Gapers Block has ceased publication.

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.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, December 10

Gapers Block

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Interview Thu Feb 19 2015

Maddy's Dumpling House: A Top Chef Alum's Pop-Up

maddysdumplinghouse.PNG2015 may be the year of the Ram, but it's also the year of the Dumpling. A delectable morsel of meat and veggies, the dumpling is a humble and incredibly dexterous food item. From fried chicken dumplings to lobster vanilla dumplings, there's been a lot of innovation in Chicago from establishments such as The Yum Dum Truck, Mike Sheerin's (upcoming) Packed, and Chrissy Camba's Maddy's Dumpling House pop-up. I recently caught up with "Top Chef" alum Chrissy Camba for an interview on her current dumpling venture.

First, why dumplings?

Have you ever had an idea that just "popped" into your mind? It was kind of like that. I think the idea had been slowly growing in the back of my mind. For years, [my boyfriend] Ashlee and I have eaten dim sum. A lot. It's so consistent in flavor, fun, cute, and interesting. It's my favorite breakfast. Also, I have lots of hobbies -- calligraphy, origami, crocheting. I love the intricacies of all the different dumplings. Different pleats, different wrappers, different fillings, different methods of cooking... Dumplings have the same type of intricacies. It's cool because I like making really different fillings. I did a Reuben Dumpling at the WBEZ Chef Battle, NOLA Dumplings (Red Beans and Rice, Muffuletta, Louisiana BBQ Shrimp) at a past Sauced Night Market, Fried Chicken Dumplings at another event -- you get the idea.

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Judy Wu

Interview Tue Dec 02 2014

Interview with "MasterChef Junior" Contestant Levi

rsz_dsc_0097.jpgMost teens barely know how to microwave ramen, but Levi Eirinberg's favorite meal to cook is crispy Icelandic salmon with roasted cauliflower and truffle frisee salad. A Highland Park native and only 13 years old, Levi presented similarly complex dishes before being eliminated on episode four of "MasterChef Junior" Season 2. I had a conversation with Levi about his experiences on the show.

How did you get interested in Masterchef Junior, and how did you decide to apply?

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I started watching cooking shows. On YouTube, I watched every Gordon Ramsay video. And then I wanted to be on the cooking shows, and I saw that there was "Master Chef Junior" season 1 and it was like the hardest thing for me to watch because watching all these other young contestants being on the show and meeting Gordon Ramsay and Joe and Graham. And after the finale I kept looking for auditions and saw there were Chicago auditions on a specific date, and I was there 90 minutes before everyone else was. I was so excited. Yeah, and I happened to get on after many many tryouts.

How were the tryouts?

They definitely asked me a lot of questions about cooking. And so I had to show off my knife skills and my cooking skills. And from there, it got more advanced.

Do you remember when you got the call?

Yeah, it was a long process. But I got the call, and it was the most exciting thing. I was actually at an Indian restaurant. We had to leave the restaurant because we knew it was their call.

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Judy Wu

Beer Mon Dec 01 2014

An Interview with the Barley's Angels


Kylie Snowaert Bunting and Shannan Hofman Bunting became organizers of the two-year old Chicago chapter of Barley's Angels back in June, and have since continued to expand the women-focused craft beer group with educational events and beer tastings, including a field trip to Penrose Brewing in Geneva and a tasting featuring fall-inspired brews. In an email interview, they discussed their goals for Barley's Angels, events, and women and craft beer.

How does the Chicago chapter fit into Barley's Angel's mission to "serve women who seek a comfortable environment to explore and learn about craft beer"? Do you have any specific goals?

Kylie: We try to make every meeting as laid-back as possible while still providing a great, educational, and fun event. Basically, it's craft beer-loving women getting together to talk about beer, the brewing process, food pairings and more. This includes women who have never drank craft beer before and want to dabble to those who consider themselves experts.

One of our other major goals is to be sure all our meetings have an educational component to them. Our meetings have a guided tasting with an industry professional (a brewer, bartender, craft beer expert, etc.) where they discuss the brewing process of the specific beers we've selected and what sets this brewery apart from others. This gives our members a chance to listen, learn, ask questions and then form their own educated opinion about the beer. It's a great opportunity for our members to grow their knowledge of craft beer through conversations with professionals, as well as like-minded beer lovers.

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Christina Brandon

Interview Fri Nov 21 2014

Free 3-Course Dinner at Bolat African Cuisine

IMG_20141119_181704.jpgIn honor of the holidays, Bolat African Cuisine, a sub-Saharan restaurant in Lakeview, is hosting a dinner giveaway every Wednesday through December 24. Bolat will provide a standard, three-course dinner to the first 20 people who make a reservation. Though subject to change, the prix fixe menu includes Cilantro Veggie Soup with Honey Bread, Caramelized Jerk Wings with Jollof Rice, and Coconut Tabu. I had an opportunity to chat with Chef Emmanuel Abidemi, owner and chef of Bolat, about his dinner giveaway.

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Judy Wu

Business Thu Oct 23 2014

Local Restaurateurs on Making it in Chicago

how to be a restaurateur in chicago.jpg
Packing House, the former Market, recently closed to the public after reconcepting only six months ago. SmallBar Division, the 10-year old veteran of Division Street announced its impending closure this week. They are among the newest casualties to join the shuttering list that includes Laughing Bird and Cicchetti, which shockingly closed after only 10 months despite glowing reviews.

Why those restaurants closed is a mixture of many factors, but all are testament that making it in the restaurant industry isn't easy.

As a model, opening a restaurant is arguably the stupidest thing anyone can do -- thin margins, large overhead, unpredictability, seasonal dips (say Q1 to anyone in the restaurant business in Chicago and they reach for the nearest bottle of whiskey and call their accountant). Yet we continue to do it in this city, almost to the point of exhaustion.

In a panel at the recent Chicago premiere of Taste Talks, "Ten Years Later -- Building Restaurants That Last," Donnie Madia (One Off Hospitality), Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Michael Nahabedian (Naha) and Paul Virant (Vie, Vistro & Perennial Virant) convened to answer the overarching question, "How do you make it in this city?"

