Dining and food culture in Chicago

French Flour: An American (Pastry Chef) in Paris

French, Gold Coast, Pastry 1 Comment »
Leigh Omilinsky with Pierre Hermé

Leigh Omilinsky with Pierre Hermé

By Amber Gibson

Often the best opportunities in life come from a combination of hard work and luck. Executive pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky of the Sofitel Chicago and Café des Architectes visited Paris for the first time at the end of October to stage (working an unpaid internship) with Pierre Hermé and take a class with Valrhona. She certainly earned the trip, working her way up through top Chicago kitchens including Tru and L2O before landing at the Sofitel, where she is responsible for the hotel’s entire pastry program. Last year, she won a Jean Banchet Award for Rising Pastry Chef, and this year she is a finalist for Pastry Chef of the Year. That alone might not have been enough to get her in the door with “the Picasso of pastry” though.

Luckily for her, a few of the higher ups at Sofitel North America are buddies with Hermé’s business partner and CEO of his company, Charles Znaty, so they put in a good word for Omilinsky. Four months after sending in her resume, she discovered she would be flying to France to stage with one of her idols. Read the rest of this entry »

Stollen Memories: Dinkel’s Bakery Feeds the Christmas Spirit

Breakfast/Brunch, Coffee & Tea, German, Lakeview, Pastry, Sandwiches No Comments »

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset By Amber Gibson

My love affair with German bread began in 2007, when I spent a year studying abroad in Germany. Every little town seemed to have a baker on each corner, up before the sun kneading dough and baking bread. Countless frigid winter mornings, my only incentive to get out of bed in the morning was the smell of breakfast brötchen (bread rolls) wafting through my window from the bakery across the street.

The culture of fresh-baked bread and the multitude of hearty loaves studded with nuts and seeds, or a sharp pumpernickel or rye spoiled me terribly. Sliced bread from the grocery store? Oh, the horror! It was in Bickenbach, a small village outside Darmstadt, where I was first introduced to good German stollen—less cloying, more buttery and much tastier than fruitcake. Here in Chicago, many bakeries offer their take on the sweet bread, but none quite captures my taste buds and brings back my memories of the pleasantly plump surrogate oma baker in Bickenbach feeding me extra sweets to fatten me up like the stollen at Dinkel’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Pie-oneer: Paula Haney’s Hoosier Mama is Really Booking

Cookbooks, Pastry, Ukrainian Village No Comments »


By Matt Kirouac

There are few things as soul-soothing as pie, which explains the adoration for Hoosier Mama Pie Co., and the chief Hoosier behind it all, Paula Haney. From coffee shops to fine dining institutions, Haney has proven her pastry prestige, but what really set her apart from the dessert posse was her decision to break away from the trendy and return to her roots making pie. Now four years in with her first pie shop, fresh off the debut of her own pie cookbook, and on the verge of opening her second shop, Haney is a true pie-oneer in Chicago.

Pie was the first thing Haney learned how to make at home in the Hoosier State. They were the go-to dessert in her family, and by the age of eight, she was making apple pie with her mom. It was love at first bite. “It was amazing how good just the apples and the cinnamon and the sugar were together,” she recalls. Although her passion for pie was there from the get-go, the road to Hoosier Mama was a long one.

Haney studied journalism at Indiana University, but wound up working at a coffee shop in Bloomington called The Runcible Spoon. She dabbled at a couple other places in town getting a taste for the baking life before moving to Chicago and working at The Hilton on Michigan Avenue. Although separating eggs for hours on end was tedious, she chocks it up as good mental exercise and practice, preparing her for her pastry-assistant position at Trio under Della Gossett. She calls the kitchen intense yet supportive, fostering growth in her pastry skills. “I was making stuff I had never made before,” she says. It was here where she felt she really learned and grew during her three years as an assistant and three as pastry chef, curating elaborate dishes using candied seaweed tuiles and foie gras as part of twenty-course tasting menus.  Read the rest of this entry »

