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Feature Fri Mar 05 2010

Behind the Scenes at the Family Farmed Expo

Expo-chicagodiner.JPGWhen asked to be a member of the advisory board for the upcoming Family Farmed Expo, I was flattered. I met Jim Slama, the host of this event, while I was tagging along with friend and colleague Chef Michel Nischan earlier this summer.

Michel had taken an early flight into town for a meeting that was to focus on some of the concepts of his Wholesome Wave Foundation. In particular, doubling the value of food stamp coupons spent at farmer's markets- a win-win scenario my man Michel thought up.

I picked him up at the El around 7am. We killed some time back at my apartment, had some coffee and a nosh, played some music and then drove to the meeting. We were going to have lunch afterwards in Chinatown, so I stayed and found myself drawn into a very compelling discussion based upon what I felt was a truly inspired idea.

Months later, Slama asked me to be a part of the Family Farmed Expo. My role would be to chair the committee for the Localicious party, which will feature 20 restaurants, bakeries, bars and farms that embrace the local organic movement.

2010_localicious logo_smaller.jpgIn my work as a chef, the principles of ingredient-driven sustainable food were espoused early in my career. Also, by working in Europe and Asia, where the food culture demands this type of behavior, your values and standards are raised. In short, Japanese salary men and Bengali call center workers alike expect the finest and the freshest.

They eat with the seasons, and forgo asparagus in December with little or no apparent harm. It should be noted that this common sense approach is pretty much the norm worldwide and one that Americans are only beginning to embrace. Today's local, sustainable buzzwords are a given most everywhere else.

Returning to the States, it was difficult going back to lesser ingredients grown under questionable practices I couldn't support. Practices like factory farming, pesticides and unfair subsidies. Made me want to get my activist on.

Does that make me a snob or just an old hippy?

140_Expo2010logo-72dpi.jpgIt's hard to accept lesser when you know better. Ignorance is bliss in this case, and I find with great happiness that it's becoming easier to find the quality of products here in America that spoiled me abroad.

Over the last few years, the options available to consumers have increased enormously. Our good fortune sees the expanding availability of heritage crops, breeds and seeds--be it livestock, dairy, produce or vegetables crafted and cared for by concerned farmers and artisan purveyors. They vie for space on the shelves of many of our better markets.

Due to the ongoing efforts of these non-profit food activists like Family Farmed Organization and Wholesome Wave Foundation, these products--and the people that grow them, use them at home or in their restaurants, or are interested in trying to understand or shape related political policy--are the reason for the Expo taking place at the UIC Forum next weekend (March 11-13).

A series of fascinating panels will be taking place throughout the event on a variety of topics. On Thursday, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will give the keynote address for Financing Farm to Fork, an innovative program that will work as a laboratory of capitalism by having nearly 20 farms and food businesses presenting their business plans to possible angel investors. The Financing Farm to Fork Conference is sponsored by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, which supports the local food movement by encouraging investment in farm and food production, processing and distribution businesses.

The conference includes national and regional experts and investors speaking about food businesses, farm financing, food access, value-added businesses and more. Confirmed speakers include Slow Money Author Woody Tasch, television personality and rancher Bill Kurtis, Eli's Cheesecake CEO Marc Schulman, University of Chicago's Linda Darragh and (the myth, the legend) James Beard Award-winning chef Michel Nischan.

The Localicious Party on Friday the 12th features 20 restaurants, family farms and wine and spirit distillers committed to the local sustainable culture. A diverse range of participants includes Nightwood/Lula, Mana Food Bar, Death's Door Spirits, Heritage Prairie Farm and Pasticceria Natalina.

The chefs have paired with some of the farms for ingredients, and will be knocking it out of the park with savory ricotta squares with pickled vegetables; braised Dietzler Farms brisket with Three Sisters polenta, seedling apple cider and syrup; spit roasted leg of lamb with horseradish creme fraiche, and Living Water Farms' microgreen salad. Chase that with a Hum Spirit's Flip or a shot of Templetons Rye, and one last decadent bite of heritage Mediterranean recipe of semolina honey cake (made with local butter and eggs) with almonds and citrus.