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Brandy Gonsoulin / Comments (2)

Interview Mon Oct 13 2014

The LYFE Story: A Conversation with Nate Cooper & Jeremy Bringardner

rsz_11lyfe_logo_use.jpgI first learned about LYFE ("Love Your Food Everyday") in March 2013, when I struck up a casual conversation with Jeremy Bringardner, fresh into his new role as corporate executive chef. He described LYFE as "an innovative healthy fast casual restaurant concept" and that they "just opened [their] second restaurant in Los Angeles (first one is in the bay area) and... have 248 more to go in the next five years." Though I admired his fervent optimism, I imagined all the heads of Chipotle and Cosi and Pret, giggling in their seats over sustainable salmon and chia-infused juices. Now almost a year and a half later, with 15 LYFE storefronts, I'm sure they're feeling the glowing embers of that bright-orange logo heating up underneath their seats.

Though founded by two McDonald's executives, LYFE strays far from that sugar and fat-laden image. Their all-encompassing motto is "Great food can do amazing things. It can make you feel better. It can support local farms. Promote sustainability. Reward environmentally sound businesses. Give back to the community." And if one doesn't care about any of the aforementioned claims, then at least LYFE is relatively affordable for the type of premium quality it serves. Not that I can taste the sustainability or organic-ness, but LYFE food certainly tastes healthy. It's portioned according to normal, weight-maintaining standards, and overall, fairly light for the salt-accustomed palette. To compensate for the lack of butter, cream, and salt, the food relies heavily on acidity and spice to round out its dishes. Healthy food can shock a tongue accustomed to heavy flavors, but not everything is chia seeds and vegan quinoa wraps. Flatbreads, burgers, and "Art's Unfried Chicken" are as good as expected for less than 600 calories.

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Judy Wu

Interview Mon Jun 23 2014

Elise Mayfield: Master Chef

Elise Mayfield MasterChef

Have you been watching "MasterChef" on Fox? You should be! There is nothing more fun/anxiety ridden than a TV show hosted by Gordon Ramsay. But who cares about cranky Ramsay, when there's a real live Chicagoan cooking her heart out on the show? Elise Mayfield is one of the show's standouts, and not just because she calls the Windy City home.

What was the audition process for the show like?

The audition process took a very long time! I started at an open call last September and I didn't get invited to the final audition in L.A. until January. There were lots of conversations and emails with the "MasterChef" Casting Team over those months, and it was so awesome to get to meet them in person once I arrived in L.A. Even though we'd never met face to face, I felt like I already had some friends before I even arrived.

How did you prepare to be on "MasterChef"?

As soon as I realized there was even a small chance that I might end up actually cooking for the "MasterChef" judges, I started preparing. I read, and I don't mean skimmed, I mean I read cookbooks cover to cover, and picked out recipe basics that I knew I needed to master before arriving. I love cooking but I'm relatively green in the kitchen. I've been baking for probably a decade, but I only really started cooking proper meals about two years ago, so I knew getting my basics down would be key. The Joy of Cooking became my text book. I've read it probably three or four times now. I also love the cookbooks from two of my favorite restaurants, The Hot and Hot Fish Club and The Loveless Cafe. I also held a tri-weekly dinner and lunch club during December and January so that I could test out my new skills.

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Jeremy Owens

Beer Mon Apr 28 2014

Craft Beer, Community and Creativity: An Interview with Locally Brewed Author Anna Blessing

rsz_locallybrewed.jpgIn the introduction to Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America's Heartland, author and photographer Anna Blessing writes that she wants "to tell the story of the people behind the beer." She provides glimpses of 20 Midwestern craft breweries and their oft-tattooed brewers, their music, their humble beginnings and cult-like followings. These breweries make anything from lagers to sours, from beers inspired by Latin America to beers inspired by candy bars.

They represent a sliver of an industry that has continued to grow while the overall U.S. beer industry has declined. This is an exciting time for craft beer, especially in the Chicago-area where there is no shortage of something new and creative to try. Even the neighborhood grocery stores and Targets stock some of the beers noted in Locally Brewed. I spoke with Anna Blessing on the phone about what she discovered while writing and interviewing for Locally Brewed and of course, about what she likes to drink.

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Christina Brandon

Interview Thu Apr 03 2014

Low Key Top Chef: Heather Terhune of Sable Kitchen & Bar

Chef_Heather_7079.jpgChicago produces many contestants for Top Chef (tributes from the Windy City District, shall I say), and though everyone knows the Fabio and the Izard, a few chefs have remained relatively low key. Heather Terhune, executive chef at Sable Kitchen & Bar, competed in the Texas season and left the show with a reputation more rooted in her social interactions than her culinary abilities.

In any case, Terhune still currently serves as executive chef at Sable, part of the Kimpton hotel and restaurant franchise. Originally from Vermont ("the land of maple syrup, cheddar cheese, and Ben & Jerry's"), Terhune considers herself a Midwestern native despite having lived in multiple cities across the US (including New Orleans and Washington DC). Terhune is different from most executive chefs in that she's female, doesn't need a pastry chef, and runs Sable as if she owned the business. Her menu features farm-to-table small-plates, including all the bacon n' truffle catchphrase dishes you'd expect in a chic River North restaurant. Despite my reality TV biases, my conversation with Chef Terhune revealed a confident and assertive leader, perhaps easily prone to misunderstanding but pure of character.

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Judy Wu / Comments (4)

Interview Thu Feb 20 2014

Chicago P.D.'s Sophia Bush Talks Food with Gapers Block

_MG_9851.jpgSophia Bush loves Brussels sprouts. She also loves good tequila, bourbon and "massaged" kale.

Gapers Block got a chance to sit down and talk food with the actress who is currently residing in town filming the new "Chicago P.D." (a spin-off of "Chicago Fire"), at Unleashed, where she volunteered with the Trio Animal Foundation to support the Barefoot Wine "Sole of the Year" program, an initiative that celebrates people, like local TAF founder, Sue Naiden, doing good in their communities.

So, I hear you love Au Cheval. Can we be best friends now?