Drunken Doughnuts: A Homeric Fantasy Comes to Life

Pastry, Trends & Essays No Comments »
Three Aces doughnuts By Matt Kirouac
Who would have thought that Homer Simpson would have been such a trendsetting foodie? Long before hordes first queued up outside Doughnut Vault, the portly yellow cartoon was scarfing doughnuts. Now it looks like he’s ahead of the trend yet again, as more and more doughnut-slingers are pairing doughnuts with booze, and if there’s one thing Homer likes as much as doughnuts, it’s the sauce. With the spate of boozy doughnut desserts around town these days, I have a feeling Homer would feel right at home in Chicago. Gone are the days when doughnuts were viewed solely as coffee companions at breakfast. Now you don’t need to sneak your flask into bakeries! From whiskey to ouzo, doughnuts are getting tipsy all over town.
Boiler Room is a bar that serves pizza and doughnuts. The only way this place could get any better is if Moe Szyslak was on staff. Soft-serve ice cream has been a menu mainstay since opening in 2010, and as the kitchen recently sought to expand their dessert offerings, they wanted something that would supplement the ice cream tastefully. The aptly named “drunkin’ donuts” are four deep-fried dough balls coated with powdered sugar and cinnamon, served with a side of Jameson soft-serve ice cream for dipping. Fried to order, the hot and cold combination, compounded with the bitter bite of the Jameson against the sweet doughnuts, strikes the perfect balance of flavor.  Read the rest of this entry »

Shifting to Park: The Newest Trend in Food Trucking is a Storefront

Argentinian, Food Trucks, Lakeview, Pastry, Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »

Beavers Coffee & Donuts Drivers Side PicIf you want to get your fix of gourmet mini donuts from Beavers Coffee & Donuts, you normally look to their website or Twitter to find the food truck’s location and hours. But once Beavers opens its first storefront restaurant in the Chicago French Market in early January, you’ll know where and when to get your hot breakfast on demand.

Since the Beavers truck opened in December of last year, requests for its catering service—and for donuts after the truck’s weekday morning-through-lunch hours—grew so rapidly that co-owners Gabriel Wiesen and Jim Nuccio started planning an expansion this summer. “Logistically, it makes sense to have a storefront in conjunction with a food truck,” Wiesen says. “Being able to facilitate those requests was really hard without a store.”

Operating a food truck makes starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant a much easier task. For starters, the idea has already been tested: Food-truck owners know what sells, know who their customers are and, when scouting for locations, know where their customer-base lives. They already are making money, and they’ve built a brand that can attract investors. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat #44: Paula Haney

Pastry, The Big Heat, Wicker Park No Comments »

Paula Haney
Owner, Hoosier Mama Pie Company
If anyone can take over the world one bite at a time, Haney, armed with her incredibly flaky crusted sweet and savory pies, is definitely poised to do it. Everything we’ve ever eaten here, be it jiggly banana cream or custardy quiche, is one of the best things we ever put in our mouth.

See details on the The Big Heat

411: Sweet Love

Events, Lincoln Park, Pastry No Comments »

We all know from the card and chocolate crowd that Valentine’s Day is the ultimate time for making sweet overtures to the one we love, a chance to find respite from the deep-winter chill in the arms of another. And playing on that theme, chef Nate Meads of Fritz Pastry offers a Valentine’s Day dinner that is as sugary as it is intimate.

Meads has an exceptional resume as a pastry chef, having previously made sweet things for such prestigious establishments as Blue Water Grill, Tru, Everest Room and Brasserie Jo. He left the restaurant biz, however, in order to carve out his own piece of the pie (no pun intended), starting Fritz Pastry, 1408 West Diversey,
in May of 2009, and it’s a testament to Meads’ talent that he’s been able to get the little boutique patisserie off the ground in the middle of a recession. And after more than a year and a half of excellent service to the community, Fritz has racked up a fair amount of buzz. While you might have heard about their killer macarons, Meads’ favorite Fritz production is his chocolate croissant. “I tend to eat at least one a day, to keep me warm in winter,” confesses Meads. Read the rest of this entry »

Milking Cookies: Hey! Sugar innovates a classic confection

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Just as a baby’s first Christmas receives a special spot in the scrapbook and on the tree, a bakery’s first holiday season can distinguish it from the burgeoning crowd of cupcakes, cookies and confections.

