Restaurant kitchens are the secular hells of our society, where oppressive heat is the devil. Yet heat is also the inescapable philosopher’s stone that transforms food through the alchemy of cooking, and on this Saturday night, where a flashing LED sign on Western Avenue registers 92°F, the Del Toro kitchen in Wicker Park swelters like an August afternoon in a Madrid bullring. Advertisements
There’s something about the burnished hues of fall and the crisp smoky air that signals a coming of age for the earth and channels a separate peace within me that none of the other seasons accomplish. A season of refuge, it’s the first opportunity to hunker down against the razor chafe of Chicago’s winds. No longer celebrating the freshness of spring or luxuriating in the summer sun, I urgently seek warmth and sustenance in hearty braises like winy rosemary-perfumed pot roast or chocolate-dusted short ribs.
The last time I was awake at 4 a.m. I was drunk. This time, it would have helped. Rousing myself at that hour, driving in a half-bleary state and shooting across the inky blacktop of the Kennedy, I was sure that the thin threads of my neural network had finally snapped.
I fetishize grocery stores like Imelda Marcos reveres shoes. For Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City,” it might be Manolo or Jimmy, but for me, it’s Fox and Obel. Grocery shopping is my compulsive athletic competition.
I’m no culinary Luddite. In the last year, I’ve eaten and relished bacon ice cream, tortilla foam, Rice Krispies with strawberry Pop Rocks, pineapple sponge, Dover sole with dehydrated banana powder and a chocolate-raspberry-and-foie-gras milkshake.