It's one of the best burgers in the world as far as I'm concerned. It's amazing. I've been going there since the first week I got here, and I'm on a first-name basis with most of the staff. We typically work late so we are definitely looking for late night places. I try to get into Maude's before the kitchen closes once a week because it's just some of the best food I've ever had, and I recently went to the Monkey's Paw. They have a great bourbon and whiskey selection.

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Brandy Gonsoulin / Comments (1)

Interview Mon Nov 04 2013

More Interested in True Creativity: A Conversation with Grant Achatz

Grant Achatz - watercolor portrait by Dmitry Samarov
Illustration by Dmitry Samarov

Considered and labeled by man as the greatest chef in the United States and one of the finest and most respected in the world, 39-year-old Grant Achatz has been at the forefront of molecular gastronomy (or as he likes to call it "progressive") cooking since he opened his world-renowned restaurant Alinea in 2005. In just a few short years after Alinea's opening, it was declared the finest dining establishment in the country and one of the top 10 in the world.

Before opening his own restaurant, Achatz worked as the executive chef of Trio in Evanston, and before that at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, California. Although Chicago was certainly a food-oriented city prior to Alinea coming into being, it was mostly about attracting customers from the suburbs to drive down into the city on the weekends. But since Alinea, the city has now become world travelers' destination if they are interested in fine dining. In more recent years, Achatz has expanded his empire to include Next (which opened in 2011), a restaurant that changes the theme of its cuisine every three months, and the adjoining bar the Aviary, in the city's Fulton River District.

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Steve Prokopy

Interview Tue Oct 22 2013

The Flavor Matchmakers: Karen Page & Andrew Dornenburg

A revolutionary book called The Flavor Bible was published five years ago. Its theme was ingredients and their possible uses -- both common and classic, or unusual and interesting. A who's who of chefs acting as consultants in turn suggested pairings to go with each ingredient. Some selections were obvious and some odd- but all worked. More reference than cookbook (there are no recipes) you need a certain amount of ability and intuition to use it properly. While full of suggestions, it's up to you to be creative and savvy to extract its full potential.

In all, it was ingenious. As co-authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg say, they "chronicled new flavor synergies in the new millennium" -- inspiring the creation of new recipes based on imaginative, harmonious combinations.

Conceptually, it intrigued me. As a chef always up for a challenge, the fact that you need some chops to best use it appealed to me as well.

Say your ingredient of choice was lobster. Below it in bold type would be examples of other ingredients that were classic or commonly paired with it, say brandy or tarragon. Below that in another typeface would be a bit less normal pairings, like vanilla or fennel. One final typeface contains the wildest suggestions that could coax the most curious flavors from our lobster, passion fruit, cucumber or clove for instance.

It ended up winning a James Beard award it was also named by Forbes magazine as one of the ten best cookbooks of the past century. Accolades abound. The Flavor Bible has been called "must have", "brilliant " and "a masterpiece" by a litany of culinary titans.

In the ensuing years its become my go to gift or referral for my gastronomically well-endowed friends or colleagues. I've personally been responsible for dozen sales on three continents. Its tagline is "The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs," and I can vouch for the truth of that statement.

The authors are making the rounds, doing a victory lap for its five year anniversary, and at a recent stopover at the Spice House, I had the good fortune to be able to throw some questions their way.

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Alan Lake

Interview Fri Oct 18 2013

New "Check, Please!" Debuts Tonight

DSC_2137.jpgI live for my Friday night WTTW ritual: "Chicago Tonight," followed by "Check, Please!" I have something new to look forward to tonight, when Catherine De Orio takes over the hosting reigns from Alpana Singh following a long audition process earlier this year. The Elmwood Park native has made some bold moves in her career, having ditched her litigator gig for culinary school at Kendall, followed by consulting and writing in the food industry. In conversation, she is warm and engaging, and talks at length about her love for food and the city.

Despite her credentials, De Orio maintains that everyone has a place at the table when it comes to critiquing food. "Everyone's opinion is valid; what my palate likes is different from what your palate likes." I like her style; in a world of buzzwords and overindulgence of using "amazing" to describe experiences, De Orio is quick to emphasize that the success of the show is the conversation that arises between people who simply love food, and the great experiences that come from going outside of your comfort zone and visiting a new place that never would have crossed your mind before. As someone who accompanied a past show participant to Midlothian to check out a restaurant serving pork chops larger than my head, I know what it's like to have the uneasiness that comes with driving over an hour out of the city for a meal that someone on a television show recommended. The show serves as a tour guide of sorts to the newly minted Chicagoan who wants to get familiar with the city through its food, and to the longtime resident who can't seem to expand their horizons past a few mainstay restaurants.

Other than the set, which has gotten a makeover from 555 International (the same people who designed Girl and the Goat), the format of the show is unchanged: three people, three restaurants, and three discussions. The debut episode -- which visits Bucktown's Estrella Negra, Near North's Benny's Chop House, and Tinley Park's Tin Fish -- airs at 8pm.

Robyn Nisi / Comments (1)

Interview Fri May 10 2013

Interview: The Reader's Beard Award-Winning Mike Sula

Angry squirrelIn the food industry, few accolades are as meaningful as a James Beard Award. It's the equivalent of an Academy Award or in this case, a Pulitzer Prize. This year's MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award went to The Reader's Mike Sula for his wonderful article Chicken of the Trees, our boy's "annual jihad" against urban varmints fucking with his rooftop garden, and his revenge not sweet but savory.

Sula took home the much deserved award after having been nominated twice prior. His writing being at this extraordinary level at least two other times, as they say at the Oscars, "It's an honor just to be nominated." And it is -- but it's even better to win. Three, apparently in this case, is the charm.

I caught up with pal Sula to talk to him about emboldened squirrels and more.

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Alan Lake / Comments (1)

Interview Mon Apr 22 2013

Bad Apple's Got Good Ketchup

North Center's Bad Apple, like so many restaurants, has jumped on the all-natural bandwagon. The restaurant is free of chemicals, pesticides and preservatives, and has been since it opened almost four years ago. Everything has been all natural and as-local-as-possible since the day the restaurant opened its doors. Well, everything except for the ketchup.

