At 4 years old, César Murillo immigrated from Chihuahua to Dallas with his parents. He always loved working with his hands, often helping his mom with flower arrangements for weddings. “I knew from a young age that I wanted to create and connect with my culture and was drawn to the sensory experience of the kitchen,” Murillo noted.
After graduating from Texas Culinary Academy, Cesar Murillo set his sights on Chicago in order to cook under his idol, Chef Rick Bayless. Murillo’s career kicked off at Bayless’ James Beard Award-winning Frontera Grill and Xoco. To learn about farming and hyper-seasonal ingredients, Murillo travelled west to cook at California restaurants Nopalito and Mateo’s Cocina Latina.
“After leaving Frontera, I went west to the Bay Area of San Francisco to better connect with and understand the growing and raising of the products we were using daily,” Murillo detailed. “I immersed myself in the farm to fork culture of the region. I returned to Texas, working at the fine dining restaurant FT33 in Dallas, where I sharpened and refined my skills. While there, I set up a stage at the recently opened Grace in Chicago and was offered a position. While there, I was able to explore my creativity and push myself in ways I had never before and become a sous chef. I next became a senior sous chef at Sepia, where my culinary and creative voice grew clearer before joining the North Pond team in 2020.”
In 2012, he returned to Dallas, where he worked his way up to lead line cook at FT33 before returning to Chicago. He bolstered his fine dining experience as sous at the Michelin-starred Grace and Sepia then used his connections to consult for a spell. By 2020, he was ready to fill the shoes of North Pond Executive Chef Bruce Sherman.
“From Texas, I set my sights on Chicago and got an internship at Frontera Grill,” the Windy City toque added. “While I had worked at other kitchens, working there felt like the true beginning of my professional career. There I developed a strong work ethic and learned the importance of remaining humble and staying involved in the kitchen, no matter your position.”
Cesar Murillo made the move seamlessly to the Michelin starred North Pond. His leadership in the kitchen enabled the waterside restaurant to maintain the Michelin star it had earned shortly before his arrival using ingredients from his rooftop garden, the plates reflect an inquisitive spirit and subtle nods to his heritage — while staying true to North Pond’s farm-to-table DNA.
Situated in the heart of Lincoln Park, at the edge of a pond overlooking the dramatic Chicago skyline, North Pond can easily claim the loveliest setting in the city. The structure that houses North Pond was built in 1912 as a warming shelter for ice skaters and has been redesigned according to the Arts and Crafts tradition. The Arts and Crafts ideal is also found throughout North Pond’s culinary style.
Drawing inspiration from the local market, Chef Murillo and Pastry Chef Laura Thomasson utilize exceptional ingredients at the height of their season. North Pond supports small, local farmers, growers and producers and treats their product with respect and care in the kitchen. The path from earth to plate remains clear and our cuisine reflects the decor of the dining room – layers of subtle craft beneath a simple decorative style.
As with so many of the nation’s leading chefs, Murillo understands the importance of access to top quality ingredients. “It was a crazy time to be opening up a restaurant again and for the first time as an Executive Chef. Chase, my Chefs’ Warehouse rep, understood that and went out of his way to make that transition much easier. He took the time to get to know us and what we wanted moving forward and guide us through what has worked at North Pond in the past.”
“He has always been there for us and brings thoughtful advice, and I appreciate that he also understands the industry from within,” Murillo continued. “One day he brings along the 5J reps. They spoke with such passion and knowledge about their product. That type of dedication and passion is noteworthy. I was very inspired by their presentation and knew I had to use them somehow. That’s how my signature dish with the Chefs’ Warehouse developed, which is the Parsnips Vychissoise with Cinco Jotas Iberico de Bellota Jamon came to be.”
“I love the sensory engagement of cooking, creating, finishing a dish, and finding ways to blend elegance with simplicity on the plate. My style is driven by the season, grounded in vegetables, and thoughtfully curious,” Murillo concluded.