local artisan farmers, brewers and wine makers. The menu at Hot Chocolate changes with the seasons to ensure that diners get the freshest ingredients to guarantee the best final product. “We make everything from scratch, and try to buy whole animals [to utilize all the parts]….we like to use small producers—preferably local—and we’re very seasonal. I’ve been cooking like that my entire career,” said Segal.

Hot Chocolate’s new head chef Aric Miech is also passionate about creating great food from local sources. “I love it. I get to work on my craft every day and teach people what I’ve learned. During the winter time we don’t get to go to the market as much as the spring and summer, so we use a lot of mushrooms, squashes, root vegetables and grains…but being able to go to the market and meet these farmers is super important. It’s a great opportunity for me. It’s easy to forget where some of the food comes from,” said Miech.

The use of local, seasonal products not only creates great food, it really supports and gives back to the community. Segal makes her commitment to her skill and community very clear. “I’m going to give my guests the best product that I personally can, and I’m going to strive for excellence,” said Segal. And that she does—the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

Hot Chocolate’s menu features a variety of sweet and savory items including, appetizers, salads, gourmet sandwiches, entrées, cheeses and desserts. The artisan fare is creative and unique. Each dish is hand-crafted and is given just as much time, energy and effort as every other menu item.

Classic entrées include a grilled Kobe flank steak with roasted pumpkin puree and a confit of fingerling potatoes and house-made giardiniera; Gunthrop Farm seared duck breast with a Brussels sprout and bacon hash; and homemade macaroni and cheese made with Rothkase gruyere and Carr Valley mammoth Cheddar.

“Mindy has kinda changed my way of thinking a little bit,” said Miech. “Artisan cooking is very…uh…you don’t play with the food that much. You let the food speak for itself,” said Miech. And that it does.

Chocolate #1

Perhaps best known for its innovative, artfully crafted desserts, Hot Chocolate serves up an extensive cheese and sweets menu capable of pleasing anyone’s tastes. Segal’s signature desserts include Chocolate #1—a warm chocolate ganache and meringue tart with a chocolate soufflé center, salted caramel ice cream and house-made pretzels; Banana’s and Butterscotch—banana brioche bread pudding, banana sherbet, malted liquid butterscotch, cardamom cream and banana cake cannoli; and Warm Brioche Doughnuts, served with hot fudge. Another must-try, and the restaurant’s namesake, is a gourmet spin on classic Hot Chocolate, which is available in six varieties. An array of artisan beer, wine, ports and champagne compliment and enhance any dish or dessert.

Mindy Segal truly is a master of her craft, and it shows in every dish, dessert and detail of Hot Chocolate. With menu prices ranging from $7–$27 Hot Chocolate is a must-try. So if you’re out on the town, want a relaxed dinner or just love great food, this is the place for you. Don’t take my word for it, try it.

Check It Out: Hot Chocolate

1747 North Damen Avenue