Chef and owner Craig Fass opened Bad Apple with a mass-produced ketchup but quickly converted to making their ketchup in-house.

This housemade ketchup is made two to three times a week, 15 gallons at a time, producing over 120 gallons a month. The pot, larger than most toddlers, sits on the stove for six hours. If you're a cook at Bad Apple, here's your routine: put a burger on the stove, stir the ketchup, flip the burger, stir the ketchup, put the burger on a bun, stir the ketchup, add toppings to the burger, stir the ketchup. Get the idea? It's a time-consuming process.

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Elisha Marshall / Comments (9)

Interview Thu Jan 31 2013

Post-City Provisions: Where Cleetus Friedman is Now

City Provisions Logo.gifChef Cleetus Friedman called last night at about 8:30, two days after announcing the closure of his beloved locavore deli, City Provisions. "My biggest priority is getting through the next few days of closing up the store. I've had the hardest 48 hours of my life."

For now, the focus is on winding down the restaurant. Chefs have been coming by to purchase the perishables. Friedman said he hopes a restaurateur will come take over the space as a "turnkey" space. Otherwise, he'll have to liquidate the furniture, equipment and fixtures.

Meanwhile, Friedman's less location-reliant projects continue on. His popular collaborations with local breweries will continue, in beer-friendly restaurants and bars like Hopleaf, Fountainhead and Bangers and Lace. "Lillie's Q is friendly with the Dark Horse guys, so we'll likely release the Dark Horse collab ['Hundred Grand Stout'] there."

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Andrew Huff / Comments (1)

Interview Wed Nov 16 2011

Eat Vegan and Don't Cross-Dress

In an interview with the Onion's A.V. Club, the founder of Soul Veg discusses the company's Hebrew Israelite belief template -- and then says that violating the strictures of diet, positive thinking, and dress code is the cause of social and cultural ills. You know, like homosexuality. (An editorial mea culpa was posted by the A.V. Club a few hours later.)

Sunny McDaniel

Interview Fri Oct 07 2011

Michael Nagrant Joins the Sun-Times: Exclusive Interview

When news broke that the Sun-Times had fired Pat Bruno, its long-time restaurant critic, one of the first questions asked was, who will replace him? The paper chose to keep that a secret until just before the new critic's first column appeared -- which is today. Michael Nagrant's byline is at the top.

nagrant sun-times teaserNagrant is well known in Chicago's food circles. He got early attention and acclaim for his now-dormant Hungrymag blog and podcast; soon he seemed to be writing for everyone in town, filing freelance stories for the dailies, weeklies and even national magazines. His dedication to food writing earned him a spot as one of the essayists in the Alinea cookbook. The economy and a growing family caused Nagrant to pull back a bit from food writing, taking a day job in ecommerce and limiting himself to regular reviews in NewCity and CS; his new position as dining critic for the Sun-Times he sees as a step back into the scene.

I spoke with Nagrant earlier this week about the new role, the state of food writing in Chicago, and whether anonymity is important to a dining critic today.

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Andrew Huff / Comments (4)

Event Thu Aug 25 2011

Not So Starving Artists: Interviews with the Chefs

Chef Koren Grieveson
Chef Koren Grieveson and her portrait by Tim Anderson
All photos and video by Andrew Huff

Last Thursday, Aug. 18, the Chicago Artist's Coalition hosted a fundraiser event called "Starving Artist" -- essentially a benefit for the CAC -- where four of Chicago's top chefs were paired with four of the city's top artists to collaborate on a "unique sensory experience," inspired by each other's work. One sixtyblue pastry chef Hillary Blanchard-Rikower was paired with Lauren Brescia, avec's Koren Grieveson was paired with Tim Anderson, Girl & The Goat's Stephanie Izard was paired with Richard Hull and Province's Randy Zwieban was paired with Judy Ledgerwood.

Each artist's work was displayed next to the respective chef's station, where guests could sample the appetizer-sized dish prepared for the evening. The artworks and "experiences" at each chef's restaurant were offered in a silent auction, while works by CAC members graced the walls. In addition to the chefs' dishes, desserts from Alliance Bakery were served in the Bolt Gallery in back, and drinks from Koval Distillery, Tito's Vodka, Haymarket Brewery and several wineries were pouring all night. The event showcased the the CAC's new Fulton Market space to its fullest extent, both as a gallery and studio space and as an event venue.

I spoke with the chefs about what they made and what they thought of the collaboration. Over in A/C, arts editor Kelly Reaves shares interviews with the artists.

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Andrew Huff

Interview Sat Jul 23 2011

The (Sweet &) Spicy Chef

211068_101836636576698_3391610_n.jpgWhile attending a "MasterChef" themed cooking class this morning at Le Cordon Bleu's Chicago Campus, participants were in for a treat as LCB alum, Suzy Singh was on hand to encourage us all to be fearless in the kitchen.

Singh greeted the class by explaining how her schooling at Le Cordon Bleu really encouraged her learning process as a chef. "My instructors here really encouraged me to think outside the box." With her background in neural engineering, flair for gastronomy and use of creative spice combinations, I don't think anyone can argue with that.

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Katie Johnson

Interview Fri Jul 01 2011

Giada De Laurentiis at The Taste: Summer Wines, Food

GiadaBellaSera.jpgThis afternoon Giada De Laurentiis will be at The Taste of Chicago presenting a free demo in conjunction with Bella Sera Wines. The demo will take place next to Buckingham Fountain and will include cooking demonstrations, a question and answer period and a chance for audience members to assist in the preparation of a signature De Laurentiis recipe.

Sitting in the Bella Sera tent, De Laurentiis shared a few of her ideas on how to incorporate Italian cuisine into your Fourth of July celebration as well as into other summer festivities. Some of her suggestions include a dish that is perfect for any picnic, Pea Pesto Crostini, which keeps well in any cooler or picnic basket.

"It's got a beautiful color to it, and since the peas are initially frozen it keeps it's texture well," said De Laurentiis.

De Laurentiis also suggested a fun twist on a traditional burger, ideal for your holiday grill out. Do not sell this burger short, as it is a dish that she would serve to her family if they were celebrating the 4th in her birthplace, Rome.

