Chicago Sun-Times
Tasty morsels about Chicago's food scene

June 2009 Archives

And now, a confession: We have a soft spot for Colt 45.

It goes way back to high school and some boys we used to hang out with, and it's a story that pretty much stops there, so that now we've revealed too much, let us add that we're relieved we're not the only ones whose 40-ounce memories run deep.

In her college days, Jennifer Keeney held a regular 40-ounce Tuesday night club with a few friends. The club convened after her three-hour "Methods of Psychotherapy" class. "I decided it was so incredibly horrific that we needed to have a 40-ounce night," says Keeney, a Northwest Side resident.

Keeney, now an HR exec, survived that class. But neither she nor we could see this one coming -- a weeklong celebration of the 40-ounce.

All week, the Fifty/50 in Wicker Park is offering 40-ounce specials (and corresponding food specials) to mark what it insists is National 40-Ounce Week. Monday was Colt 45 night. Keeney and her husband were there.

"We thought it was worth a sitter," she says. She posed with a cardboard cutout of Billy Dee Williams, ate a skirt steak sandwich that she says was "spectacular" and, of course, drank a 40-ounce -- or 40-oh, as the kids say.

National 40-Ounce Week at the Fifty/50 ends Sunday. By the way, there's no need to BYO paper bag. The bar has that covered, too.

On the Presidential Plate

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Mr. President, we know that something is going on at the White House that you are not telling us and the American people want some answers.

The question that is being asked, as politico.com stated last week, is, in essence, how can the president and First Lady indulge in the occassional (and very public) cheeseburger, allow their two daughters to enjoy some fun snacks from time to time yet they all remain fit and trim?

We know that Michelle Obama has a vegetable garden at the White House, but considering that "the first couple often publicly enjoy hearty servings of not-so-healthful food -- and allow their daughters to indulge, too," the two questions that loom are "What do the Obamas eat at home, and how do they stay so thin?"

Those clamoring to know what's on the presidential dining table are both ordinary Americans and folks who make their living in food and nutrition. "We have no idea what their regular breakfasts, lunches and dinners are like," American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and D.C. nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge told Politico. "Burgers, that's all I ever hear about. They go to burger joints because it shows they're just like everybody else, but everybody else is overweight."

Could be, though, that the Obamas may have achieved that elusive "balanced" lifestyle, where they balance the occasional burger or ice cream with morning workouts, playing basketball, and running after the presidential dog, Bo. Call it "White House Weight Watchers."

Plucked from our mailbox: a proof of Thomas Keller's forthcoming cookbook, "Ad Hoc At Home," for the home cook - that's right, the home cook.

Sh-yeah right, you're tempted to say. Home cooking from the chief mentor to Grant Achatz?

Take our word for it -- the book isn't false advertising in the least. Keller is only just a guy, after all. There are recipes for beef stroganoff, pineapple upside-down cake and chocolate chip cookies, for crying out loud. These are dishes meant to be served family-style. As far as we can tell, ingredients are all familiar and available; no need for Fed Ex or all-night Google searches. (And the graphics, oddly enough, are reminiscient of the opening and closing credits to "Juno.")

With every chef and their dog doing a downscale concept of some sort (Keller included; the book's title refers to Ad Hoc, his casual restaurant down the road from the French Laundry), and the economy as it is, Keller's timing is perfect. But, as Keller writes, his aim was less capitalistic. His father died soon after he began work on the book. Keller cooked his dad's last meal: barbecued chicken with mashed potatoes and braised collard greens (bought at the grocery store -- he shops at the grocery store!).

"And now I am unspeakably grateful to have made it -- that dinner remains important to me," Keller writes. "And so does the food we -- friends and family -- would have in the following days, brought together in grief, comforted by food."

"Ad Hoc at Home" (Artisan, $50) will be out in November.

And speaking of Achatz: The Alinea chef's memoir about his cancer-ridden path to culinary stardom has been picked up by Gotham Books, the NYT's Diner's Journal blog reports.

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With the verve and vigor of a kid in a candy store, Rick Bayless, the yoga-centric master of Mexican cuisine, did Chicago proud on last night's installment of Top Chef Masters, advancing to the next round by sticking with what he knows best: tacos.

