As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block is on indefinite hiatus. The site will remain up in archive form while we evaluate our options, which may include a redesign or sale. ✶ Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. ✶
Next begins serving the menu for Terroir, their homage to wine, beginning Sept. 11th; tickets start at $155. As always, their abstract promotional film has hit the internet, and as always, it reminds me of the "Strangé" perfume ad from the 1992 Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang. If only Grace Jones could collaborate with Achatz!
When I saw a picture on my Instagram feed several weeks ago of some of Chicago's most notable chefs gathered together looking up at what appeared to be a restaurant opening, I expected to hear more later. Turns out, they weren't awaiting a restaurant opening, they were filming a scene for "The Chef Whisperer," a whimsical parody casting some of Chicago's top chefs and Beard nominees that debuted at Monday's James Beard Awards.
The mini film starring some of Chicago's top chefs chronicles Carl Stankowski, aka "The Chef Whisperer," played by Second City's John Hartman as he leads us through how he uncovered and guided chefs to their true talents -- pulling Rick Bayless out of a career dedicated to slinging burgers and fries with "I see Mexican," recommending that Stephanie Izard "use the whole pig and not just the pretty parts," and discovering Alpana Singh's palate at the age of seven, saying she "shouldn't waste it on juice boxes."
McDonald's has been rolling out ordering "Create Your Taste" ordering kiosks in some stores that allow you to customize your hamburger. Oddly, the system appears to allow you to only get up to two hamburger patties and one bun, but "10X" everything else. Moshe Tamssot, founder of MakeItFor.Us, decided to see what resulted from maxing out all of the options. The resulting $25 monstrosity weighed 3.8lbs and included what looks to be two whole tomatoes.
While Lula Cafe vamps (er, zombies) as Fat Rice today, Real Kitchen, a gourmet-to-go spot in a Lakeview shopping strip, took to the internets to dress up as Alinea for Halloween.
The video shows Real Kitchen's chefs doing such things as juicing chicken to concentrate the flavor, using superglue as a "molecular gastronomy" chemical, and recreating Alinea's infamous tabletop dessert on the front counter and squeegeeing it into a takeout container. The dishwasher/sommelier offers wine pairings.
Although it's just a spoof, Real Kitchen isgiving away free cupcakes today. Stop in at 1433 W. Montrose Ave. and pick up dinner while you're at it.
Spinning Plates, a documentary premiering in October, takes you into the back of the house at three restaurants -- Chicago's Alinea, 165-year-old family restaurant Breitbach's Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa, and mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant La Cocina de Gabby in Tucson, Arizona -- and explores the similarities between their operations and the various challenges the owners have faced. Entertainment Weekly premiered the trailer today; below is a clip from Alinea.
Spinning Plates made the rounds at film festivals last year, and will be in theaters nationwide Oct. 25. Alinea's sister restaurant Next announced on Facebook that it will be co-hosting the premiere in Chicago, followed by "a very special few evenings at the Aviary." Stay tuned for news on those events.
The second episode of Moto and iNG chef/owner Homaro Cantu's online video series, "CookiNG Under Pressure," debuted this week. This episode focuses on Cantu's work with the miracle berry, a West African berry that messes with taste buds and makes sour things taste sweet. Moto and iNG have both featured dishes that showcase the miracle berry, and Cantu has written a new diet book, aptly named The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook, to promote its use as a means of reducing sugar content in the American diet.
This week Cantu also announced a series of cooking classes featuring the miracle berry, from Jan. 2-12 (except Jan. 4 and 10). For $100 per person, attendees attend the class and receive a signed copy of The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook and a six-course miracle berry-oriented tasting menu at iNG. Each class is limited to 30 people. Call 855-834-6464 to reserve your spot.
"CookiNG Under Pressure," the new TV show from Chef Homaro Cantu and his partner at iNG, Trever Rose-Hamblin, made its debut yesterday. Cantu describes it as "'Restaurant Impossible' meets Anthony Bourdain's 'No Reservations.'" The show follows Cantu, Rose-Hamblin and the rest of the iNG staff as they develop a 10-course tasting menu based on the movie Nightmare Before Christmas.