Finance manager by day, Michelle Olszewski has been offering her cookies as collateral at client meetings and regular office hours for years. When coworkers, friends and family went bonkers over her sweet and tangy strawlemon cookie concoction last year, Olszewski said, “Why don’t we do this? It would be fun and people already love it, so let’s extend it. Let’s make it into a real business.”

Hey! Sugar’s cutely named staples include the award-winning Strawlemon (strawberry bits in a lemon cookie), Choc3, (triple chocolate), PC Toasty (gluten-free pineapple macaroons), the Boyfriends (chocolate chip, vanilla and walnut), and Aloha (pineapple, coconut and macadamias in a snickerdoodle). She tests new recipes at home, then spends her Sundays baking big batches at Kitchen Chicago, a commissary kitchen that rents space by the hour to startup food companies. Read the rest of this entry »

Sweet Luxury: Canady Le Chocolatier crafts artisan bon-bons

Pastry, South Loop, West Loop No Comments »

Photo: Kristine Sherred

A worldly collection of tapestries, ceramics and paintings glow in warm yellow light, while classical melodies glide through the bright display case brimming with chocolates that look almost too delicate to devour. Even traditional milk, dark and white bites dress up under intricate gold leaves or white snowflakes imprinted on the glossy bon-bons.

At Canady Le Chocolatier, one can satiate a desire for chocolate and pumpkin simultaneously with a Pumpkin Pie Truffle, or settle another craving with more than seventy sweet, even spicy, confections.

Holiday suggestions include Amerena Ganache, Creme de Tiramisu and truffles with pistachio, mint, cheesecake or red pepper. Praline and coconut mingle in chocolate ganache; hazelnut blends with caramel butter cream in a Dolce de Leche; toffee bits sweeten the slight kick of a red pepper ganache. Mix and match a personalized assortment—one or two, one pound or two pounds.

“It’s totally up to the customer,” says owner and chocolatier Michael Canady, whose demeanor matches the serenity of his store. “I get the opportunity to experiment once in a while [with flavors], and I like that. It’s always nice to come up with new recipes.” Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Things: Vegas Edition

Burgers, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Little Italy, Near North, New American, Pastry, River North, Steakhouse, West Loop No Comments »

Girl and the Goat

By Michael Nagrant

If he weren’t dead, I’d sure like to have a few words with Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable about the weather in Chicago this past July. I mean I’m sure in 1779, Lake Michigan’s unbesmirched shores were breathtaking and all that. But, as the area’s first non-indigenous settler (usually this means Native American-exploiting white dude—but, refreshingly du Sable was a black Haitian who married a Potawatomi woman and became a high-ranking member of the tribe) Du Sable must have known (he set up a fur-trading post on the north bank of the Chicago River) that, when the pelt business dropped off in July because it was hot and swampy and no one wanted to drape their sweaty bodies in beaver, well, the sticky heat might also be a minor annoyance for future generations. Of course, Du Sable was no Al Gore, and thus couldn’t be expected to anticipate global warming, let alone invent the internet, and so I guess the jungle climes we’ve endured most of this past month aren’t entirely his fault.

Still, what to do when my curly blond fro is frizzin’ like one of those “just add water” sponges that turns in to a four-foot-wide dinosaur from the humidity? Head to Las Vegas in August. Crazy, right? Well, as the joke goes, it’s a dry heat.

Actually, while I’ll relish swimming next to Elvis-jumpsuited dudes in huge football-field-sized pools while sipping on suntan-lotion-scented pina coladas in the shade of fake plastic architecture, my real intent, as it always is, is to discover the real side of Vegas food. While I’ll check out French masters Joel Robuchon’s and Guy Savoy’s places and local boy Shawn McClain’s new Vegas spot Sage, I’ll also be out searching for what some consider the best Northern Thai food in America at Lotus of Siam and the Japanese charcoal-grilled fare at Raku. However, while I’m baking in that arid desert, I couldn’t leave you without a few of my new favorite things. Every single one of these tasty treats is as sure a bet as a pair of panties gracing a Tom Jones concert stage. See you in a few weeks. Viva Chicago, baby! Read the rest of this entry »