But first, the quickfire challenge: Create a dish based around one color. Bayless gets the color green. He loves green!! He is beside himself and it shows in his artful dish of veggies roasted in banana leaf, mole verde, green chiles and pumpkin seeds.

It's Puerto Rican cheftestant Wilo Benet, however, who gets the early lead with his salmon tartare (despite the rather duh move of leaving ring molds on each dish). Bayless -- the gentle Jedi of this group that also includes the laidback Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill in Napa and tres annoying Frenchman Ludo Lefebvre of L.A.'s Ludo Bites -- looks shocked.

Then, the elimination challenge: Cook street food using offal for a Universal Studios crowd.

Bayless draws tongue. Bayless loves tongue!! "I actually love to eat tongue," he gushes. Benet gets heart; Pawlcyn gets tripe and Pepe Le Pew, er, we mean Lefebvre gets pigs' ears.

Bayless' tongue tacos look out of sight -- and with chorizo, bacon, tomatillo guacomole and a sprinkling of cotija cheese, apparently they taste that way, too.

Creepiest exchange:
"C'mon Rick Bayless, slip me some tongue," says a young guy in sunglasses waiting in line.
"Once Rick Bayless slips you some tongue, you'll never forget it," Bayless says, rather uncomfortably.

Saveur editor and judge James Oseland declares Bayless' tacos "melt in your mouth tender."

And we declare a moratorium on all future tongue references.

Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand looked back on 10 years of caviar staircases for our story on the 10th anniversary blowout this weekend at Tru, 676 N. St. Clair. So what about the next 10 years?

Tramonto, in particular, was extremely reflective. The chef, who recently turned 45, says he's reached "a very interesting place in my life."

He's working on his seventh book, "Rick Tramonto's Steak and Friends," due out in October 2010. It's his first casual book, the type with photos of him "in street clothes."

Tramonto also is writing his memoirs, to be published by a Christian publishing house in 2011. And he is consulting with the Cleveland Clinic on wellness programs and the inpatient food program.

"We have a dark industry in a lot of ways. There's so much excess in the industry, drugs, alcohol. Back in the day, you were like a vampire. You slept all day, worked at night then went out," said Tramonto, who himself abused drugs. "So for me, the next 10 years is about mentoring and teaching and taking the next step in giving back to kids and to the industry."

Both Tramonto and Gand says they hope to see another 10 years at Tru and open more concepts. (Their restaurant group, Cenitare, which operated Gale's Coffee Bar, Tramonto Steak and Seafood and RT Lounge in Wheeling, dissolved last year.) Gand said she'd be up for more Gale's Coffee Bar, breakfast-y places, while Tramonto says he's "tinkering with some burger stuff ... But again, it's locations, it's timing, who would like to do it with me.

"Do I need to do five more restaurants? No, not really. I admire the guys who have 15 restaurants. But everything has a cost. Everything takes a toll on you."

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The creators of Baconfest Chicago (which is pretty self-explanatory, wouldn't you say) took to Twitter this morning to divulge details of just how they envision this whole porkfest shaking out.

They promise a bacon expo, bacon cook-off, bacon-themed poetry slams and fashion, a bacon cocktail lounge and even the Golden Rashers -- the Oscars of bacon, as it were.

The fest is set for Oct. 25 at the Stan Mansion, 2408 N. Kedzie. Plenty of time to get your arteries ready.

Four things from the All Things Organic trade show and conference, which wrapped up today at McCormick Place:

* You won't find Cloud Top frozen yogurt in stores, nor will you find a Cloud Top store anywhere yet. And that's a bummer.

* Toats Organic Snacks. Is it a cookie? Is it a cracker? Is it a horse biscuit? The answer: all of the above.

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* B.R.A.T. Ricemilk. Parents (those whose kids have ever had stomach flu), this is for you.

* And a tea tip from Shashank Goel, owner of Ineeka, a tea company based in Chicago (which just came out with a green tea beer): Most teas contain so-called natural flavors. Beware. "People say, 'Smell this, what a great tea.' That's basically the worst tea you're getting," Goel says. "When you pour the hot water, that's when the aroma should come out."

More on Cloud Top, Toats and B.R.A.T. after the jump.