"Since they don't have the 4th in Italy, I'd try to have American fare and I'd try to incorporate Italian elements into it. The Caprese Burger is great for this. You have the American cheeseburger with the Italian flag," she said.

De Laurentiis iterated that the ideal wine to pair with the Caprese Burger is the Bella Sera Pinot Grigio. It's light, crisp and not too sweet. If you're not a fan of white wines, Bella Sera also offers a soft-finish Merlot to pair with lighter dishes.

If you're partying on a budget this weekend but you would still like to partake in some
Italian-style cooking, De Laurentiis refers you to her Target brand line of Italian sauces and noodles. For as little as $2.99 you can purchase a unique tapenade or sauce, developed by De Laurentiis for quick, cheap and easy cooking. A great choice is the summer-friendly Tomato Basil sauce.

"Just mix it with a little pasta and you've got a great dish for as little as 5 bucks," De Laurentiis said.

While this may be just a starter guide on how to cook and dine like Giada, these and other dishes are available online at as well as in De Laurentiis' many cook books.

Katie Richardson / Comments (4)

Interview Mon Nov 22 2010

One Last Word with Jean-Luc Naret

As of last Thursday, the Michelin Guide Chicago is officially out in bookstores everywhere. The soirees, the pranks, the dramas, the joys, and the critiques will all be quieting down soon, leaving Chicago with nothing left to focus on but the merits of the food under review itself.

Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, sat down and spoke with GB before heading off for one last fete around the world, as he has plans to step down from the organization at year's end.

How has the excitement and anticipation been in Chicago leading up to the launch?

Well, wonderful. I saw a lot of articles, a lot of speculation of food critics, journalists, and bloggers to try and find out who was going to be including in the Michelin Guide. It's always an interesting thing in a new city -- there's always a lot of speculation from chefs, a lot of anticipation from everyone to see who's going to get the stars, but not only that, but who's going to be included in the guide as well. And when we released the information, and I personally called the chefs -- it was interesting because some of them were recording the call, some of them were waiting for the call and put on the speakerphone with the team in the kitchen, which was a brilliant idea I thought. And all the responses have been the same somewhat -- very honored, very happy -- and of course, in the case of Grant (Achatz), very emotional, because it is something that happens just once in a lifetime.

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Ben Schulman

Interview Tue Oct 05 2010

NYC vs. CHI: Tacos

We've asked Chicagoan-turned-NYCer and freelance writer Rachel Z. Arndt and NYCer-turned-Chicagoan (and GB staffer) Lori Barrett to compare notes on what foods make each city. Their findings on tacos below. You can find their thoughts on bagels, too.

In the few years I've lived in Chicago, I've done my share of complaining: the pizza is cut in squares; there aren't enough magazines to hire all the out-of-work editors; and a shocking number of people don't clean up after their dogs. But I've always bragged to my New York friends about a few things, especially the fact that you can buy wine at Target and you can find authentic tacos on nearly every street corner.

I've fallen in love with Chicago's tacos--from the nondescript and gritty Taco Burrito Expresses and Palaces and Houses to restaurants like De Cero and El Cid. The fillings vary widely, from the quality of the meat to the toppings. The marinated beef and pork have devoted fans, but for someone who reads too much about factory farming and negligent inspectors, the veggie versions taste just as good as the marinated meat smells. Fillings can include grilled vegetables, beans or avocado. On top you might find cheese, sour cream, onions, cabbage, cilantro or lime. Never all of it. These tacos are good because of their simplicity. The other special treat that comes with Chicago tacos is the pickled vegetables. Who knew carrots could taste like that?

It's surprising that there aren't more authentic tacos in New York. Or, there weren't when I was there. Several years ago the New York Times outed a taco stand in the back of a deli on Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill, and for a while it was a weekend lunch destination for my family. But for the most part, we had to rely on the Dominican joints for our marinated meat and rice and beans.

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Drive-Thru / Comments (4)

Interview Fri Jul 23 2010

Interview with Michelin Guide Director Jean-Luc Naret

Jean-Luc Naret.jpgIt was only last week when the Michelin Man came to town announcing the publication of the Michelin Guide Chicago. He brought with him Michelin Guide director Jean-Luc Naret, who I was lucky enough to sit down with and chat up shortly after the gala event.

Why Chicago? Why now?

That is a good, solid question to ask. We first looked at the city a few years ago and knew we wanted to come here because of the great chefs here. We knew that there was very good produce as well, using local ingredients, from Wisconsin, Michigan, everywhere else. There are a very good number of restaurants that deliver high-end cuisine, but at the same time, there are a very good number of restaurants that deliver great food at a very good, reasonable price. And that is exactly what the Michelin guide is all about. It's not only about finding the top chef, it is really about trying to find the best food in category of price and comfort.

And why now? Because personally I think we should have been here a bit before, but finally we came here two years ago and we're ready to announce.

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman

Openings Thu Apr 22 2010

Dodo Emerges from Extinction

Until October of 2007, Dodo served Ukrainian Village a lively breakfast and lunch next to the original location of Sweet Cakes. This Sunday, Dodo re-emerges on Fulton in the old Dino's Morgan Inn space and continues on subsequent weekends from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Operator Kim Dalton told me that she'll have the tofu scram I loved from before. "Even people who aren't vegetarian or vegan love this dish." It was one of their biggest sellers. "I mostly eat vegetables even though I eat meat," Dalton added. The menu will evolve over time, and Dodo is open to suggestions.

During the week, Dodo yields the space back to Dino's to serve up affordable burgers, Old Style beer and pancakes, open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Don't expect many, if any, vegan options here - at least at first. "I'm going to have to be ready," Dalton thought ahead, as she told me many requests have come in for vegetarian and vegan options at the new Dodo.

954 West Fulton Market, opening this Sunday, April 25, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Chris Brunn

Interview Tue Mar 09 2010

Chef Homaro Cantu Previews 'Future Food'

This month Treehugger Radio interviews Moto Restaurant's Chef Homaro Cantu about the upcoming Planet Green Future Food series and how he plans to end world hunger.