The episode mixes reality show-style looks behind the scenes of a working restaurant with semi-improvised set pieces and overly long "foodporn" shots; one slow-motion scene of a gin-and-tonic foam snowman being blasted by a flamethrower goes on for nearly a full minute. The iNG team's creations largely bomb during the friends and family trial dinner, so it's back to the drawing board for some retooling. All's well in the end, and then Cantu and Rose-Hamblin indulge in a Blair Witch-esque visit to a forest preserve...
Stay tuned for future episodes, which will follow the crew through the menu overhaul they perform every six weeks. Watch Facebook for updates
Amelanchier, also known as juneberries, serviceberries, shadbush and many more nicknames, are found throughout Chicagoland. They're found growing on side streets, in parks and in people's yards -- shrubs and small trees with white flowers that lead to clusters of red-to-purple berries on the ends of long stems. There might be one outside your office or apartment right now.
We're so thoroughly trained to avoid eating things that grow wild -- who knows if it's poisonous? -- that plenty of perfectly good fruit goes to the birds. One near West Side condo building didn't let their landscaping go to waste; instead, led by Moshe Tamssot of Monks of Invention, they harvested the juneberries in their courtyard and made a variety of sweet treats, from preserves to small pies.
An examination of how The Plant -- Chicago's Vertical Farm and food business incubator -- has been represented in the media. Learn more at plantchicago.com.
The Grid co-creators Ben Kolak and David Nagel have been documenting The Plant since 2009. More information about their work towards a feature-length documentary is available at vimeo.com/plantchicago.
About The Grid
This video is part of a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies, and experiments in form. Producer Ben Kolak's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's list of top documentaries for 2010. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate. Graphic Designer Akemi Hong is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's graduate program in Visual Communication Design. Jenna Blackburn, an undergrad at University of Chicago, and Victor La Porte, an undergrad at DePaul University, also contributed.
Snagging fish is allowed seasonally in a few spots on Lake Michigan. Find out more from the Chicago Reader.
About The Grid
The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Joe Riina-Ferrie and Mel Gonzalez teach filmmaking to high schoolers on Chicago's South and West Side through Community TV Network. Ben Kolak's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films for that year. Graphic designer Akemi Hong is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Practice & Space, a new web series by Sergio Salgado that "investigates people's commitments to their craft and is filmed on location in their unique spaces," chose to focus on Butcher & Larder in its debut episode. [via]
Michael Gebert finally got a break from the Reader's Key Ingredient series to release a new Sky Full of Bacon video. This time he delves into the history and influences of Chicago's distinctive South Side barbecue style. He talks with pitmasters at half a dozen spots, and learns about the development of the aquarium smoker.
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.
An interior photograph of The Plant before conversion. Photograph by David Schalliol.
A new documentary project, A Sustainable Reality: Redefining Roots, has launched a kickstarter campaign to support their work filming the development of The Plant, a vertical farming and industrial reuse project on the South Side. In 2010, Bubbly Dynamics purchased the former Peer Foods meat packing plant and is transforming it into a hub for sustainable businesses. The facility already hosts organizations as varied as 312 Aquaponics and the New Chicago Brewing Company, and is adding more groups as the building is transformed. The film plans to document each step and will evolve with The Plant, starting as a a web series and then growing into a feature-length documentary film.
A wild new fad prank -- "the next planking," apparently -- is evidently sweeping the globe: "cone-ing," in which you order a soft-serve ice cream cone at a fast food drive-through, and then grab it by the ice cream instead of the cone when the attendant hands it to you. The whole idea, of course, is to play it straight while you grab the soft-serve and see what the restaurant worker's reaction is. And to get it on tape.
