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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, May 23

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A little over a week ago, Andrew and I were fortunate to dine with 40 or so people we didn't know while sitting on pillows on the floor of a South Side apartment. What could get so many people to haul their hiney that far south to sit on the floor and eat dinner with people they didn't know in the home of someone they didn't know?

It's not really a what, but more of a who. And that who is the Ghetto Gourmet. Started in San Francisco by Joe Townsend, it has since spun off to have chefs who travel all over the country (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston Washington DC, Atlanta, Charleston and so on). They take over a stranger's apartment and turn their kitchen into a production kitchen that will cook dinner for 40 or so people who will sit on a pillow on the floor at a low table and eat off of inexpensive IKEA dinnerware and they'll pay for the experience.

And what an experience it is. The core philosophy is that people don't take the time to stop and be thankful that they have a group of wonderful to share food and time with.

The soup course for the dinner I was lucky enough to be present for included a shout out to Chicago in the form of Beer Cheese Soup, made from 312 beer by Goose Island Brewery. The soup was so delicious, that it almost made me cry. Literally! And food does that to me occasionally, but I've never had much luck in finding out how to make the food that causes this reaction. I decided after the meal to go talk to Chef Efrain Cuevas briefly and tell him how moved I was by his soup. And he seemed amazed and honored, and hopefully at least a bit satisfied. I told him that I'd love to have his recipe and I'd love to share it with lots of people via this column. Instead of getting territorial, he said, "Well, I'm not a professional recipe writer and I just can't make things up as I go, but I could get you the recipe, it's really simple, too." And it honestly is.

Now if you're picturing a can of cheese soup opened and poured into a bowl, stop. Cause this isn't it. Oh no siree, Bob! This soup is decadent (with 2 pounds of cheese, how can it not be?) but it isn't thick and goopy. It is richly flavored and wonderfully textured and amazingly packed full of delicious flavor. And Chef Efrain says that you can easily substitute Soyrizo brand chorizo substitute for the chorizo sausage and it will match perfectly and give you a delicious vegetarian soup.

I've added a few things to make the recipe fit in the style of this column, but this recipe is not the work of me, but is the work of Chef Efrain and he should be given all kudos and congratulations for it.

312 Beer Cheese Soup w/ Brie, Chorizo and Manchego
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 fennel bulbs, chopped
2 cups of thinly sliced celery
6 pack of 312 Beer (2 bottles for the soup and the other 4 for you!)
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of ground coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper
4 tablespoons of flour
1 pound of cheddar cheese, grated
1 pound of brie cheese, sliced (leave the rind on)
1 stick of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
8 cups water or stock
Mexican-style chorizo, cooked and drained very well (or Soyrizo)
Shredded manchego cheese

Heat oil and butter in a large stock pot. Add the onion, celery, fennel, cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper. Sautee on medium heat and stir frequently until everything is caramelized, which should take about 10-15 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 2 more minutes while stirring constantly. Add the beer! Stir and scrape the bottom of the stockpot to deglaze the pan (all that stuck-on stuff is really flavorful and you want in the soup, not stuck to the pan). Add the water/stock and bring everything to a light boil. Add the cheddar and brie cheese and stir to combine. Lower the heat to a low simmer and cover the pot. Cook the soup for one to two hours on low heat and stir occasionally to blend the melted cheese into the broth.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a bit of chorizo and shredded manchego cheese.

I firmly believe that food made from someone who cares for the diner tastes better than food that isn't. The people behind The Ghetto Gourmet are definitely people who care about the quality of their food and the quality of the dining experience. It was such a memorable time that I'll be involved the next time they come through Chicago, which will be May and maybe April. Stay tuned to Drive-Thru for more information about their next visit.

In other foodie news, I'm delighted to say that I was interviewed by the amazing food writers who run Serious Eats. Serious Eats is a site from New York that incorporates video, photo, blogs, feature stories, and interviews all related to food. These are some wonderful writers, and people with critical palates that I'm delighted to have had the chance to get to know a little better. If you are a foodie, I definitely recommend visiting their site. I think I spent almost an entire Saturday afternoon reading it when I first found out about it. And there isn't much these days that can hold my attention for that long, just so you know.

And if you are a newbie foodie, or even an experienced foodie, you'll notice a link in the interview to Rouxbe is a how-to-cook site with high quality video combined with easy-to-understand directions and recipes. Some of their dishes are very basic and intended for the new chef who needs a lesson in the fundamentals. But they also have delightful recipes that will challenge more experienced cooks. The soothing music will keep you calm as you complete each step, the encouraging voice will convince you to try recipes you're not sure you can complete, and the amazing video lets you see exactly what each step of the dish looks and sounds like. If anyone makes me want Smell-o-Vision, it is these people. If you've found yourself disappointed by Food Network, this may be what you're looking for. And if you sign up now, you can get 30 days of free access to the site so you can try out several recipes before deciding if the membership is worth it for you. But I'll tell you right now, it really, really is. Yes, really, really.

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Michelle / April 2, 2007 12:39 PM

I think this may just round out my non-easter dinner.

rc / April 3, 2007 11:08 AM

All the cheese soups I have ever made say to add the cheese right at the end and just heat through to avoid curdling.

Are you sure on the directions to simmer the thing for house after the cheese is added?

Cinnamon / April 3, 2007 11:25 AM

Enjoy, Michelle.

rc: As long as you keep your soup at a simmer, and not a boil, the cheese won't curdle. You want the cheese to cook for a long time to really diffuse the flavor throughout the broth as well as to soften the brie rind. But if the soup boils after you add the cheese, it will curdle.

b c / April 5, 2007 4:51 PM

i had the thing simmering for hours and the brie just would not melt, the stuff was like rubber. anyway, i dont know if i cut it too thick or i just had some unusually unmelty cheese. i ended up taking it for a whirl in the blender and that seemed to do the trick, although the soup still came out a little grainy. grainy, but pretty darn good.

Buckets / April 5, 2007 11:07 PM

Dear Cinnamon...

?Of all the writers to cover the GG, and I include the staff at Time mag and the NYTimes, you are the first to comment on the "wonderful" that happens at every dinner we get the chance to do. The opportunity to create a space where you can experience the kindness of strangers, enjoy a nourishing meal and learn about something new is a rare priviledge. Thanks for getting it...its people like you that keep this kind of "special" going...

Cinnamon / April 6, 2007 1:03 AM

bc: I would suggest slicing the cheese in 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch thick slices. The cheese itself should melt pretty easily and the rind should hold together. When I first ate this soup, I thought the rind was the most tender, flavorful chicken I'd ever eaten, but the rind for mine wasn't rubbery at all, very tender. I'm sorry the texture was so off for you and if anyone has any ideas what happened, I'd love to hear them.

And buckets, really? Wow, I'm amazed that they didn't get the feeling that I did. Maybe its because I was in love with the concept years before I ever had the chance to join you all in person? Either way, keep doing what you're doing. Folks like me will push the conversion factor up as much as we can.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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