Despite this blogger confusing breaking "news" with being a jackass (and the inevitable virtual domino effect), we still were psyched about the second installment of Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" last night, particularly because it was Graham Elliot Bowles' turn in the spotlight.

Bowles is comfortably cheeky in front of the camera (some would say too much so, as the video below suggests) and he didn't disappoint Wednesday. Having his bud Wylie Dufresne of New York's wd-50 in his competitive quartet helped.

The episode started off as the Wylie-and-Eliot show, with Bowles really in his element; the quickfire challenge was to make something out of vending machine fare, and he didn't disappoint with his version of tuna salad. Dufresne, meanwhile, was flustered and cursing (leave it to the young 'uns to get the bleep machine working after last week's oh-so-genteel premiere).

Dufresne improved in the elimination challenge, which was to cook dinner for the producers and writers of "Lost" using boar, papayas and other wild and tropical fare, plus only canned/shelf stable pantry goods. But in the end, it was L.A. chef Suzanne Tracht's calm, collected cuisine that edged out Bowles' by two stars. So close, GEB, so close.

If there's one quibble we have so far, it's that the pace of the editing leaves us feeling a little stiffed. You get glimpses of insight into the chefs' techniques. At judges' table, for example, Bowles quickly explains that since he couldn't use fresh garlic or herbs, he pressed salsa he was allowed to buy through a chinois strainer, then rinsed off the residual garlic and onion bits and used those in his tuna trio. We just want more of that.

Also: We miss Tom. Judges' table is just not the same.

Next week: Rick Bayless. And quesadillas.

Addendum: Get your vote on - who would you want to be stranded on a desert island with? Bowles, Dufresne, Tracht or Elizabeth Falkner, last night's fourth cheftestant? Free dinner at the chosen one's restaurant at stake.


A butter cookie convert

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Butter cookies aren't the first cookies we'd usually go for. Heck, they're not even the fourth. They all tend to have that forgettable Maurice Lenell-esque quality to them. Give us a chunky chocolate chip, a chewy macaroon, an almond thumbprint any day.

But that was before we tried these. These are butter cookies and then some. These are BUTTER cookies. These are the mother of all butter cookies -- or perhaps we should say, the grandaddy.

The recipe is from Roeser's, a father-son operation going on four generations in Humboldt Park (more in Dave Hoekstra's story today).

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It's an old school bakery, if there ever was one. As you can see, it's an old school recipe as well, one that we're pretty sure anyone can tackle -- flour, sugar, egg, vanilla and, of course, butter.

In a complicated world, it's the only cookie one really needs.

Chicken stock is a workhouse in the kitchen. It's a building block to so much, not to mention a thing of beauty on its own. Chefs devote entire chapters to building the perfect chicken stock. What is a kitchen without chicken stock?

The answer, we just learned, is Province.

Yep, chef Randy Zweiban's groovy, eco-conscious restaurant at 161 N. Jefferson doesn't use chicken stock. At all.

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It came up in a discussion we were having for another story. True, Zweiban says, they make a pork stock (and a doozy at that, with the head and bones, for dish of 10-hour braised lamb with chorizo. You heard us right.)

But otherwise, it's all vegetable stock, all the time at Province.

"I used to use chicken stock all the time. With vegetable stock, you don't have the body that chicken stock does, but you have a really clean flavor," Zweiban says.

"We take everything in the house. In the summer, you have the silks from the corn and the cobs. I don't use too much of the skins of things. I make a simple mirepoix, then take everything from turnips to broccoli stems, asparagus stems right now, pea shells. It's a three- to four-hour deal at a simmer.

"If you really want a robust flavor, caramelize the vegetables first. Or take a whole head of garlic and throw that in. You can add white wine, or deglaze with wine. It's whatever you want and what you have around."

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I have the neatest little cherry pitter. Truthfully, it's not the sort of thing I would necessarily buy myself. In fact, it was a wedding present, bought off the registry by some kind soul who must've understood my silly longing for such things.

Anyhow, it's this metal thing, and you put the cherry in the round holder and press down and -- pop -- out comes the pit. The 4-year-old especially has taken to the gizmo, not to mention, she knows the payoff she'll get after a few minutes of pitting on my end -- a bowl of ready-to-eat cherries.

That said, here's a convincing argument for giving my cherry pitter a rest, via the Atlantic's food site. If there's a more delicious mess in the world than eating cherries, let me know.

