University of Gastronomic Sciences

May 29 2010 - 3:16 AM


My fellow Chicago Foodies,

It has come time to confess that I am a turncoat and have abandoned Chicago's wonderful community of foodie cognoscenti. Why? For the last week I have actually been living in northern Italy, in a little town called Bra. I will be here for the next year attending a master's program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Food Culture and Communications. If you are wondering what on earth gastronomy is, let me explain. It is not the study of gaseous stars, but the holistic study of food and its relationship to society, history and the environment. The program delves into sustainable production, and is cosponsored by Slow Food. Course titles include “Medieval Food History,” “Sociology of Food Consumption” and “Food Economics.” So far, the hours have been long, but the studying has been delicious. 

I will return periodically to Chicago Foodies to post about my gastronomic findings in Italy, but you can also follow me day to day at or on Twitter.

Also, I am happy to field questions if anyone is traveling through northern Italy or wants more info about the University.

Alla prossima,



Underground Dining v2.0 – Iliana Regan's One Sister

May 28 2010 - 6:19 PM

Sickpony3 Forget underground supper clubs… Iliana Regan, who has had stints with Grant Achatz at both Trio and Alinea and more recently with Michael Carlson at Schwa, has something bigger in mind.

Typically, underground dining is all about the mystery. It’s called underground for a reason. You have to know someone who knows someone as it’s rarely advertised. With one club in particular named ‘Clandestino’ you get the idea. Eating in a strangers home with other strangers is, what else, strange. But in this case it’s more than the novel experience. It’s about the food.

Here the Chef is also the farmer/forager/gardener. Iliana hand-forages morels from a location she seriously wouldn’t talk, even remotely, about. She hand-gardens and farms greens (when
possible). She owns One Sister Inc. where in addition to ‘shrooms, she sells  “pierogis, sprouts, pastas, decorative and edible flowers, berry
plants, baked goods, soups, and preserves.” Many chefs have gardens but not many depend on them for their meals. In this case it certainly seems to be a major part of her inspiration.

This all results in some seriously wild flavor combinations throughout a dynamic 12-course
tasting menu. She does her resume justice. That she can even do this in an ordinary
residential kitchen is really a feat. The best news is you can try it
for yourself. The method is simple, a group of nice folks and a
suggested donation and this email. You get an address, a time and a suggestion for what
kind of wine to bring. In this case one of Alinea’s ex-sommelier’s was a stand-in (a ringer I tell you!).

After 12 courses you see what’s important to the chef. Whimsy is a word that is used often with molecular gastronomy and tasting menus, and while there’s some of that what struck me was intensity of flavors. The dishes were very focused and while the flavor intensity was up there the subtlety of them all working together so well was special.

The details after the jump.


2006 Weingut Dr. Heyden Oppenheimer Kreuz Kabinett Riesling

May 24 2010 - 9:36 AM

Inexpensive German Riesling, more often than not, gets lumped into the so-called "Blue Nunn" category.  Moreover, a lot of German wine gets characterized as sweet, in part because not all of its sugar is turned into alcohol.   At 10.5 percent alcohol, this wine is more off-dry than dry, which may turn some people off, but  rewards those of us who have gotten over some of the white wine hangups.  That is countered with a a nice, crisp minerality that almost has a sparkling wine mouthfeel.  In addition this Rheinhessen region wine has tastes of red apples, peaches, honey, and a hint of lemon.   It is available at Lush for $14.75 a bottle. 

Ken Kee

May 23 2010 - 9:20 AM

Although Chicago's Chinatown offers cuisine spanning from Beijing to Yunnan, my Chinese comfort food standby is still the Hong Kong-style Cantonese food at Ken Kee.

This isn't your standard 1950s Cantonese-American chop suey joint, however. Ken Kee can be best described as a Hong Kong diner. Its vast selection of authentic menu options range from fried noodles and rice dishes to more exotic fare like duck tongue and pork intestine. Ken Kee also offers a Hong Kong take on Western food, with dishes like condensed milk & peanut butter toast and spaghetti with ham in tomato sauce.

Lest you can't decide what to eat, the menu features pictures of many of Ken Kee's offerings. No matter what you order, the food is generally good, fast, and cheap—and it's open late!

Beef short ribs in honey & black pepper sauce


The Panera Bread Price Fix: Pay What You Can

May 19 2010 - 12:52 PM

Here's an interesting idea from Panera Bread. They only take donations. Why wouldn't a retail location simply be a non-profit like this? It seems that with the amount of choice we have this is a logical branching out.

From St. Louis Today:

Panera Bread Co. has converted one of its St. Louis Bread Co. stores
into a nonprofit operation aimed at raising funds for community groups.
The cafe-bakery store, located at 10 South Central Avenue in
Clayton, will operate under the name of "St. Louis Bread Co. Cares."

Under the new model, donation boxes are placed next to the cash
registers, which will only be used to make change, and customers will
give a donation that they think is appropriate; the menu itself will be
offer only suggested prices for items. For customers who can't afford
to pay, they will be asked to contribute volunteer time at the cafe,
which is staffed by regular employees.

Proceeds will go to pay store costs, and the remainder will go to
community organizations, which Panera hasn't identified.

U.S. Food Chain Starvation

May 18 2010 - 3:59 PM

How-long-will-oil-spill-last_1 Probably this week, we'll start seeing real information about just how bad the BP oil catastrophe is.  It's relevant to everyone and everything. Certainly to foodies. "We are what we eat… and what it has eaten." is something I often say regarding sustainability, bio-ethics, etc. But it is very literal.