Sharon Bautista

Interview Wed Nov 18 2009

Interview: Dani Albers of Floriole on Baking with Celiac Disease

Since May 2007, Dani Albers has worked as a baker for Floriole, the Green City Market fixture of French-inspired pastry and soon-to-be Lincoln Park cafe started by Sandra Holl. Albers lives with celiac disease, an incurable condition whereby gluten triggers one's immune system to attack the small intestine, preventing the proper absorption of food. All forms of wheat and related grains like barley and rye contain gluten proteins. In a traditional pastry kitchen, gluten is as prevalent as butter and sugar. I emailed with Albers to find out what it is like to have celiac disease in her line of work.

Sharon Bautista: Were you an avid baker before your celiac diagnosis five years ago?

Dani Albers: I was. But the need for a cookie (among other things) that didn't taste like sawdust kicked my baking hobby into a higher gear. It was really the catalyst for going to pastry school.

SB: What was your professional experience prior to joining Floriole?

DA: I graduated from the French Pastry School in Chicago in 2006. I joined Floriole as a part-timer just a few months out of pastry school, and now I'm working full-time. I've had some brief experience working in a handful of kitchens around the city.

SB: How, if at all, does having celiac affect your work day-to-day?

DA: A part of working in any kitchen is taste-testing. I obviously can't taste everything we make and have to rely on other cues to know that my product is turning out the way it ought to: color, texture, aroma, feel, etc. Sometimes I just have to ask someone to check something for me. I probably gravitate towards working on the flourless products because I know I can be fully involved in their development.

Continue reading this entry »

Sharon Bautista / Comments (1)

Windy City Blogger Wed Sep 23 2009

Windy City Blogger Wednesday: Lottie + Doof

This week, I have to pleasure of introducing one of my favorite Chicagoland food bloggers, Tim from Lottie + Doof.


What brought you to Chicago?
Birth. I was born near 59th and Kedvale and have spent most of my life in the city. I went to DePaul's Theatre School as an undergrad and Northwestern for grad school so I have lots of ties to the city.

What do you do when you aren't blogging?
I work at a university during the day but my free time I spend with friends eating good food and enjoying the city. I like antiques and we recently bought our first place so we are spending a lot of time searching for things for our home.

Continue reading this entry »

Whitney Merritt / Comments (1)

Interview Wed Sep 16 2009

Windy City Blogger Wednesday: Marathon Val

I hope that you have enjoyed the weekly interviews of Chicagoland food bloggers.

Next up, Valerie of Marathon Val, who has recently decided to eat Vegan.

Picture 298.jpg

What brought you to Chicago?
I grew up in Valparaiso, IN, which is just across the border from Chicago. I have fond memories of taking Saturday trips into the city to celebrate special occasions and to go holiday shopping. When I met my husband, who is from the Chicago area, it was a given that I would move here to be closer to him since I was already in love with Chicago!

What do you do when you aren't blogging?

Continue reading this entry »

Whitney Merritt / Comments (1)

Feature Fri Sep 11 2009

Chatting with Perennial's Ryan Poli on Tofu

Ryan Poli, the Executive Chef at Perennial Restaurant, is serving his first vegan dish. It's a thick cut of thoroughly marinated local tofu, grilled to a very nice char flavor, and deep grill marks. I sat down with Chef Poli to chat about his inspiration for the dish, how it's prepared, and how it's been received.

Chris Brunn: What inspired you to do the tofu?

Ryan Poli: It was really the product that we saw at the Green City Market from Tiny Greens. We were just cruising by and [they] had a sign up that said organic tofu. It struck a little bit of interest because we're always struggling with a vegetarian dish. We always overcomplicate it with, "just a little bit of butter would be great here. And you know what would be really great? Some bacon." The vegetarian dishes always turn into an awesome scallop dish, or a cool striped bass dish. When we got the tofu back, we marinated it. We tasted it. We thought it was something so special that we started to brainstorm. When the final dish came around, it was a vegan dish and not just a vegetarian dish. We're really proud of it.

Continue reading this entry »

Chris Brunn / Comments (2)

Interview Wed Sep 09 2009

Windy City Blogger Wednesday: Happy Jack Eats

You may have noticed last week that I introduced you to Food Loves Writing on Friday, but I have decided to move this weekly feature to the middle of the week when you might need a little inspiration or a new distraction in the work week.

This week I want to introduce another one of my favorite Chicagoland Bloggers, Jacqui of Happy Jack Eats.


What brought you to Chicago?
I've always lived in the Chicago suburbs. I grew up in the Waukegan, and after college I moved to Lisle. Now, I work in the Loop as an editor, and even though the commute can be hell, nothing beats strolling through the farmers market on my way to the office and having lunch in Millennium Park. Winters, on the other hand, I could live without. But I suppose you're not a true Chicagoan until you've survived one or two or twenty-five of those.

What do you do when you aren't blogging?
I'm an Internet junkie. When I'm not eating or cooking or writing about eating and cooking, I'm reading other food blogs, browsing Flickr, or loitering around Twitter. I'm one of those people who surfs the Internet while watching TV (hooked on Lost and Dexter). Blogging has also sparked an interest in photography, and I'm currently accepting donations for a new digital SLR camera.

Continue reading this entry »

Whitney Merritt

Interview Fri Sep 04 2009

Food Blog Friday: Food Loves Writing

As a food blogger myself, I have filled my google reader with blogs that I read and enjoy on a daily basis. Many of these bloggers live, write and eat right here in the Windy City. I decided that I wanted to introduce you to some of my favorites with a new weekly series: Food Blog Friday.

First up, Shannalee at Food Loves Writing

Photo by Rebecca Brogan

What brought you to Chicago?
The Chicago area is where I grew up and where my family is from, and, excluding four years of college, the only place I've ever lived. I'm a big believer that home is where you make it with people you love, but, at least for now, I'm glad that's here.

What do you do when you aren't blogging?
I love to explore new places, whether that means a weekend in Maine or a Saturday in Oak Park, and I've started really getting into antiquing---have you ever looked at vintage aprons or cake stands? It's like history you can use! Other stuff: Enjoying my first experience with a CSA, finding ways to stay outside and watching entire series of television shows online. Oh yeah, and I have a day job---as an editor/copy writer.