Two music critics, five courses, five wines and a whole lotta music -- that's the formula for an unusual and intimate dinner on Friday, June 19, to benefit WBEZ-91.5 FM.

The Sun-Times' Jim DeRogatis and the Tribune's Greg Kot of WBEZ's "Sound Opinions" will host the five-course dinner, which is limited to 40 seats and is being held at an undisclosed spot on the South Side.

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Each course will be paired with an album and wines from Candid Wines. Or rather, each course will be crafted according to the album chosen (a collaborative process between DeRogatis, Kot, Cuevas and his cooks).

Chef Efrain Cuevas of Clandestino, an underground dining club, is still finessing the menu. But here's how the night of music and grub is shaping up:

Course 1: "Hoodoo Man Blues," Junior Wells and Buddy Guy
Memphis-style pulled pork. "We're still playing around with that," Cuevas says.

Course 2: "Like Water for Chocolate," Common
The Chicago rapper is a vegetarian. Hence, a salad of grilled beets, carrots and other veggies roasted in a chocolate and ancho chile mole, with watercress.

Course 3: "Superfly," Curtis Mayfield
The movie "has two different things going on -- exploiting street life but at the same time, showing all the problems in the inner city." Chicken and greens, with the chicken two ways -- the dark meat used in agnolotti, the breast flattened and made into a roulade.

Course 4: "Throb Throb," Naked Raygun
Hanger steak, with fire-roasted tomatoes, various sauces. Plating is "going to be graffiti, roadkill-type of scene."

Dessert: "We'll Never Turn Back," Mavis Staples
Juneberry cobbler, an "old-school dessert," because "her last record is kind of a throwback to the '60s civil rights movement." (Juneberries, Cuevas tells us, grow on the UIC campus. That's where he hopes to harvest them.)

More details are to come on Cuevas' Clandestino"Web site.

The dinner is a steep $250. As Cuevas says, "It's important. And music's important."

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So ... didn't you just want to tickle Hubert Keller?

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True, there were no childish spats, no F-bombs launched on last night's premiere of Top Chef Masters on Bravo. But what sets "Masters" apart from the original is just that -- a certain level of class, seeing as how these are world-class chefs and all. Doesn't mean the show (so far) doesn't lack drama and excitement. This is serious cooking at its core, albeit in sometimes ridiculous settings. We found the dorm room cooking challenge riveting (not to mention amusingly mind-blowing in its "Really? Really?" moments -- as with Keller's absolute ineptitude with that thing called a microwave).

Next week: Get ready for Graham Elliot Bowles.

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Pit master (or, as he likes to say, barbecue life coach) Gary Wiviott -- whose barbecue almost did in Sun-Times reporter Dave Hoekstra, through no fault of Wiviott's own -- will sign copies of his new book, "Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons" this weekend at the Book Stall in Winnetka and the Barnes and Noble in Oakbrook (details here).

The book, co-written by Colleen Rush (picture above), is a gem as is Wiviott, a founder of the LTHForum culinary chat site. We finally met Wiviott face-to-face a few weeks ago (it is entirely possible and all too common in this line of work to correspond with someone for a good amount of time without ever actually meeting them).

Anyway, we're glad we did. He's a bear of a guy, as the photo suggests. This being his first book -- and his first book signing -- he admits he's a little nervous. So go meet the guy. You'll probably pick up some good grilling tips. To work past the nerves, he'll just be picturing you all naked.

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While most of what we write about pertains to food that humans can enjoy, we reserve space for non-human foodie-related items, too. Like this: a doggie dinner party at Dunlay's on Clark, 2600 N. Clark.

The restaurant is hosting a three-course dinner for four-legged guests (and their owners) on its sidewalk patio from 6 to 8 p.m. June 22.

The restaurant's partner in this is the nearby Three Dog Bakery, 2622 N. Halsted, which is providing the food for the event.

The exact courses are yet to be determined, but Three Dog owner/baker Gina Aulisio says the menu will likely include soup, chicken "paw" pie and a cookie assortment. As a starter, she says she'll probably whip up a version of bread and butter -- banana bread shaped into breadsticks and "lickety split ice cream," a spread made with whey protein that, when scooped, resembles butter.

