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I had no idea what I was signing up for last week when I was texting with friend Jessie Freschl (of Covet Closet and Fresch Style) and told her I was en route to Chicago.  She pinged back that I should go to her brother’s restaurant and immediately got to emailing him.  Before I boarded the Chicago bound flight (for one night I may add), I was confirmed for the 7 p.m. seating and had completed the required pre-payment for the meal (a first for me).

I uber-ed over to the warehouse space in a largely abandoned industrial-looking dead end and the driver asked if I was sure I had the right address.  He insisted he wait for me while I sussed it out.  And here the adventure began as I entered the building to find an interior door with a sign reading ‘Get the EL in here!’  This was going to be fun.

Katelynn, who had helped me with my reservation and had inquired about dietary restrictions, welcomed me by name and sat me by the window in a table set for one.  There were only five other tables, a full house, and everyone else was already seated and enjoying a libation of their own bringing. BYOB and I hadn’t brought anything.  This was definitely the type of fourteen course meal (yep it’s true!) that would be best enjoyed with the perfect wine pairing, but alas it wasn’t to be as I’d forgotten this important note.  Chef Phil and team felt awful and offered me anything they might have hanging about including an open bottle of red that my server had in his car.  Hugely accommodating and it wasn’t even their fault.  I would enjoy these edible creations without interference from alcoholic beverages.


Chef Phil introduced himself to the room and explained that he wanted to turn the idea of fine dining ‘on its head’ and that he encouraged the diners to come to the open kitchen at any time and observe, inquire, chat with the team as well as introduce ourselves to fellow diners.  He announced our first dish, uni (sea urchin) with black lava sea salt, shiitake, coconut pudding with wild trout roe, and said they hadn’t been remiss in not providing silverware:  he expected us to eat with our fingers and ‘lick the plate.’  Did I say this was going to be fun?  Fun and crazy delicious.  Not known to be shy, and when given the opportunity to actually lick a plate clean (in a restaurant no less), of course I dutifully obliged and loved every minute.  Successive dishes included ajo blanco, described as the precursor to gazpacho, with cuttlefish, garlic and green almond, and cherry radish with basil, shattered olives and white chocolate.  Other stand outs were the ‘French fries & frosty’ whose preparation had the kitchen engulfed in white ‘smoke’ and Chef Phil came around with a ladle and cauldron and finished off our dish with the smoky ‘ice cream.’  Not a wallflower, I visited with other tables between courses and the consensus among us was assuredly that this was the most creative food any of us had ever eaten.  When I spoke to Chef Phil and confessed that this experience had really shown that I know absolutely zilch about food and commended him for the pure tastes that came across in his food, he offered that he didn’t like to use foods or flavors that would mask any of the other ingredients in the dish.  Mission accomplished.  Michelin didn’t award EL ideas with a star for nothing.



Chic Traveler:  Jessie Freschl  

Occupation:  Personal Stylist

Hometown:  NYC

Jessie Freschl hails from a rich lineage of fashionable entrepreneurs, most notably her mother, with whom she ran the operations of her family’s high-end clothing boutique, Gigi of Mequon, in Milwaukee, WI.  As a buyer for contemporary and designer apparel, she has had ample experience working closely with designers to identify what specific trends and styles work for the consumer.  Jessie now brings her expertise to the private sector with her style service FreschStyle, working closely with her clients to cultivate a fashion profile that fits their budget and adapts to their already developed personal style.  In September of 2012, FreschStyle introduced its first ever charity initiative, Covet Closet, aiming to help those in need by cleaning out coveted closets in NYC and selling those clothes for charity.

Dream destination?

Mysore, India

What’s always inside your carry on?

Water, almonds, Aquafor, book I’m currently reading, magazines, music.

What’s on your plane play list?

I usually try and catch up on a good read aboard a plane, so good jazz is a must.  Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” is a favorite.

Your guilty pleasure while traveling?

If without my children, hands down:   sleeping in.

The Stephanie Johnson bag / bags that always make the trip? 

The Geneva Black Alex Sparkle Cosmetic Bag.  It doubles as a small clutch for the night.

Any tips or must-pack items for making your hotel feel more like home?

I always unpack my suitcase down to the cosmetic brushes in a glass and I set up my space to make it more lived in.  I often bring a small candle as well – Diptyque’s “Figuier” is a personal favorite.

Is there a particular destination that inspires your creativity?

Coming from NYC I never fall short for inspiration in fashion.  So I would have to say escaping to a quiet tranquil place is good for me to decompress and feel renewed.  My last trip to Aspen was so rejuvenating.

What’s the most stylish city/locale you’ve visited?  Anywhere in particular where the fashion/beauty/women’s personal style really blew you away?

Nice.  I spent some time there in college and loved how the women dressed.  It was simple elegance that seemed so effortless and timeless.

Any travel misadventures you’d like to share? 

Never eat a falafel from a street vendor in Dahab, Egypt followed by a night car ride through the desert to Cairo.

If you were introducing a world traveling friend to SJ for the first time, what’s the first piece you’d recommend they buy?

Oh, that is hard one.  I would probably point her to the Mini Pouch.  I have used mine for cosmetics, as a credit card holder, a jewelry case, and for work-related items like measuring tape, pens, and labels.

Next on your Stephanie Johnson wish list?

An eye mask to sleep in when without my children.   🙂

What’s your favorite SJ piece to give as a gift?

I love giving a gift in a trio set.  That is how I was first introduced to the pieces.  I would give an ML Traveler, a Medium Pouch, and a Mini Pouch in complimentary colors, but different fabrics.


Favorite travel ritual or souvenir: (Do you always visit a local book shop?  Hunt down the best cappuccino?  Pick up a tree ornament depicting your destination?)

I love to go into small boutiques and see their offerings.  I grew up working closely with my Mom in our family’s luxury boutique, Gigi of Mequon, in Wisconsin.  So I love walking around and finding like stores in other cities of the world.

Your personal travel style: (Do you like a luxury resort?  A private hideaway?  Do you prefer to lie on the beach?  Explore the countryside?)

I like destinations that offer a bit of relaxation followed by an adventure.  For example, for my honeymoon almost a decade ago, we hiked around an active volcano for a few days and then followed up at an incredible resort that overlooked the ocean in Costa Rica.

The one thing that you cannot leave home without?

A big bottle of water, sunscreen, and my iPhone.

Your happy place / Favorite travel destination?

Warm sandy beaches.

How do you pack for a trip? (Are you a list maker? Do you pack in outfits? Throw caution to the wind and shop when you arrive?)

I pack outfits and try and reuse items differently throughout the trip and of course pack less than more to save room for a few fun purchases to bring home.

Favorite pre-travel or travel-friendly beauty routine?

A manicure and pedicure the day before I head out if time allows.

Go-to luggage brand?

My suitcases are Swiss.  LeSportsac makes great nylon totes.

Checked bag or carry-on?

Carry on alone, checked with kids.

Favorite Airport?  Why?

Zurich, Switzerland.  It is so peaceful and pretty.

On your reading list? 

Currently reading “David and Goliath.”  Up next, “This is Where I Leave You.”

Any tips for breezing through airport security?

If you have children find the line for families, or speak with a security guard.  You can usually always bypass long lines.  Don’t wear much jewelry and keep your outfit easy, down to the shoes.

Window or aisle?


How often do you fly? 

Every other month or so.

Go-to flying ‘uniform?’ 

Comfy jeans, tank, long sleeve shirt, sweater, easy shoes.

Any tips that make frequent travel more efficient?

Try to plan ahead and breathe.



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