What Four First-Generation Chicago Chefs Are Grilling This 4th of July

Because any notion of “American” cuisine is by definition a thing that originated elsewhere

July 2, 2021 8:54 am
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Cristiano Bassani

If a 4th of July barbecue means burgers, hot dogs, and …. not much else, it might be time to expand your grilling palette. Because what’s more American than a melting pot of dishes featuring flavors brought to the U.S. by chefs who have moved here from around the world? What says freedom more clearly than breaking free of tradition and trying new things? 

We asked four creative, celebrated Chicago chefs — born in Italy, Mexico, Ethiopia and the Philippines — to share a favorite recipe for the grill. Fire up the charcoal (or gas). Get out your tongs. Slip on that heat-resistant glove. And prepare to take a culinary tour without leaving the comfort of your own Windy City backyard.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine Steak)

Chef: Cristiano Bassani of Gene and Georgetti 

Born in Bergamo, Italy, Chef Cristiano Bassani came to America in 1991, at age 18, intent on seeing New York’s Twin Towers. Eventually, he landed in Chicago, the city he now considers “home.”

Although Bassani feels “more American than Italian,” he infuses the meals he serves at Chicago steakhouse Gene and Georgetti, where he is head chef, with the Italian flavors of his childhood.

He has recently been grilling a Florentine-style T-bone, marinated in a Tuscan Chardonnay and dry-aged for three weeks. 

“We serve that on a wooden board with some asparagus, and slice it, like they do in Florence,” he says. “When you go to Italy, they ask you how much meat you want, and they cut the steak there. So you say you need two pounds, three pounds — it depends how many people you’ve got.”

The recipe below serves two to three people, and Bassani recommends cooking it no more than medium rare and pairing it with a “very heavy wine,” such as a cabernet or Super Tuscan.


48-ounce T-bone steak
Chardonnay of your choice (4 to 6 ounces)
Rosemary, one healthy sprig (optional)
Salt (one pinch)
Fresh ground pepper (one pinch)


Marinate the steak in the refrigerator in the wine (rosemary optional, but definitely adds something!) for a couple of days, turning it every 12 hours. Bassani suggests you also change the wine when you turn the steak. 

When getting ready to cook, make sure to pull out of the fridge, pat dry and leave on the counter for at least an hour before cooking. Bringing meat up to room temp allows for more even cooking. 

Salt and pepper the meat to taste.

Make sure the grill is super hot to get a good sear.

Sear for two minutes on high on both sides. Remove from direct heat and cook on the “T” standing up to finish. Roughly 6-8 minutes. This is a dish typically served rare, so it does not require much time on the grill. 

Pull the steak off the grill, let rest for about 5 minutes.

Slice the steak thin.

Serve on a wooden board with roasted asparagus or your preferred vegetable or potato.

Elopozole and Grilled Scallops
Elopozole and Grilled Scallops
Neil Burger Photography

Elopozole and Grilled Scallops, 

Chef: Carlos Gaytán and Tzuco

Chef Carlos Gaytán, who came to Chicago from Huitzuco, Mexico, in 1991 at age 20, is known for preparing traditional Mexican dishes using French haute cuisine techniques and ingredients.

That cultural blend is evident in the food Gaytán serves at his Gold Coast restaurant Tzuco — and in his recipe for elopozole and grilled scallops, a twist on a traditional dish of Guerrero that is, he says, ideal for summer.

“One of the secrets to making mouth-watering scallops is to grill them only one side and let them cook until medium rare. They will melt in your mouth!” says Gaytán, who in 2013 became the first Mexican-born chef to receive a Michelin star.

The elopozole is “a wonderful mix of freshness that brings in the ingredients and traditions of my homeland. It’s really light for the warm weather months” — and also, he notes, “super easy to prepare.”

On July 4th, Gaytán relishes the opportunity to celebrate freedom. “We are so lucky to live and work in a country that allows us to enjoy the opportunities that come from this freedom every single day,” he says.