Continue reading this entry »

Whitney Merritt / Comments (1)

Feature Thu Aug 06 2009

An Interview: Sara Voden of Vella Cafe

I sat down to chat with Sara Voden, co-owner of Vella Cafe, to look back at the cafe's two-plus years in business. On August 23, Vella will permanently close after serving brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. - or after they run out of food (if that happens first).

Continue reading this entry »

Chris Brunn / Comments (7)

Interview Fri Jun 12 2009

Those Who Make Ribs Vegan

Dan and Russ of Upton's in their factory

If you're headed to Ribfest Chicago this weekend, perhaps you're curious about the fake meat that's in Delicious Cafe's vegan ribs. Upton's Naturals is a local business specializing in seitan. They are making the seitan, portioning it into ribs just for Delicious, and packing it into buckets with a sauce developed by Delicious Cafe. The ribs come ready for Delicious to grill at Ribfest Chicago.

I sat down with the owners of Upton's, Dan Staackmann and Russ Calderwood, in their factory in Skokie's South-East Industrial District. How did they design the seitan for the fake ribs?

Russ: "We have our base recipe that we use as a jumping off point whenever we launch a new product. And then we just worked with [Delicious Cafe] as far as the size and texture and presentation that they wanted."

Continue reading this entry »

Chris Brunn / Comments (4)

Interview Wed Jun 03 2009

"Rad" at The Green City Market

This past Saturday I caught Bravo Channel's Top Chef Tour at the Chicago Green City Market. On hand were Antonia Lofaso and Radhika "Rad" Desai, both Cheftestants from Top Chef's Season Four and Season Five respectively. Over the course of 4 sessions on Saturday, both demonstrated their skills and amused the crowd with anecdotes from the show, dishing out answers to the audiences questions like "Are Hosea and Leah still together?" (The answer is yes), and "Is Toby truly that way in real life?" (Off camera, he's supposedly much nicer and very much the family man).

After the second session I had about five minutes with Wicker Park's Radhika Desai, who I found to be wonderfully charming and very funny.

So what's new for you?

"I left Between... it was a friendly separation,but I just felt like I needed to move on. I'm also doing private dinners and catering, and a lot of charity stuff. I'm not sure if you've heard of Deborah's Place?

It's a foundation for homeless women and children, and I donated a dinner where I went to someone's house and cooked. We raised $8000 for the charity! So I'm using my pseudo-fame to give back to the community rather than just being a consumer.

In the meantime I'm working on my own place.

Continue reading this entry »

Cliff Etters / Comments (1)

Interview Mon May 18 2009

An Interview with Slap Ya Mama

Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning

This past weekend's National Restaurant Association trade show included exhibitors for all sorts of restaurant needs from meat cookers to vegetarian foods, from customer loyalty programs to beverage dispensing equipment. Many have predictable names that seem to tell exactly what they do. Then there's Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning. I stopped by their booth and chatted with Jack Walker, who explained the name. Jack's voice has a certain enthusiasm that doesn't come through in print. You can listen to a recording of this interview on

Jack: The name is an old Cajun saying that our father used to use. When he'd cook, he'd say that he cooked so well that it'd make you want to slap your mom because she can't cook as well as he can. But it's an old Cajun saying that a lot of people use that you'll hear quite often in Louisiana.

Chris: Is it a family recipe?

Jack: It is a family recipe. It's our father's recipe. He did the original blend. After that, we kind of collaborated and developed all of the other blends and the other products. Our mother's actually the owner of the company, so that makes it kind of unique in fact that the name of it is Slap Ya Mama owned by a woman.

Chris: Sounds like a young company?

Continue reading this entry »

Chris Brunn / Comments (1)

Interview Wed Feb 11 2009

Ironclad Love

Michael Nagrant, Chicago food writer and the editor of Hungry Mag, has an article in today's Sun-Times about how fantastic cast-iron skillets are. I also have much love for cast-iron skillets and Michael called me to get verification of something I'd written in that post.

Michael's love letter, written shortly before Valentine's Day even, to cast iron skillets is a great read. But the gist of the story is that cast-iron skillets are awesome and a great value for your money and indestructible. Literally, indestructible. Those fancy-pants pans? Not so much. If you purchase new, you're likely to buy a piece of Lodge cookware and you're just as likely to find it at the hardware store as you are at a cookware store on Michigan Avenue.

And apparently cast-iron isn't just for making food, you can make music with it, too. Dance music. He kindly sent on this tidbit of information that didn't fit in the Sun-Times article:

"Not everyone uses their cast iron for cooking, at least not exclusively. Local professional chef and percussionist [and Drive-Thru contributor] Alan Lake makes music with his. In 1986 while working as a sous chef at the East Bank Club, lake got a call from Pat Leonard, a boyhood friend who'd scored a gig as a music producer. Leonard told Lake to pack up his equipment and move out to LA to be part of his recording band. Part of Lake's "equipment" was a set of cast iron pans. Lake says, "Back then you couldn't just buy samples, so we had to make our own. I hung my skillets from s-hooks, rolled rubber bands around chopsticks to make drumsticks and played them like steel drums. Though they're not tuned, they (the pans) have different pitches by virtue of their size." These weren't just any samples though. Lake says, "You can hear those samples all over (Madonna's) La Isla Bonita and Papa Don't Preach and (Ferry's) Bette Noir album."

Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (1)

Chef Thu Jan 08 2009

Bookslut Interviews Grant Achatz

Jessa Crispin of Bookslut recently interviewed Grant Achatz of Alinea. You can find the video here.

Gemma Petrie / Comments (1)

Interview Fri Aug 15 2008

Pilsen's Take Me Out Taken Out by 18th Street Fire

takemeoutsign.jpgKaren Lim's popular Take Me Out hot wings joint in Pilsen was heavily damaged by the early morning fire that gutted the 1500 block of West 18th Street on Aug. 11. In its brief, four-month life, the eatery received rave reviews for its "Little Hotties" Asian hot wings.

