Allie Lyttle of Howell is in the running to become the world’s Favorite Chef.
For Lyttle, the executive chef at LaLa’s in Ann Arbor, which opened in July, the cash prize of $50,000 would help keep the restaurant and her staff going until after the pandemic.
“We honestly came up with the concept (for LaLa’s) in June of 2020 and ran with it full steam ahead,” Lyttle said. “We rebranded an existing restaurant, the Standard Bistro & Larder, so it helped that we already had a building, but everything else we did in a month.”
While opening during the pandemic was challenging, “the industry is all about adapting,” she said.
“We have tried to keep our community, staff and guests as safe as possible, and really limited our hours and interaction with them to do this,” she said. “We’ve done a ton of adjusting because of the pandemic. We went from being a pop-up to a permanent concept to exclusively to-go.”
With an eye to the near future, Lyttle said LaLa’s is at the moment working on what its next phase will be.
Currently in first place in her group, Lyttle is up against chefs from around the world in the online competition. If she wins, in addition to the $50,000, she will be featured in a two-page advertising spread announcing the winner in the popular Bon Appétit magazine.
Lyttle, who is passionate about in-season and well-seasoned food, explained her approach: “I like taking ideas and twisting them slightly, changing up ingredients and presenting a whole new dish to folks,” she said.
Her passion with food extends beyond creating dishes for paying customers.
“Being a chef helps to guide my activism,” she said. “I’ve worked a lot with food insecurity, feeding the homeless, food education with the food insecure, and wastefulness and its impact in professional dining.”
Lyttle’s journey to becoming a chef began when she was 18 and attending nursing school.
“I got a job in a restaurant to pay my bills,” she said, adding that she realized she could make a career in food.
“I never looked back,” she said.
Lyttle — who has worked for Zingerman’s, SavCo Hospitality, Mission Management and Parks & Rec — went to culinary school and received a baking and pastry arts certificate in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession.
“At that time there were no pastry chef-exclusive jobs in Michigan, so I had to always split my time between desserts and a hot line,” she said. “I fell in love with the hot line — the pace, the push — and eventually fully transitioned over.”
Lyttle lives in Howell with her husband, Ben, and 2-year-old daughter Eleanor.