8 tomatillos, peeled
1 poblano pepper, diced
8 garlic cloves
1 stem epazote
1 small Spanish onion
4 corn cobs
1 serrano pepper
4 cups water
18 medium-sized dry sea scallops
2 limes
2 tsp oil
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1  stem cilantro (to garnish)
1 wedge lime (to garnish)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste


Make corn broth by cooking the corn in salted water with epazote. Once the corn is fully cooked, remove the cobs and save the liquid from the pot. In a separate pan, sauté garlic, onion, serrano peppers, poblanos and tomatillos. Once they are golden brown, incorporate the corn broth with the pan ingredients and blend. Grill the scallops over medium heat and reserve. Plate the elopozole and add the corn and scallops on top. Garnish with cilantro and lime. Enjoy!

Zilzil tibs
Tigist Reda

Zilzil Tibs

Chef: Tigist Reda of Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Born and raised in Ethiopia and a Chicagoan for more than 20 years, chef Tigist Reda learned to cook the country’s traditional cuisine by helping the women in her family prepare meals and banquets. 

To her, Fourth of July celebrations represent a fun, exciting celebration of freedom — “and of course, summer is here,” she says.

For those who like to celebrate the holiday at the grill, Reda shares a recipe for zizil tibs, made with the Ethiopian spice mitmita. (You can find recipes for it or buy it online. Or, Reda says, you can just sub in chili powder.)

“Zilzil tibs is great on the grill,” she says. “The meat is infused with so many flavors from the spices, and yet tender and juicy.”  


1.5 pounds prime beef, cut into a strip 

For marinade:

1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon mitmita (Ethiopian Spice) or replace with a choice of chili powder
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon oil 

For topping:

¼ onion, sliced 
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced 
1 fresh rosemary sprig
½ teaspoon minced garlic 
1 tablespoon oil 
Salt and black pepper to taste


Marinate the prime beef in mixture of minced garlic, kosher salt, ground cardamom, mitmita (or chili powder), dried rosemary and oil.   

Grill to a choice of doneness. 

Combine all topping ingredients and cook for about 5 minutes.

Inihaw na Salmon
Inihaw na Salmon
Kristine Subido

Inihaw na Salmon 

(Grilled barbecue salmon with baby bok choy, and a salted egg and heirloom tomato salad)

Chef: Kristine Subido of Peckish Spice Co.

To chef Kristine Subido, who was born in Manila, Philippines, and moved to Chicago at age 9, the 4th of July means “family gatherings, fireworks and the first full week of summer vacation.”

Known for her playful spin on Filipino food, Subido now runs Peckish Spice Co., offering seasonings inspired by the cooking of her grandfather, who passed this marinade recipe down to her mother and her mom’s siblings. 

Subido says she chose to share this family favorite “because it can be made with ingredients that are always in the pantry” and “can make any protein or vegetable taste delicious.”

A hallmark of Filipino cooking is the simplicity of its spices and seasonings, Subida says.  

“Our food is traditionally very mild, compared to other countries in Southeast Asia,” she notes. “We use a lot of vinegar, garlic and onions. It’s all about balancing flavor and texture,” with ingredients and heat varying depending on “what part of the island you’re from.” 

Filipino condiments — “sawsawan,” or dipping sauces — enhance and build flavor. Vinegar-chili sauce, sweet & sour sauce, fish sauce, chili and citrus sauce provide “umami bombs,” she says.


2 pieces 5-oz. salmon fillet

For marinade: 

2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt 
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper 
1 tablespoon lemon-lime soda (optional) 

For salted egg salad:

1 salted egg (optional), cut into quarters
1 ripe roma tomato, quartered 
1 small red onion, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice 
Salt and black pepper to tastes 
2-3 baby bok choy, washed and split in half 
Season with a little oil, salt and pepper 


Mix the marinade in a bowl and add the pieces of salmon. (Note: This marinade can be used for chicken, steak, pork, and seafood.) Marinate for 30 minutes and place on a hot grill. Cook on the flesh side first to get a nice mark for 3 minutes and flip. Cook for a total of 6-8 minutes for a perfect medium temp.

Cut and mix the tomato, ginger, onion, cilantro and salted egg. Add fish sauce and lime juice.  Black pepper and salt to taste.

Arrange the grilled bok choy on a platter and place the cooked salmon. Serve the salad on the side or top of the salmon.


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