In fall 2013, after eight years of running a highly successful underground Chicago supper club, Josh Kulp and Co-Chef/Managing Partner Christine Cikowski launched their first brick-and-mortar concept, Honey Butter Fried Chicken. To the restaurant’s Avondale neighbors, Kulp serves homey comfort food made right—from the slighty spicy creamed corn from organic Midwest corn and Thai green curry made in-house to the signature condiment of whipped butter with Wisconsin honey. “I describe it as the kind of food people really want to eat, but done well with great ingredients and in a thoughtful way so everything is accessible,” Kulp explains.“Our fried chicken is locally sourced, humanly slaughetered, and cage-free. We take our time; we brine and season. We fry in non-GMO, trans-fat-free oil. Those details make an impact.”
This accutely honed philosophy began at Sunday Dinner Club, which he and Cikowski established in 2005 and is still going strong today. The duo created the dining series just months after the two of them graduated from Kendall College of Culinary Arts in Chicago. Sunday Dinner Club allowed the chefs to apply their skills and inspirations to a breath of traditional cuisines. “Sunday Dinner Club has always been a little more chef-driven” Kulp explains.“There are similarities, like we definitely are guided by the seasons. We’ve been drawn toward the Old World cuisines, the classics—such as how to make pasta by hand like a grandmother in Italy—so rather than reinvent the wheel, we stick to traditons. We’re creative, but rooted in the story that’s there to tell.”
Before discovering his kitchen calling, Kulp studied creative writing and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also earned a master’s degree in teaching. During his collegiate career, he had the opportunity to be an operating member of a workers’ collective for a coffee shop. While the business wasn’t very profitable, it stroked his passion in food and piqued his interest in being a small-business owner. With the goal of bettering and serving his community, Kulp also worked at a nursing home during college, eventually becoming a resident assistant. After graduating, he moved to the South Bronx to teach 5th grade—and found himself spending all his spare time in the kitchen and dining out. “I’d furiously grade papers so I’d have enough time to go out,” he recalls. “I’d shop all over and come home and cook these elaborate meals. My passion was somewhere other than teaching fractions.”
Kulp moved back to Madison and cooked at Restaurant Magnus, then for the governor’s mansion, everything from fine-dining dinners to baking cookies for visiting school groups and brats for legislative tailgates. He moved to Chicago to be nearer to family in 2004 and to attend culinary school.
The chef lives in Lincoln Square with his wife, photographer and writer Rachel Brown, and their shepherd mutt, Joey. He is an active part of Pilot Light, which empowers children to make healthier choices by teaching about food and nutrition in schools; and with a passion for social justice, he has personally lobbied congress to push for an increase of the minimum wage and to improve worker benefits. In his spare time, Kulp loves to write, follow the latest political happenings around the planet, and watch the Chicago Cubs: “I love the Cubs almost as much as I love my grandmother. My life goal is to sell fried chicken sandwiches at Wrigley.”