Traffic in downtown Chicago is not for the faint of heart, but when the Bears are playing at home, there can be a temporary reprieve from the nonstop movement on the city’s streets and expressways. It’s almost as if time stands still for the few hours that Chicago’s NFL franchise takes to the field.
It’s a phenomenon that allowed Chef Lamar Moore to slip away from his post as second in command in the kitchens of Soldier Field and get to the South Side, where his grandmother had just passed away. He didn’t want to leave work, he remembers, but his executive chef insisted.
Looking back, Lamar knows it was the right thing to do. His devotion to his mother and grandmother – the woman he calls Granny – made him the man he is today. It also spurred his move from California back to his native Chicago.
“Family is everything,” he says. “That’s why I moved back.”
Journey To The Kitchen
Not yet 40, Lamar has a list of accomplishments that’s longer than those of a good many people twice his age. He’s traveled the world to hone his craft and has held high-ranking positions at sports venues, restaurants and hotels. Perhaps more extraordinary, he’s found a way to stand out in a crowded industry, serving as the keynote speaker at a National Restaurant Association show and appearing in media outlets such as the Chicago Tribune and Zagat News Weekly, and on the Food Network’s hit show “Chopped.”
Lamar once opened a Peruvian restaurant, spending six months in Peru to build a portfolio of recipes and soak up the culture. A number of the dishes he made there remain on his short list of favored recipes. Yet, as exotic as that sounds – and was – it was Lamar’s subsequent appointment at a barbeque restaurant that goes to the heart of the chef. To wit: When he and nearly a dozen friends make their way to the home opener for the Chicago White Sox – as they have for eight years running – Lamar is in charge of the barbeque, the centerpiece of a tailgate party that not even the most inclement weather can touch. “I’d like to someday open a barbeque joint,” he says.
In many ways, his affinity for down-home comfort food is a metaphor for the man who espouses old-fashioned values, in every good sense of the term.
“Mom was a single mom who raised four boys,” he says. The family lived with Granny during those years. As Granny aged and was less equipped to live on her own, she moved in with Lamar’s mother. “That’s how it’s supposed to work,” he says.
Granny owned a restaurant, where Lamar got his first taste – so to speak – of his chosen career path. She no doubt saw a spark in him and pushed him to enroll immediately after high school in Le Cordon Bleu for formal culinary training. Meanwhile, his mother took out a loan to help him get through. The experience did nothing to fuel entitlement. On the contrary, it nourished in Lamar a commitment to lend a hand however he can.
I want to help provide opportunities that I didn’t have.Chef Lamar Moore
One of the ways he gives back is by staying close to kids who are enrolled in Chicago’s school system. “I’m a product of the public schools,” he says. “I want to help provide opportunities that I didn’t have.”
Lamar is active with the Illinois Restaurant Association’s ProStart program, a national effort to groom high school students for careers in the culinary industry. He’s presently in the midst of a year-long project that will result in a cookbook compiled by ProStart kids.
In addition, he works with the Better Boys Foundation, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for youth and families in the disadvantaged Lawndale area on Chicago’s west side. Community outreach is also a family affair. The Moores are active in food drives during the holidays, while Lamar cooks and plates Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless.
Lamar hopes to instill in his son the lessons that were handed down to him, though it’s not clear yet if the 9-year-old will someday don chef’s whites. “At this point, he’s more interested in eating than cooking,” Lamar laughs.