This spill is starvation for us a couple stages removed. Once our food chain changes, we will change as well. Case in point, zooplankton. What eats zooplankton? Shrimp, among other fish, what eats fish and shrimp? We do. We starve the shrimp of plankton, we starve ourselves of shrimp. This is what the BP spill means to us. From Scientific American:

That's bad news for the millions of translucent sea creatures out there—zooplankton—and
could ultimately end up having cascading effects up the food chain. "If
you start removing pieces of this big food web out there, what's going
to happen?" Shirley asks. "We don't really know but probably not good

And that's just the fish and shrimp. Then there are filter feeders…


BP Pays State Governors to Say No Problems here, Come Visit!

May 18 2010 - 9:38 AM

Okay… so while strange tar balls are washing up in the Florida keys and we’re still guessing at the amount of damage being done by a continuously spewing oil spill, BP is giving money to the governors of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana -$70 MILLION DOLLARS. It’s not to clean anything up, but in the words of Charlie Crist (who is up for re-election), “to spread the word that Florida’s beaches are clean, our fish are biting, and the Sunshine State is open for business.” Unfuckingbelievable. From the Miami Herald….

Meanwhile, BP announced it was awarding tourism grants to the
governors of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to help
promote tourism over the coming months, in the wake of the Deepwater
Horizon spill.

BP said it would give $25 million to Florida and $15 million each to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he would use the funds “to spread the
word that Florida’s beaches are clean, our fish are biting, and the
Sunshine State is open for business.”

Green City Market Moves Outdoors – It Must Be Spring!

May 18 2010 - 9:20 AM

Certified OrganicSpring is upon us, even though the weather hasn’t been much of a clue. How do we know? The eagerly-anticipated farmer's market season officially kicked off this weekend with the premier of Chicago's Green City Market. Key words – local, sustainable. 

It is in its twelfth season and has come a long way from its humble beginnings next to the alley near the Chicago Theater. Today, it is a Foodie haven with chefs, restaurateurs, foodies, and friends frequenting the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays (7:00am – 1:00pm Lincoln Park). We took a stroll this Saturday and spotted some local favorites like Tomato Mountain (tomato-based sauces), Tiny Greens (microgreens, wheatgrass) and River Valley Ranch (mushrooms, sauces, spreads).

The fresh vegetables we saw reminded us that we live in the Midwest… asparagus, lettuce, and some in-ground varieties like spring onions. We picked up a beautiful and tasty Boston lettuce, some purple asparagus, a jar of tomato basil pasta, and a couple of cucumbers. Toward the end of the day we thought of picking up some olive load… similar to what we’ve picked up at other markets throughout the year. To our surprise the bakers said that they didn’t sell any… why? “Olives are not local” was the reply… and we were quickly assured that Green City truly is Chicago’s local market.

Super-Premium Blended Whisky Battle: 30 year Canadian Club vs. Blue Label

May 14 2010 - 12:17 AM

X2_1547befLately I have been drinking whiskeys from all over the world and while I am developing a taste for Santori (and for God's sake, all things Japanese), I'm tabling the single malts and cask-strength bourbons for a particular head's up contest. This evening, I finally got a chance at a sip of Johnny Walker Blue Label. It wrapped up the tasting that began with Black and went to Red, Gold & Green before the Blue. Needless to say it wasn't bad. I came straight home though and poured a nose of my Canadian Club 30 year. While it's an ocean apart literally in location and in style, I felt that as it was a blend and at the same price point it would be an interesting comparison. Even though they're apples and oranges, they're both fruit.

The thing that I really noticed about the Blue was the mouth-feel. My hunch is that when a whisky is described as buttery or 'evaporates on your tongue'-type talk is used, it translates to mouth-feel. It leaves your mouth coated and maybe a bit fuzzy. The blue does this a lot. It's not a sweet scotch but it's also not very peaty. It's a blend and that's exactly what you get. If you're a big single malt guy, you probably would get more out of the Green label. While it's the only Walker that's all malt, it doesn't catch you with the smoky peat like Laphroaig or Lagavulin. It's pretty mellow with the peat taking a back seat to a woodiness that starts to walk back to a barrel-flavor. Blue is nothing if it's not balanced and while it's not overly anything, you taste everything, sweetness, smoke, wood, peat, floral, honey.


Flirty Cupcakes: Tweets for Treats

May 12 2010 - 11:12 AM

Truck[1]tiffHere’s the thing: any form of delivery service that brings sweets within walking distance during the workday is an automatic win in my book. But Flirty Cupcakes has one-upped my dessert-loving hopes and aspirations.

Think cupcakes on demand.

Launching on Monday, Flirty Cupcakes set out to take over the streets of Chicago, one sweet tooth at a time. Comparable to an ice cream truck, the Flirty Cupcakes van pulls up, stops and sells to those lucky enough to be in the area (and those smart enough to plan ahead).

The name of the game is simple: Every day, Flirty Cupcakes will inform its followers (via Facebook and Twitter, of course!) with details on the van’s current location and its next stop. Not coming to your neck of the woods any time soon? Not to worry. Just shoot Flirty Cupcakes a tweet (@FlirtyCupcakes) or post on their Facebook wall, and they will find a way to make it in your direction.