Dining and food culture in Chicago

Dying for a Meal: Making a Hyde Park Outing of the Oriental Institute’s Exhibition

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Stele of Katumuwa/Image: Oriental Institute-Travis Saul

Stele of Katumuwa/Image: Oriental Institute-Travis Saul

When people say they’re going to Hyde Park, they usually mean they’re headed somewhere within a few blocks of the University of Chicago. My reason for recently going to Hyde Park was, of course, a UChicago-related event, an exhibit at the Oriental Institute (1155 East 58th) entitled “In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East.”

This exhibit brings together two of our favorite things—food and mortuary rituals—and it focuses on the use of food and drink to care for the dearly departed. At this ancient Turkish ritual, there would have been a stone representation of the deceased, along with directions regarding foods to be set before him. The stone representation, a stele recently discovered in Eastern Turkey, is for a man named Katumuwa. The inscription indicates that Katumuwa expected it to be rather dreary in the afterlife; he thought an annual banquet around his image would make things slightly more tolerable. As part of this exhibit, there are almost sixty artifacts related to comestibles of the ancient Near East.

This exhibit ends January 4, and Christmas break is the perfect time to make the trek to Hyde Park for some culture and some chow at one of the neighborhood’s classic bar/restos.

The Nile (1162 East 55th) complements the “In Remembrance of Me” exhibit. Having been featured on “Check, Please!” The Nile stands apart from just about every other nearby restaurant. Now in a new building, The Nile has served the community for years, with Middle Eastern standards including a much-praised chicken shawarma. The owner is Palestinian, born in the little town of Bethlehem. The food is value-priced: around $15/person. Read the rest of this entry »

Bucktown Showdown: The Clash of the Pie Tins is Apple in All Eyes

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By Nolan Feeney

If a global bacon shortage strikes in 2013 and your favorite pig product goes scarce, now you know where to find your emergency fix: the annual Bucktown Apple Pie Contest.

The competition, which celebrated its eighth year on a recent Sunday, is the largest apple-pie contest in the country. Put on as a fundraiser by the Friends of Holstein Park neighborhood organization, it’s also home to pies with plenty of creative license. Bacon showed up in multiple entries, and past ingredients have included bourbon, basil, pine nuts, maple syrup, cheddar cheese and even a crust with a henna ink drawing topping off the flakes. The contest rules weren’t always so open-minded—bacon was originally outlawed—but now the only limitations are a top and bottom crust, no uncooked eggs, and no other fruit. Read the rest of this entry »

The Mayne Dish: Mingling with the Smart Set at Fear No Art’s “The Dinner Party”

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Fear No Art’s “The Dinner Party” at the Mayne Stage Theatre is a meshing of theater, art and a tasting event—all rolled into a delicious dinner party. Three artists stand on stage with the event organizer who moderates as the artists and audience partake–in the food and conversation, at least via Twitter. The event is streamed live, so anyone can participate on Twitter.

Event organizer Elysabeth Alfano’s impetus for creating the event was a dinner party she hosted a year ago for ten artists. The conversations were so evocative and stimulating that she wanted to replicate it for more than just a small group of people. Alfano curates her guests, choosing three artists who don’t know each other but have something in common. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Bacon Takedown Wants to Know What To Do With Fifteen Pounds of Pork

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Twenty contestants, 300 pounds of bacon, one day: This is the Bacon Takedown, returning to Chicago for a second year this September. When asked what was the most creative item on the last Takedown’s menu, creator Matt Timms replies “bacon taffy” with little hesitation, but can’t choose a favorite dish. Last year’s winners included bacon English muffins and “Sow-moa” cookies, but also on the menu were bacon taffy apples and hot chocolate. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Chemistries of Coffee

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Stephanie Levi brings the science

Do you associate science with your everyday morning routine? If you need a cup of joe before you can even start thinking about the day, maybe you should. Tons of chemistry, biology and physics goes into harvesting, roasting and brewing your morning coffee.

You can find out how at Night Lab: The Science of Coffee, a science education outreach program at Schubas on Sunday, June 12 at 7pm as part of an ongoing series on the science behind food.

Sarah Kluth, green coffee manager and buyer at local favorite Intelligentsia Coffee, will be discussing her expertise in bringing the best beans from tree to cup to your mouth, and all the scientific principles involved along the way.

