Chefs from Piece Pizzeria, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Lillie’s Q and Hot Doug’s talk food education

The end of March wraps up our fourth annual Piece Pizza Party for Pilot Light, where Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, along with four of our favorite partner chefs, Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp, Charlie McKenna, and Doug Sohn, have donated 10% of their sales to our food education work in Chicago Public Schools.

We sat down with the minds behind the pizza this year and asked their thoughts on food, education, and how it important in building community.

Bill Jacobs, Piece Brewery and Pizzeria

Bill Jacobs, owner of Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, hails from New Haven, CT. which is where he first fell in love with pizza.

When did you first starting learning about food?

Jacobs said he’s been in the kitchen since a young age. At 14, he once started a kitchen fire at home making fried-dough carnival pizza with a friend.

“Don’t worry, we laugh about it now,” he joked.

His all-time favorite pizza restaurant is Sally’s pizza. Still around today, it is one of the cornerstone restaurants in the New Haven Pizza wars.

“I remember my dad turning to us after we were pulling out of Sally’s, saying, ‘This is the best pizza in the world,’” Jacobs said. “With all due respect to our pizza, he was right.”

What do you think every child should know about food?

“We live in a time in which food is such an essential part of growing and developing,” Jacobs said. “It’s important for kids to understanding nutrition’s role in that. There’s so much to be done with food that inspires that interest.”

How does food bring us together?

“Food is something that we all need,” Jacobs said. “It’s an opportunity for us to spend time together, express ourselves and get together.”

Have you had a role in creating the pizzas?

Jacobs said he has been there to support but has left the reins to the chefs.

When Honey Butter Fried Chicken first approached him about putting chicken, on his pizza, he said, “That’s a great idea.” They suggested giving some of the proceeds to Pilot Light, and he said, “That’s an even better idea!”

Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp, Honey Butter Fried Chicken

Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp, the owners of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, have participated in the Piece Pizza Party since its inception. Cikowski and Kulp approached Bill Jacobs about contributing to Pilot Light by creating the collaboration project.

What should every child know about food?

Kulp and Cikowski both agreed that it is important to know where your food comes from, and the story behind it.

“A lot of times we get the food when it’s already cut, chopped and cooked,” Kulp said. “It’s always amazing to see kids in the classrooms see a red pepper or a tomato before it’s cooked – some of them for the first time.”

“We are so accustomed to seeing our food’s finished product,” Cikowski added. “It’s really great for kids to watch the magic of cooking… transforming ingredients into a great meal.”

What do you teach your kids about food?

Kulp, who is expecting his first child in September, said he looks forward to taking his little one to the farmer’s market.

“We’re lucky to have access to amazing, raw ingredients,” Kulp spoke of Chicago’s farmer’s markets. “We still go and discover things we didn’t even know existed.”

How does food create community?

As restaurant owners, Cikowski and Kulp, have seen people of different backgrounds, origins and experiences eat food together.

“A restaurant is a place where people come together to eat,” Kulp said. “People share a lot of their life and experiences in meals.

How did you come up with the idea of your pizza?

“Well, we had to eat a LOT of pizza,” Cikowski joked. “It was really, really tough.”

“Basically, we just went into our cooler and said, ‘what ingredients will be good in a pizza?’”

Just like in the Honey Butter Fried Chicken menu, they repurposed some of their favorite ingredients including their one-of-a-kind candied jalapeños, pickles, red onions, cheddar cheese and, of course, fried chicken, “the star of the pizza.”

Charlie McKenna, Lillie’s Q

What should every child know about food?

McKenna said food is important to relate food to quality time with family and friends. “It’s a time at the end of the day (or start of the day), to connect and be with the ones you love.”

How do you teach your kids about food?

McKenna, who was one daughter, says he has pushed her to branch out on foods since she was young, which has led to a curious and adventurous palette. “When we went to Paris, her favorite dish was the Duck Confit!

How can we make positive and informed choices about food?

“By learning and educating people about where food comes from, kids can learn to make choices around their food,” McKenna said.

How does food bring us together?

McKenna is a believer in food being a way to experience the world.

“We’re able to see bits of the world by experiencing and tasting variations of dishes from one country to another,” he shared. “We’re seeing chefs all over the world combine countless different food cultures and tastes into their dishes.”

Doug Sohn, Hot Doug’s

Hot Doug’s sausage superstore was opened from 2001 to 2014, and the sausage is featured in the Piece Pizza collaboration every year.

When did you start finding a passion for food?

“If you ask every great French chef, they’ll always say, ‘my mother or my grandmother,’” Sohn said. “For most people in the business, that’s usually the case. But for me — absolutely not.”

John said he was an incredibly picky eater growing up in Deerfield, IL, where even Chicago, in the 70’s, was not the food destination it is now. It wasn’t until he went to college in New York where he was exposed to more foods and even “mundane” things like fresh fish and different vegetables.

“I remember being at Zabars, and being like, ‘What are sun-dried tomatoes?'”

What do you think every child should know about food?

“I think the two things to really know, where does our food come from, and what are the foods that you should try to include in your diet to live a healthier life.”

How does food connect us?

“It is probably the thing that binds us as people,” Sohn said. “We all have to eat.”

Sohn said it is important, now more than ever, to have a place to come together. “At the risk of sounding like a total curmudgeon, with so many people into their phone and their screens, we’re losing more and more of these social gatherings.”

“The joy of eating together is the one time you have this opportunity to sit together, to be together and to share this common event,” he said. “It is the one time you have to pay attention to what you’re eating and who you’re eating with.”

How did you come up with the pizza this year?

Sohn said it was natural to include sausage on his pizza, but has always added his personal favorites. This year that included green peppers, roasted garlic, and a cumin crème.

You still have two more days to pick up Hot Doug’s “Excellent Adventure” pizza so don’t miss out!

Huge thanks to Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Lillie’s Q and Hot Doug’s for continuing to be apart of supporting food education in Chicago. For all of you who had a slice, thank you!

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