For the 17th year in a row, Wolfgang Puck will serve the Academy's 1,500 at the annual Governor's Ball this Sunday, which takes place immediately following the Academy Awards. From the Hollywood Reporter: "The 2011 menu - created by Puck and chef Matt Bencivenga - is inspired by Latin flavors, from classic paella to coastal seafood, along with signature favorites such as smoked salmon Oscars and pastry chef Sherry Yard's gold-dusted chocolate Oscars." Oh, and they're serving up 25lbs of black truffles. The cost? About a thousand dollars per pound. In this video, courtesy of PopSugar, he discusses -- in his typical goofy accent -- the menu that he and Bencivenga constructed. Which item is his favorite though? Wolfgang can't say. "It's like if you have ten kids, which one is your favorite one? I think you like 'em all." Brilliant. But seriously, the hamachi gets jealous.
Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" filmed here in Chicago this summer, and that episode finally airs tomorrow, Feb. 15 at 8pm on the Travel Channel. Sadly, our restaurant scene moves faster than that sort of delay allows -- Mado is showcased despite closing late last year. But "Bizarre Foods" does a good job of capturing the breadth of the city's offerings in terms of eateries featured. Zimmern visits Alinea and Graham Elliot on the high end, XOCO and Franks 'N' Dawgs for more of our trendier take on fast casual, Uncle John's for our indigenous aquarium-smoked barbecue, and the Maxwell Street Market for our incomparable Mexican street food, as seen in the video below. He also goes on a mini-tour of Albany Park, checking out Ruby's Fast Food, Kang Nam, George's Grill Kabab and Taco Chino.
The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Producer Ben Kolak's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films in 2010. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate.
"Biologists, physiologists, anatomists think that the pleasure center of the body is...elsewhere. But clearly they have never eaten at Hot Chocolate or Blackbird or had a really good glass of wine. Otherwise they would know that the center of pleasure in the body is between the mandibles -- and not between anything else."
In November NPR commentator Gwen Macsai introduced three Chicago culinary personalities -- Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, Paul Kahan of Blackbird, and master sommelier Alpana Singh -- at a Chicago Humanities Festival panel, "The Perfect Meal." Watch them discuss what makes a meal perfect, whether it's food and drink that "satisfies the desire of the moment" or "communicating and connecting with the people you're with" or all of the above.
If any doubts remained in your mind that Craig Schoettler has one of the best jobs in the world, he and the Aviary viral video team are back with more proof that, well, your job sucks and his is definitely awesome. In July, he began aging liquor in different types of oak barrels, from a maple syrup barrel to a Heaven Hills Bourbon barrel. Today, he and fellow mixologist Josh Habinger bust out their calibrated syringes, tap the barrels and test the fruits of their labor. Delicious, alcoholy fruits. [YouTube]
Grant Achatz tweeted this awesome video of himself yesterday, discussing an experimental, bubble tea-like concoction with mixologist Craig Schoettler. It's the second in a series of videos designed to promote Achatz's newest venture - the molecular cocktail lounge Aviary. While we admit we're a tad skeptical - perhaps we're just traditionalists when it comes to floating balls in our drinks - we know better than to turn down anything Achatz (or his brain trust) sets down in front of us.
Remember Urbis Orbis? The seminal Wicker Park coffeeshop and "third place" closed a little over a decade ago, but you can revisit it and its colorful staff and clientele through this short documentary just posted on YouTube.
Chicago Eats TV made its debut yesterday, promising to "deliver hot and fresh videos about some of the most unique places around." That's a tall order that's not really borne out by the first three episodes, which feature fREDHOTS in Glenview, Cans and Canteen in Bucktown, and three spots for hot wings -- Yak-Zies on Diversey, McGees Tavern and Jake Melnick's Corner Tap. Not exactly unique and undiscovered territory.
Hopefully they'll branch out into some truly interesting stuff, but in the meantime, I recommend visiting Sky Full of Bacon, which makes up for its infrequency with excellent depth. The recent two-part series on whitefish fishing on Lake Michigan
Today at 4pm, CAN TV airs Ken Davis' interview with Terra Brockman, founder The Land Connection, a non-profit organization devoted to community-based food systems which incorporate sustainable, organic farming practices. Also featured are Chicago locals like Tom Melvin, longtime supporter of Angelic Organics CSA and Lyle Allen, Director of Green City Market.