Night Lab is the independent project of Stephanie Levi, the coordinator for the Student Center for Science Engagement at Northeastern Illinois University who holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology. “It’s more like a bar discussion than a lecture. There’s not a whole lot that’s academic about it,” she says about the series. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Meet the Big Cheese

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“We’re not just putting cheese next to cheese,” says Greg O’Neill, “it’s going to be like speed dating.” O’Neill, the co-founder and proprietor of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, is organizing the First Annual “Artisan Producer Festival” on Saturday, April 30 at the Chicago French Market, 131 North Clinton, from 11am-3pm. With a focus on American producers, the festival will have more than forty vendors offering the highest quality cheeses, meats, pastries, wine, beer and more. “The genesis of the festival came from the idea of people meeting the maker,” explains O’Neill. The Pastoral shop maintains a European-inspired store in which the staff shares their product knowledge with customers. As a primary source of information, many of the vendors at the festival will be the actual producers of the commodity. This will make for an intimate understanding of where food comes from at this “meet-the-maker” affair. A free event with loads of samples, Pastoral’s Artisan Producer Festival is a foodie’s haven, however, “it is a no-attitude-about-food event,” O’Neill says. “This event is for everybody who has an interest in trying and learning about food.” (Tiana Olewnick)

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 »

411: Behind the Lights

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The holiday season officially kicks into high gear for Chicagoans this Saturday with the nineteenth annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Every year, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, hundreds of thousands of spectators flock to Michigan Avenue to watch Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus lead a parade of furries and quasi-celebrities (past years have featured the likes of Kirk Cameron and Jamie Farr; this year look for the stars of Radio Disney) atop corporate-sponsored floats to light up the estimated one-million-plus Christmas tree lights along The Mag Mile. Next to Black Friday, it’s one of the busiest days of the year for the area; retailers will be unveiling their holiday window displays and extending their shopping hours in an attempt to get a jump on the early holiday shopping surge. It’s a huge day for the business community of the area—for the employees of those businesses though, it can be more of a mixed blessing.

“You have to be mentally prepared,” says Dave Zampillo, senior manager of The Grand Lux Cafe, a popular restaurant on Michigan Avenue (where I work when not writing). “You can’t come in cranky or hung-over or you’ll punch somebody in the face.” Read the rest of this entry »

Feeding Frenzy: Bon Appetit editor Barbara Fairchild talks Chicago Gourmet 2010 and her “September issue”

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By Elias Cepeda

The high-end food festival Chicago Gourmet takes place this year over the course of two days, September 25-26, in Millennium Park (along with a “Hamburger Hop” on September 24) and about a hundred of the area’s most celebrated restaurants and wine makers will be represented. Title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine will be heavily involved in the activities; we spoke with editor-in-chief Barbara Fairchild about their plans and her take on Chicago. A trained journalist, Fairchild knows a little bit about the type of work ethic Chicagoans pride themselves on. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Journalism from California State University Northridge, she went straight to work for food and travel magazine Carte Blanche as an editorial assistant. In 1978, Fairchild joined Bon Appétit magazine as an editorial assistant; within seven years, she was executive editor. In 2000, she was named editor-in-chief. During her tenure at the magazine, Bon Appétit has been awarded three James Beard Foundation awards on its way to becoming the surviving Conde Nast food title when Gourmet folded in 2009. Fairchild authored the “The Bon Appétit Cookbook,” and published “The Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook” with a “Bon Appétit Desserts Cookbook” scheduled for November 2010.

What makes Chicago Gourmet 2010 an interesting and worthwhile event?

I think what is great about this particular event is the sheer number and quality of the restaurants involved. There will be over a hundred of what, really, are the top restaurants in the Chicago area. And what I love about Chicago restaurants, and events like this one, in particular, is that all of the chefs are really there in Chicago. This isn’t an event where there is a restaurateur who has five other restaurants elsewhere and is barely involved with the local community. What I find also sets Chicago apart from many other places, in a lot of ways, is the fact that the chefs are not only committed to their craft but to their communities and cities at large. I also have to say that I’m also impressed by Mayor Daley’s commitment to and very impressive knowledge of the restaurant scene. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Pork Bellies

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“Bacon is truly the Helen of Troy of meats,” says Baconfest co-founder (and acclaimed theatrical sound designer) Andre Pluess. And if all goes according to plan, bacon is going to be the meat that launches (nearly) a thousand plates Saturday April 10 at the Stan Mansion in Logan Square. “We almost instantly found ourselves in meetings with some of the best chefs in Chicago eager to participate and to help us realize the dream,” says Pluess, describing the reaction to their idea. What now sounds like a modest plan—a hundred guests being served bacon specialties by ten chefs at the Publican last fall—has blossomed into twenty-four chefs from some of Chicago’s top restaurants serving 800 attendees this Saturday. If you slept on buying tickets, however, no bacon for you. “Our event sold out in less than fifteen minutes,” says Pluess. Aside from the bacon menu created by the pros, the fest includes an amateur bacon cook-off and  more than twenty vendors selling anything from bacon themed t-shirts to lip balm. “There will also be readings of bacon poems,” says Pluess. “And we will present the winning bacon music video entry from the Baconfest Youtube contest.” What started as a late-night conversation over drinks, “writing a musical called BACON!” Pluess remembers, “has quickly snowballed into reality.” (Peter Cavanaugh)