Cariño, the first restaurant project by chef Norman Fenton (Brass Heart, Schwa, Wild Tulum) is gearing up to open doors this December in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago at 4662 N. Broadway, the former home of Brass Heart.
Fenton partners with co-owner Karen Young, the artistic visionary behind the project and owner of Wild Tulum, the Mexican restaurant nestled in the jungles of Tulum, Mexico, where Fenton also currently serves as executive chef. Together, the duo will introduce an intimate, 20-seat restaurant that offers a 12-16 course Latin-focused tasting menu created to showcase the rich and diverse flavors of Central and South America, complete with a portfolio of curated Latin American wines, beers and agave-based spirits. Guests can also expect a late-night taco omakase at the chef’s counter on select evenings.
With an accomplished culinary career crafting dishes at revered destinations in Chicago such as MICHELIN-starred Schwa and most recently, the post-modern American fine dining spot Brass Heart where he served as executive chef for three years, Chef Norman Fenton brings a personal vision to his debut venture as a chef-owner at Cariño. Aiming to deliver the caliber one expects from an exceptional tasting menu, but in a more relaxed, convivial atmosphere (including high-spirited playlists from Latin artists), the two once again pair up for Cariño, with Fenton helming the conceptual and culinary direction, while Young imparts her eye for design and hospitality.
Named after the Spanish term for “beloved”, Cariño is a heartfelt homage to the culture, flavors, and people across Latin America, showcasing Chef Norman’s love and connection to this vibrant region of the world. Since his late teens, he’s taken multiple extended trips to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and most recently Costa Rica. In 2019, a nine-month road trip from Chicago to Mexico led Fenton to dive into the culinary cities of Mexico City, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Monterrey, Michoacan, Leon, San Luis Potosi, Puebla, Campache, and finally Tulum, where he first met Young when he created a tasting menu pop-up at Wild Tulum. Since then, he’s been serving as executive chef of the restaurant. Fenton has not only immersed himself in Latin American cuisine, but also, the culture. It was here that he met and married his wife, Karina, and started a family. His desire to share this profound appreciation led him to share with Young the idea for Cariño in June of 2023, and he’s excited to see his dream realized in the months ahead.
“Cariño is my heart,” says Executive Chef and Co-owner Norman Fenton in a statement. “It’s my love letter to my wife Karina and our family back in Mexico, as well as all the people who have welcomed me into their culture, taught me their language, shared meals and flavors with me, and so much more. My time spent in this part of the world has changed the course of my life, and I hope that I can show my deep love and gratitude to its people the best way I know how – through food.”
Partnering with Fenton to open Cariño, Young brings decades of experience in the music and hospitality industries as well as a dedication to humanitarian activism. In addition to her work with MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Human Trafficking), music-therapy charity Nordoff Robbins, and time spent in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, she provided necessary resources and relief to the people of Tulum during COVID-19. In 2020, she launched the ‘Tulum Emergency Food Packages Fundraiser’ that helped thousands of families in need. Always conscious of her contribution to the world around her, Young and Fenton are building a yearly charitable giveback component into Cariño’s business model upon opening doors, selecting a different Latino-serving nonprofit organization as the benefactor annually.