The mighty wings first arose at Great Sea, the longtime Albany Park Chinese-Korean fusion restaurant run by Lim's parents, but her version are no slouch either. On a recent pre-fire visit, the wings were fried to a succulent, caramelized, crispy goodness reminiscent of roast duck, and smothered with a spicy-sweet mix of soy sauce, chili, ginger and garlic.

I knew the wings would be on my short list of favorite Windy City eats when, after I could eat no more, I had an overpowering urge to suck the sauce from the serving platter with a straw. "I'd say mine were better, but my parents had a 21-year head start, so we're about even," said Lim, standing with husband Nathan in the middle of the shuttered eatery on Wednesday, the first time the police let them inside to see the damage.

Continue reading this entry »

Mike Doyle

Interview Wed Mar 12 2008

Big, brawny, beautiful, gorgeous...

That's how Ted Allen (formerly of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and currently a judge on Top Chef) described Chicago in an interview posted on Allen was born in the midwest (Columbus, Ohio) and was a restaurant critic for Chicago magazine before he made it big and moved to New York, so he knows what he's talking about when he raves about the great food of this season's Top Chef host city.

Dana Currier

Business Fri Feb 29 2008

Half Acre's Magliaro Talks Hops Costs

halfacrehops.jpgBeer lovers, brace yourselves: thanks to bad weather in Europe and a reduction in crops here in the States, there's a severe shortage of hops, one of the key ingredients in beer. As a result, prices have skyrocketed &mdash as much as 600 percent for rarer cultivars.

The increased costs are squeezing smaller brewers in particular. I recently spoke with Gabriel Magliaro of fledgling Half Acre Beer about the situation.

Andrew: I know your beer is contract brewed in Wisconsin; is this bill being passed on to you by the brewery, or are you purchasing ingredients directly?

Magliaro: "Yes, this bill is being passed on to us by the brewery, and we're lucky that we're contract brewed right now because they have long standing relationships and a bit more buying power than we would have on our own. We're having to buy our entire year's worth of hops now because we need to insure that we can continue to brew our beer without compromising quality. Our brewer is asking us to help them out because they can't afford to absorb this kind of spending and are forced to buy this way. We have been actively searching for hops to buy on our own with the hope of buying for our Over Ale (Half Acre's planned second offering]) and beating the price coming down from our brewer, but have been either unable to find the necessary variety of hop or completely blown out of the water when we have. The Saaz hop that we use for the lager was generally found for about $5 a pound. I was just quoted $30 a pound for hop that aims to mimic its qualities."

Continue reading this entry »

Andrew Huff

Event Mon Jan 21 2008

That Sounds Delicious

Be sure to listen to Sound Opinions on Chicago Public Radio (91.5 FM in Chicago) this Friday, Jan 25 at 8pm when Chef Anthony Bordain chats with hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot about "two of the best things on earth: music and food." Other chefs, including Doug Sohn of Hot Doug's and Graham Elliot Bowles of Avenues at The Peninsula Hotel, will weigh in on the connection between the two topics and Jim and Greg are going to play some of their favorite food-related songs.

If you can't catch the show on Friday, it will re-air on Saturday at 11am and will be available by podcast the following Monday on theSound Opinions site.

Meghan Murphy Gill

Recipe Wed Jun 13 2007

Go Green With Salsa Verde

Salsa VerdeMy new green obsession has little to do with the environmentally-minded trends that have become so popular in recent months.

Until a few days ago, I've always preferred the red salsas over the green ones. But something happened and now I can't get enough salsa verde. So I made a giant batch of it yesterday, using a recipe supposedly attributed to Rick Bayless (I don't recall where I found it).

If you are a little less DIY-inclined, my two favorites for the tomatillo-based salsa verdes are Chef Earl's Salsa Verde and Frontera's Tomatillo Salsa.

Continue reading this entry »

Meghan Murphy Gill / Comments (3)

Chef Tue Jun 12 2007

Rockstar Cooking, Local Chef Interviews

Two interesting sites with video came across my browser in the past couple days; one bridges the divide between music and food, the other between top Chicago chefs and us.

Cooking with Rockstars is pretty much what it sounds like: rock'n'rollers demonstrating how to cook their favorite meals ...or, well, meals anyway. So far the only Chicago videos are sort of tangentially related; Neal Pollack used to live here and write for the Reader, and Enon is on Touch and Go Records. Stay tuned for more solidly local rockers, hopefully.

SavoryChicago is a new restaurant guide (with sister sites in New York and San Francisco) built on the MediaWiki platform, like WikiPedia. The distinguishing feature here is short video interviews with chefs describing their restaurants -- such as Paul Virant of Vie, Tru's Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, and Doug Sohn of Hot Doug's. It's pretty bare bones right now; we'll see if it gets off the ground.

Andrew Huff

Blog Fri Mar 30 2007

"One Good Meal" on SeriousEats

Cinnamon Cooper, GB's resident cooking columnist, is profiled in SeriousEats's "Meet & Eat" feature today.

Andrew Huff

Interview Tue Feb 27 2007

Dr. Beer Geek

As far as titles go Culinary Attaché isn’t a bad one. (In fact, it’s pretty freaking badass.) The PhD on Jim Javenkoski’s business card isn’t anything to sneeze at, either. As the Chicago based Culinary Attaché for the Canadian brewer La Brasserie Unibroue, he spent a fair amount of time throughout the month of February conducting beer and chocolate tastings around Chicago. He paired the Belgian style beers with chocolates from chocolatiers Vosges Haut-Chocolate and the locally based Katherine Anne Confections, as well as Scharffen Berger chocolates out of California. As Valentine’s Day and the attendant chocolate season recedes, Javenkoski will be turning his attention to beer dinners over the next few months, including on one Thursday, March 1st at Cooper’s in Lake View.

His interest in beer developed with a beer can collection as a child, and before he was old enough to drink he decided that he wanted to be a Brew Master. Brewing schools proved to be intimidatingly expensive, so he turned to Food Science and headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his B.S. Javenkoski later earned his doctorate in Food Science from U of I at Urbana-Champaign.

Continue reading this entry »

Tim Lacey / Comments (2)

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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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