Dining and food culture in Chicago

Things to Do with Your Tongue: Speaking and Eating Chinese with Professor James McCawley

Chinatown, Chinese, Trends & Essays No Comments »
Photo: David Hammond

Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

When I studied literature and linguistics at the University of Chicago in the mid-1970s, I knew of James McCawley but never had him as a prof. He worked in generative semantics, and his work, focusing upon how meaning and logic affect syntax, created a well-known rift with followers of Chomskyan generative grammar.

I’d read a paper or two of McCawley’s in Joe Williams’ linguistics classes, but later in life the work of his I found most useful was “The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters,” a still-in-print handbook (University of Chicago Press) for deciphering Chinese restaurant menus. About this guide, Calvin Trillin wrote in the New Yorker:

“Unlike some of the rest of us, McCawley can enter a Chinese restaurant secure in the knowledge that his digestion will not be impaired by the frustration of watching Chinese customers enjoy some succulent marvel whose name the management has not bothered to translate… .McCawley does not spend half the meal staring at his neighbor’s bean curd with that particularly ugly combination of greed and envy so familiar to—well, to some of the rest of us… . McCawley endeavors to free the non-Chinese-speaking eater forever from the wretched constriction of the English menu.” Read the rest of this entry »

Liquid Limits: Joining the Juicing Club with Cleanse Culture

Trends & Essays 1 Comment »

cleanse-culture-signature-cleanseBy Amber Gibson

Like the raw food craze, juicing may have started as a West Coast trend, but it’s gained plenty of traction in Chicago, with companies like Peeled, JuiceRx and BluePrint promising to clean out your internal organs with their colorful concoctions. This spring, Chef Jared Van Camp and Element Collective (the team behind Nellcote, Old Town Social, Leghorn and Kinmont) join the fray, opening cold-pressed juice bar Owen + Alchemy in Logan Square (2355 North Milwaukee).

The newest player on the local cleansing scene is Cleanse Culture, founded by Nicole Kasal, formerly of JuiceRx. Cleanses can be as short as one or two days to as long as a week or more for the deepest cleanse. Standard cleanses are three days and that’s what I tried.

Eating is such a pleasurable part of my life, so I was skeptical and a little nervous to try cleansing. Skipping delectable wine dinners and dessert tastings was painful. But I was very curious as to how I would feel and how my body would respond. Would cleansing feel like deprivation or would I feel energized with radiant skin like models in advertisements would lead me to believe? Read the rest of this entry »

Manila Moment? Why Filipino Food Still Flies Under Chicago’s Radar

Filipino, Lakeview, River North, Trends & Essays No Comments »
Pancit canton at Sunda

Pancit canton at Sunda/Photo: Amber Gibson

By Amber Gibson

National food personalities like Andrew Zimmern have touted Filipino cuisine as an emerging  trend, but here in Chicago the scene still seems lacking. While there are several neighborhood Filipino eateries in Chicago, none have a particularly high profile. If Tanta has made Peruvian food mainstream, there’s no trendy River North equivalent for the Pacific island nation. Sunda arguably comes closest, albeit with a Pan-Asian label. However, there are more than a few chefs with Filipino heritage helming restaurants around town. Some of the creative dishes you’re chowing down on at restaurants like The Refinery, E+O, Sunda and Pecking Order have Filipino roots.

Rodelio Aglibot, one of the most prominent Filipino chefs in town, is known for his “new Asian” cuisine. He brought Filipino food into the spotlight when he opened Sunda in 2009. Now, he’s helming the kitchen at E+O in Mount Prospect, where the eclectic menu includes steak, sushi and pizza along with a few Filipino signatures.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sugar Freedom: Chef Homaro Cantu and his Magnificent Miracle Berry Obsession

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Photo: Michael Silberman

Photo: Michael Silberman

By Amber Gibson

Chef Homaro Cantu can make cheesecake without sugar, fat or cheese. Instead, all he needs is a spoonful of non-fat sour cream, a lemon wedge and a miracle berry tablet. Lemon and sour cream might not sound like dessert, but the miracle of the berry is that it makes these two ingredients taste better than Eli’s Cheesecake.

Cantu, a molecular gastronomer, among other things, has spent more than eight years researching the rare miracle berry, which temporarily makes sour things taste sweet. At a recent cooking class at his Michelin-starred Moto restaurant, he demonstrated to wide-eyed guests how easy miracle berries are to use.

