Jorgina Pereira, the chef behind Sinhá is often torn between her desire to retire under a palm tree and to conquer every challenge in her life path. Orphaned as a child, she became a social worker in her native Brazil, and when it seemed impossible for a poor girl to attend college, she achieved a master’s degree in information systems. Pereira grew up with the smells and tastes of her godmother’s culinary alchemy. Living in America, she yearned for the tastes of her homeland and began experimenting, relying on her sense memory to guide her way. Now, every Sunday afternoon, she opens up her home to the public for a Brazilian-style brunch featuring feijoada, the national dish of Brazil, an amalgamation of rice, black beans and rich, smoky pork. As a former IT consultant, Pereira says she always had to stay one step ahead of her customers, anticipating their needs. Now as a chef, she does the same thing. She’s the Brazilian grandmother you never had, preparing rich family meals for the masses. Q. What do you wish you could change/pickle about the Chicago restaurant scene? A. I love the diversity of Chicago restaurants. One can easily be transported to…
This might seem like an exercise in self-loathing, but I hate most modern food writing. Culinary writing was once a rich, sensual and intellectual exploration performed by talents such as MFK Fisher or Jean Anthelme Brillat Savarin. Deemed food writers, because their conceit was to center their observations around edible subjects, they were as much cultural critics, philosophers, ethnologists and historians.
The dirty little secret of many chef-driven restaurants is that after many years of success, the chef no longer works in the kitchen every day. For some restaurants, this spells inevitable failure. Other restaurants hire brilliant successors who can execute the original chef’s spirit but meld their own talents into the original vision.
The sausage panino at Vella Café “I don’t care if my tomato was raised in a lab or some hippie’s backyard. I don’t even care if it causes the occasional tumor in lab rats. I only care that it’s the best-tasting damn tomato available.”—Anthony Bourdain, Travel Channel TV host and bad boy foodie You expect hyperbole from a guy whose personal logo is a toque-clad skull biting down on a chef’s knife dripping with blood. While I usually dig Bourdain’s brutal observations, my first instinct was to write this quote off as typical bobblehead claptrap to fuel television ratings. In the last few weeks though the quote’s essential truth has been haunting me a bit.
Chris and Mary Spagnola of Emilio’s Sunflower Bistro have never been afraid to start anew. Business majors in college, the fearless husband-and-wife team met in culinary school when they each decided to follow a new career path.
Three or four years I ago I’d been those kids, I thought, as I watched college students and young professional’s stumble out of the Gin Mill and the Red Lion Pub on Lincoln Ave. on a Wednesday night. On my way to see Victory Gardens’ production of I sailed with Magellan, an adaptation of Stuart Dybek’s short story collection fictionalizing the 1950s Chicago of his youth, I realized that as one of these kids I’d probably be four Maker’s Mark and Cokes in to the night already. It’s not that I wasn’t cultured, but when you’re in your early twenties, plays are for weekend afternoons, and drinking with your friends is for anytime.
The Flammkuchen at Crust Visiting a promising restaurant on opening night is probably a lot like scouting high-school and college-basketball phenoms for the NBA. It’s just too early to tell. For every fifty-point whiz like Kobe Bryant, there’s a two-point bust like Darko Milicic riding the bench. Likewise, opening night for a restaurant isn’t usually a fair gauge of future success. Sure, there’s been soft openings for friends and family to fine-tune things, but when’s the last time your best friend told you that you were ugly?
The kitchen at owner/chef Mindy Segal’s Hot Chocolate is a one-room schoolhouse of old-school chefs. From rendering pork fat from heirloom pigs for her apple turnovers to curing bacon for her winter cassoulet, Segal’s subtle craftsmanship makes Martha Stewart look like a lazy hack. Segal is a master at exploring textural variations for singular ingredients in her desserts. Her legendary dishes — such as the Banana Volume VI, a banana cream pie with caramelized bananas, banana sherbet, butterscotch and fudge — make hers the must-stop sweet shop in town. While her sweets IQ has elevated her as one of Chicago’s most recognized chefs, her haute comfort food — a Reuben full of house-brined corned beef or mac and cheese studded with rich Grand Cru Roth Kase — proves that she’s also a savory wiz. Q. What do you wish you could pickle/change about the Chicago restaurant/food scene? A. To preserve the camaraderie and support that all the Chicago chefs extend to each other. Q. What would your last meal be? A. A pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in New York. Q. Where do you eat before or after a shift? A. After every shift you can find me at the Map…