The Cheeseburger Show made its debut yesterday on CLTV, starring Tribune writer Kevin Pang and a cavalcade of Chicago food and cultural celebrities, from Q101 DJ Electra to chefs Homaro Cantu and Doug Sohn to "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" host Peter Sagal, all talking about one of America's favorite foods: the cheeseburger. Episode 1 is now available online.
The show immediately brought to mind the Chicago Burger Project, a long-running blog whose mission has been to try every burger (as well as fries and shakes) on Time Out Chicago's 2007 list of the city's best burgers. They've been plowing through as time and bellies allow, veering off-mission occasionally to try more recent additions to the burger scene. So I got in touch with one of the CBP co-founders, Nathaniel Grotte, for his thoughts on the Cheeseburger Show.
A couple of things I have to call out:
- Pang praised the "sharp tang" of American cheese at Top-Notch. The cheese is either sharp or American, but not both.
- I assume that the (albeit unspoken) conceit of this show is that Kevin Pang's on a quest to find great burgers, which is what people always assume that the Chicago Burger Project is about, when, in fact, it's actually about making fun of Time Out Chicago. It's my belief that really good burgers make for kind of boring analyses, but bad ones can be very entertaining (see the "rollercoaster of flavor" at Riverview Tavern). It's my hope that Pang runs across some real duds and gives people hell about it, because that's good television.
Overall, though, Grotte enjoyed the first episode and said he'd tune in again. I agree -- it's fun and funny, and bound to stay interesting, especially if Pang's net is wide enough to cover some of the more colorful places in the suburbs as well as the city. Keep an eye on his progress by following the "burger yeti" on Twitter.
Mike Phillips, a barista at Intelligentsia's Broadway store and last year's Great Lakes Regional Barista Championship winner, is one of the six finalists in the U.S. Barista Championship. Three other finalists are from Intelligentsia's Los Angeles outpost, and another, Scott Lucey, is from Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee.
Wondering what goes on at a barista competition? The finals will be streaming live at the USBC website; they're scheduled to run from 2-4:30 Central time this afternoon, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter.
UPDATE: Phillips is the winner! His final score was 730 points, besting second place Nick Griffith of Intelligentsia LA (719.5 points) and third place Scott Lucey of Alterra Coffee (697.5 points).
Ward was restaurant critic and food columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, from 1978-1984. Prior to this, he was restaurant critic for the Chicago Daily News.
From 1969 to 1974, Ward served as editorial director for R.R. Donnelley & Sons in Chicago where he was responsible for producing travel and food magazines.
He began his career as a restaurant critic as editor and assistant publisher of Restaurants and Institutions, a food service industry trade magazine from 1960-1969.
Ward, a Chicago native, graduated from Loyola University, and holds a Master's degree in political history from the University of Chicago. He and his wife reside on the city's north side.
Ward was memorable for his often flamboyant delivery and purple prose, employed here in this review of Lindy's Chili (from early 2000s, judging from the website at the end) -- and his trademark red-rimmed glasses.
As mentioned previously, our future president taped an episode of "Check Please!" in August of 2001, reviewing Hyde Park's Dixie Kitchen. The show has released this teaser clip in advance of the Jan. 16 airing.
If you've tired of the perk, precision and competition in the world of televised cooking, head to MyDamnChannel to watch Cooking with Coolio. The rapper will "teach your a-- to cook," everything from a Caprese salad (in case your girlfriend is "one of them salad eatin' bitches") to sauteed spinach even a kid will love to a whole turkey (dropped like it's hot into a deep fryer). He keeps his spices in dime bags, wears sunglasses while he cooks and yells, "Bring your a-- to the table" when the food is ready. He's just what the bland world of food TV needed.
LTHForum moderator Cathy2 captured the art and process of making takoyaki, or octopus balls, at Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights this past weekend. The takoyaki were part of Mitsuwa's anniversary sale, which runs through Nov. 19; not sure whether the octopus balls will last that long.
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 »