Saturday's "You Ate The Whole Thing" panel will tell the tale of tail-snout "nasty bits" dining in Chicago. Moderated by the Reader's Mike Sula, who if you remember caused a recent stir with a story featuring Ehran Ostrreicher of E&P Meats, who will be a panelist, along with Greg Gunthorp (Gunthrorp Farms), Rob Levitt (Mado) and Paul Kahane (Blackbird, Avec, Publican).

Localicious_pork belly.pngAround the same time Saturday another key player in that intrigue, Rick Bayless will be doing cooking demos along with Gale Gand, Paul Virant and Paul Kahan. "Drinking Farm to Glass" and "Backyard Chickens" are just two more of the many topics that are scheduled for Saturday.

I'd go, even if I wasn't working it. This conference and party bills itself as "the Midwest's premier local food event." Judging from the lineup, you'd be hard-pressed to not agree.

Family Farmed Expo @ the UIC Forum
Thursday through Saturday, March 11-13
725 West Roosevelt
Parking available at any of the UIC parking lots nearby

Ticket Options:

Three Day All-Access Pass
Thursday through Saturday, March 11-13
8:00am to 6:00pm
Online $300
Onsite $350

Localicious Party
Friday, March 12
7:00pm to 10:00pm
Featuring local food and libations and an opportunity to connect with leaders of the local food community. Price does not include Trade Show access during the day.
Online or Onsite $75

Financing Farm to Fork
Thursday, March 11
8:00am to 6:00pm
Online $ 150
Onsite $ 200
Student Rate $45

Sponsored by University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, this conference is designed to support the growth of Sustainable Local Food Businesses and Farms by encouraging funding. Price includes Financing Fair

Financing Fair & Networking Reception
Thursday, March 11
3:00pm to 6:00pm
Online $40
Onsite $50

Designed to spark new relationships between farmers, food manufacturers, and other businesses in the burgeoning local food movement.

Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council Summit
Friday, March 12
8:00am to 6:00pm
Online $40
Onsite $50

CFPAC and Advertising
Friday, March 12
8:00am to 6:00pm
Online $60
Onsite N/A

CFPAC and Localicious
Friday, March 12
8:00am to 10:00pm
Online $100
Onsite $115

Brings together community representatives, food businesses, farmers, city leaders, chefs, NGOs, and other food advocates to discuss and propose policies that will improve the quality of and access to fresh food in Chicago.

Family Farmed Trade Show
Friday, March 12
8:00am to 6:00pm
Online $40
Onsite $50

Offers leading edge programming and technical assistance to support farmers, trade buyers, and other stakeholders to grow their business and the local food movement.

Trade Show & Localicious
Friday, March 12
8:00am to 10:00pm
Online $100
Onsite $115

Friday All-Access Pass
March 12
8:00am to 10:00pm
Online $140
Onsite $165

Meet the Buyers & Localicious
Friday, March 12
6:00pm to 10:00pm
Online $75
Onsite $75

Designed to play matchmaker between farmers and food producers and a wide range of buyers from supermarkets, distributors, restaurants, and institutions. Includes ticket to Localicious.

Local Food Festival
Saturday, March 13
10:00am to 6:00pm
Online $15
Onsite $20

A selection of food, gifts and info for eating healthy all year long while supporting local foods and businesses

Illinois Farmers Market Forum
Saturday, March 13
1:00 to 5:00pm
Online $25
Onsite $30

Sponsored by the Illinois Department of Agriculture for individuals involved in the production of Farmers Markets.

About the Author

Alan Lake has been a professional chef for over 25 years and has won numerous awards, professional competitions and distinctions. He's mainly consulting now, setting up projects like kitchen design, menu development, hiring and training staff, research, etc. He's also been a professional musician most of his life and coined the term "Jazzfood" to describe his "solid technique based upon tasteful improvisational abilities" and views his food as he does his music.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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