I’m a chef groupie. It’s not quite the same as being a rock star groupie. I’m not waiting near dumpsters in rat infested back alleys waiting for an opportunity to trade my body for a moment with culinary greatness. Instead it’s more of a tableside admiration and exploration of today’s best chefs plying their craft. It’s not a mindless adulation, which breeds mediocrity. I can watch TV celebrity chefs when I’m in the mood for that, rather, I’m interested in becoming a better home cook, and watching pros makes a difference. Chefs like Grant Achatz of Alinea or Thomas Keller of the French Laundry are modern day secular monks, dedicating the majority of the waking portion of their life toward the pursuit of perfect technique and sublime ingredients. They have something to teach and I’m intrigued by the techniques they’re using, especially induction cooking. Advertisements
Throw away the Folgers. If your coffee comes from metal cans or has been sitting in the icebox for months next to that freezer burned box of Fudgsicles, throw it out, and then listen to this week’s podcast. This week I sit down with Thomas Meinl, the fourth generation from Vienna’s Julius Meinl coffee roasting family, and Doug Zell, the founder and CEO of Chicago’s craft coffee roaster, Intelligentsia. We talk about issues of fair trade, the economics of coffee, the best way to brew coffee, the story of how coffee came to Vienna, and eating mole and drinking Mezcal in Oaxaca.
Summer in Chicago is a food porn dream. At the Green City Market , a dewy sheen glistens on the tips of nubile spring onions and piles of bulbous Morels with more nooks and crannies than a Bay’s English Muffin spill from wooden barrels. Tender stalks of young white asparagus shoots splay about the farm tables. Verdant fields of leafy greens, bushels of arugula, spinach, and mesclun mixes flay open in the morning sun. Rippled heirloom tomatoes burst with striped protuberances. Curly-cues of frisee and fresh cut vines flutter in the summer breeze. Bushels of jeweled apples compete for ocular affection with golden rivers of artisanal olive oils, tarragon vinegars, and tubes of creamy ripe goat’s milk cheeses from Capriole farms. An ever-present mineral tang of earthy soil mingles with sweet tomato sauce and the smoky crust of the wood burning pizzas and freshly grilled panini. The oat-encrusted loaves of Bennison’s hearth baked breads cast a yeasty aroma into the mix. Stroll a few miles south on Sunday to the Maxwell Street Market, and it looks like Canal St. between Taylor and 14th is on fire. A thick cloud of charcoal fired smoke and waves of deep fry grease knock…
If a bunch of drunken Mardi Gras interior designers broke into a timber loft and performed an extreme home makeover in the style of French country chateau, the result would be Jerry’s Sandwiches. Gilded antique lamps cast light on shiny tangles of colored beads, the yellow faux plaster paint job, and distressed wooden tables. Feather-bedizened Mardi Gras masks hang above the entrance to the dining room.
In this week’s podcast interview we sit down with Bruce Sherman of Chicago’s North Pond Restaurant. Bruce Sherman was named Food and Wine Best New Chef in 2003. He’s a graduate of Penn, the London School of Economics, and spent years living in India learning to cook seasonally from what was available each day at the local produce vendor or “wallah”. Chef Sherman is one of the most socially conscious chefs in Chicago. He’s been a huge proponent of the small family farmer, instrumental in growing Chicago’s Green City Market, and a member of the Chef’s collaborative, an organization that that teaches about local, artisanal, and sustainable cuisine. In this week’s conversation we talk about Chicago’s foie gras ban, the economics of running a restaurant, his time in India, and what it’s like cooking for Julia Child.
A chef marches in Chicago’s immigration rally A brigade of Hispanic men in chef whites and paper toques walk arm in arm in downtown Chicago. Waving American, Mexican, Colombian, Polish, and Brazilian flags, surrounded by fellow marchers out to support immigrant rights, the chefs are backdropped by cardboard signs, saying “We Work Hard for this Country” and “We are not criminals, we are workers.”