Bridget Albert

You wouldn’t throw a summer bbq and break out a can of Niblets for your guests during sweet corn season, would you? So why do you still drink that way? In this podcast I sit down with Bridget Albert, chief mixologist for Southern Wine and Spirits, and most recently author of the newly released cocktail book, Market Fresh Mixology, to answer that question. We also talk about the history of the Mojito, Albert’s bootlegging grandparents, and discuss the controversy over the terms mixologist and bar chef. Cheers! Advertisements


Holy Mole

Geno Bahena is like the boy who cried wolf, or, more particularly, the chef who cried “mole.” Every time Bahena, the executive chef of the new Logan Square regional Mexican spot Real Tenochtitlan, opens a new restaurant, he calls up the food-gossip mafia and regales them with tales of his famous mole sauce. Then he swears up and down that his latest venture is his greatest and that he’ll stick around forever. Then he disappears.

In the Know: Nick Lacasse

Nick Lacasse, executive chef of the Drawing Room, is a “Top Chef” slayer.  Just four days after former Scylla chef-owner Stephanie Izard was crowned Top Chef on the Bravo television show, Lacasse bested her in a head-to-head throwdown at his restaurant. Lacasse, a veteran of Spring, Green Zebra and Custom House, uncorked his battle magic with courses like sauteed foie gras with walnut crostini, pickled fennel and kumquats gastrique and pumpkin seed-crusted lamb chops with smoked potato puree, roasted shallot and Bing cherry relish and spearmint oil.  We check in with the champ after his success. Q. How did it feel to beat Stephanie Izard?  Does this make you Top Chef Chicago? A. I’ve known Stephanie for five years and it was an honor to have her in my kitchen.  It certainly doesn’t make me Top Chef Chicago.  I had the home court advantage for the evening, so things might have been different if we were in Stephanie’s kitchen. Q. What was your secret?  Was it the foie gras? A. The execution of the dinner was a major challenge for both of us; I think my catering experience came into play; that certainly helped in turning out so many plates.…

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Pork Crack

Every writer suffers from at least a touch of melancholy. As a food writer, though, my touches of depression are not from anything as pedestrian as the existential weight of the world.

Yats All Folks

Normally, when I write a restaurant review, I try to avoid indulging in blow-by-blow course descriptions, poor adjectives and Architectural Digest-style décor treatises, a feat I like to call the “Pat Bruno.” Instead, I try to look for the story behind the restaurant, personal memoir spurred by dining at the establishment or a cultural context in which to put the food. But I was so appalled by the experience and the food at YATS Cajun-Creole Cuisine, a new Chicago location of a popular quick-service Indianapolis-based restaurant, I’m having a hard time avoiding a hyperbolic damning diatribe. Eating there last week was the worst dining experience—and that includes trips to the now-shuttered Bennigans—of my career as a food writer.

BLT Cupcakes

I’ve always wanted a tattoo, but I’ve also been hung up on that whole “my body is god’s temple” thing.

Acting With Food – A behind-the-scenes view of ‘Simply Ming’ shows how they make the program look so attractive

Watching food TV for the last few years has made me a little insecure about my performance in the kitchen. Sitting on the couch, watching television chefs crafting impossibly well-lit soft-focused steamy come-hither plates, I was sure I’d become soft and that I could never measure up with my own culinary chops. It was true, I couldn’t.  Like Photoshopped glamor magazine cover girls and lip-syncing ingenues, the solo santoku-wielding culinary warrior who spits out three-course, five-minute meals on your flat-panel television screen is partly a digital mythology. Ming Tsai, chef-owner of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass., just was in town to shoot segments for the new fall season of his PBS cooking show “Simply Ming” (it debuts in October on WTTW-Channel 11) with local top toques Rick Bayless, Gale Gand and Shawn McClain.  I attended the McClain taping to see the behind-the-scenes action. Food TV isn’t quite like sausage.  It’s fascinating to see it made.  What’s particularly interesting about Tsai’s show is that it’s made with quite a bit of integrity. A 10-year veteran of food television and a former personality of the burgeoning Food Network, Tsai made his move to PBS because it allowed him more control over the end…

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Journey to the Journeyman

Living in a city with 6,000+ restaurants, why would you ever drive 150 miles to eat in a city with a population of 1,500? For me, it’s a kind of a Hillary Clinton type thing. She was right, it does take a village to raise a child. Unfortunately for my wife and I, parents of a 16 month old boy who believes soil is a basic food group, we left the village back in our home state of Michigan when we moved to Chicago. So when we need a break from the exhaustive process of keeping our son’s mouth free of dirt and other things you find on the average floor, we gotta go to the village.

Eggs Benediction

They say you always remember your first. And were we talking about a kiss, I remember sitting on a recessed bench filled with orange life jackets on the second level of the Boblo Island ferry leaning towards my sixth grade “girlfriend”, Monica. I remember the stench of rotting sea life from the Detroit River and the paprika scent of Better Made BBQ potato chips mingling with the floral waft of Giorgio perfume from her neck (though I suspect it was the Parfums de Coeur Designer Imposters knock-off, after all what 12-year-old can afford the real thing?) as we hesitantly merged our lips. Were we talking about sex, I remember that too, but kissing and telling is one thing, getting laid and doing so is quite another.

In the Know: Mark Sparacino

Most Italian joints are run on the mythology of the grandmother who slaved over the stove to make a red sauce.  They usually get by on mediocre overcooked pasta and dessicated chicken Vesuvio, because surely it would be heartless to ding your grandma.  Few are the places that actually hit the Italian haute cuisine mark.  But at River North’s Prosecco, chef Mark Sparacino combines gourmet talent with the heart and soul of a first-class nonna to create a rare culinary gem. Q. What’s the best Chicago-related advice you’ve ever heard? A. I’d have to say it came from my mother, Darlene, and my late father, Steve Sparacino, who moved my sisters and I to Chicago when I was 14.  They always said to be nice, to be yourself and to work hard at everything you do.  If I’ve had any success in my career, it’s because of those simple words. Q. What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago? A. I love Sai Cafe [2010 N. Sheffield] for sushi, Avec [615 W. Randolph] for casual dining with friends and La Pasadita — northwest store [1140 N. Ashland] — for late-night or early morning dining. Q. If I were to come to…

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