“You just made cheesecake in a split second,” Cantu tells his class of fourteen students, after they diligently squeeze several drops of lemon juice over their servings of non-fat sour cream. After exchanging incredulous looks, one by one each person eats a miracle berry, then tries the sour cream. It’s unanimous. This stuff tastes good. Read the rest of this entry »

Three’s Company: No Such Thing as Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

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Sunday Dinner chef team

Sunday Dinner Club chef team

By Matt Kirouac

Sous chefs are the axle that keep kitchens from falling apart while going 75 mph on the highway. They’re the Abu to the chef’s Aladdin, the Piglet to their Winnie the Pooh, and the Sam to their Frodo. And we KNOW that Frodo would be stranded up shit creek without Sam. The executive chef/sous chef dynamic is a familiar one, and it’s a formula we all understand, at least to some degree. But what about those kitchens that run on two executive chefs? What happens when Sam has to cater to two Frodos? It’s an unsettling thought, but it happens, and sous chefs are forced to acclimate to this unique combination. In Chicago, the two chefs-plus-one sous chef trifecta runs smoothly (for the most part) for the likes of Sunday Dinner Club, Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits, and Trenchermen. Read the rest of this entry »

Life’s Peculiar Recipes: What Chefs Were Before They Were Chefs

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Paul Virant's dream career?

Paul Virant’s dream career?

By Matt Kirouac

When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be a marine biologist, mostly because I assumed it involved swimming in tanks at aquariums and bonding with animals that wouldn’t bite my leg off. Then “Jaws” ruined my life, and I decided I wanted to be a boat salesman, because I would be safe from a watery massacre, yet still sort of involved in marine life. I liked water. So it makes complete sense that I am a writer today. At least there is no threat of sharks. I suppose we all go through drastic changes of job dreams. For some, we aspire to different things at young ages, and others go so far as to pursue different careers before changing tracks down the road. This is true of plenty of chefs, who either dreamed of different careers or actually achieved them before veering down the culinary path.

The Dream Chasers

Joshua Kulp, chef/partner of Sunday Dinner Club and forthcoming Honey Butter Fried Chicken, has seemingly lived the lives of several different people. It’s remarkable that he has already managed to have a full-fledged teaching career, and then shifted to become a chef. His reasoning behind the two seemingly divergent routes makes sense, though. For him, it’s all about making an impact in the world, be it by educating youth or changing people’s perceptions about food. When he was younger, he thought jobs had to make an impact, and he didn’t know he could do this with something creative (e.g. a chef). Though he loved cooking, it wasn’t initially a career option. While attending school in Madison, Wisconsin, he ran a coffee shop using fair trade coffee and local, sustainable products, and he even spent four years in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s patients. This made him realize how important and life-changing one single moment could be. This ideology parlays to cooking, as one special bite can change someone’s thinking about food forever. But first came teaching. 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 »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2012: Food

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Top 5 Celebrated Food Spot Openings in 2012
Baume & Brix
Glazed and Infused
Pecking Order
Park Tavern
Reno
—Veronica Hinke  

Top 5 Most Surprising Food Spot Closings in 2012
Bleeding Heart Bakery
El Norte
LM
Custom House Tavern
Erwin
—Veronica Hinke   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 »

Culinary Adventure: Four Things to Know About Dishcrawl

Loop, News etc., Trends & Essays, Wicker Park No Comments »

Prasino

For foodies who can’t decide where to dine, Dishcrawl makes eating out easy by skipping the selection process altogether. Like a pub crawl for food, Dishcrawl organizes a walking tour of four different restaurants for a $39 edible adventure you don’t have to plan. The Wicker Park crawl kicks off at sustainable eatery Prasino on November 7, and another crawl goes downtown to explore the Loop on November 13.

1. It’s a hit elsewhere. Already established in dozens of cities across the country and Canada, Dishcrawl is ready to give Chicago some love after a test run this past April. “In the Bay Area, where [Dishcrawls] are happening all the time, they’re getting mostly food lovers, but also twenty- and thirty-somethings who want to try something new,” says Tessa McLean, one of Dishcrawl’s two Chicago ambassadors. “Food has become so important in Chicago, it really is a food town.” Read the rest of this entry »