The requested $10 donation for each dining dog will go toward a local animal rescue group.

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A few things you should know about the Taste of Chicago, which opens 17 days from now, for those of you who live for such things:

* Each booth now will offer two smaller "taste" portions this year, "our little nod" to the recession, spokeswoman Cindy Gatziolis says.

* There are 10 fewer booths this year. The three newbies are Manny's, Blue Bayou and Garrett Popcorn Shop, whose signature items will be, respectively, barbecued turkey legs, gator sausage on a stick and the popcornsicle (a la Top Chef-er Richard Blais - see video for clarification).

* You can get a preview of what's to come at Taste at a mini-Taste from 11 a.m. To 2 p.m. Wednesday at Daley Plaza. It's open to the public.

* If you walk the Taste route from Monroe to Balboa and back, it's a mile and a half.

Update: About that popcornsicle, Jack Aiello, Garrett's vice president of marketing, tells us the company's decision to join Taste for the first time hinged upon the ability to offer Taste-goers a product "perfect for a hot summer day in Chicago" (provided it ever gets hot).

The Taste marks the popcornsicle's paid debut (it was given away for free during promotions with Blais in New York last year).

As for the popcornsicle's provenance, Aiello says the PR firm representing Garrett in New York knew Blais and connected him with the company.

At the Garrett booth, vendors will be dipping the popcorn balls to order in vats of liquid nitrogen. The popcornsicles -- six tickets each -- should stay cold for a few minutes, Aiello says.

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Never mind that it was illegal for less than two years, and never mind that it has now been legal, again, for one year. Foie gras still deserves it day -- or week -- dammit.

Chef Didier Durand, one of the more outspoken critics of the city's ban on foie gras, is the chief architect of the first ever Foie Gras Week, which runs Thursday through June 16 (Why Thursday, you wonder? June 11 is the date when the repeal of the ban was official.)

Seven restaurants, including Cyrano's, Durand's River North bistro, will offer $10 foie gras specials during this time.

At Cyrano's, diners will have five such specials to pick from, including a foie gras terrine with artichoke confit and pan-seared foie gras with grilled asparagus, poached duck egg and a balsamic glaze.

Durand says foie gras producers are even discounting their goods for him and his fellow chefs participating in the liver fest.

Besides the fact that foie gras is, as he say, "part of my blood," the irrepressible Frenchman feels strongly about making sure people don't forget about the ban. (He is trying to start a foie gras museum and has dibs on the domain names foiegrasmuseum.com and foiegrasmuseumusa.com.)

"I've worked on a total of three years to get that ban repealed, sending e-mails, sending letters sometimes going to court, sometimes going to their offices at night," says Durand, who plans on holding Foie Gras Week annually and even going national with it.

"We just don't want to have any other food being banned," he says.

Participating restaurants also include: Cafe Bernard, 2100 N. Halsted; Cafe Matou, 1846 N. Milwaukee; Carlos', 429 Temple Ave., Highland Park; David Burke's Primehouse, 616 N. Rush; Hemmingway's Bistro, 211 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; and May Street Market, 1132 W. Grand.

Wylie Dufresne makes a five-course meal for 3rd-graders in 30 minutes, using Uncle Ben's rice, sunchokes and a microwave (a completely fictional challenge, but you never know)?!

You know what we're talking about, people. It's almost time for "Top Chef Masters" -- "Top Chef" on steroids!

The spinoff of Bravo's popular competitive cooking show -- premiering at 9 p.m. Wednesday -- will feature 24 of the nation's (truly) top chefs, including the aforementioned Dufresne, John Besh, Hubert Keller, Rick Moonen and Chicago's own Rick Bayless, Art Smith and Graham Elliot Bowles.

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And If the first episode is any indication -- hint: it involves dorm rooms and hot plates -- chef groupies won't be disappointed.

The series is a slightly scaled down version of the original. Only one chef from each group of four advances to the final four weeks, though the usual quickfire and elimination challenge format remains in place. The chefs are playing for charity.

Understandably, the chefs are sworn to secrecy about what happened during filming in Los Angeles, but Jennifer Fite, Bayless' publicist, says, "It was the hardest thing Rick has done almost to date."

Bayless' competition: Cindy Pawlcyn of Napa, L.A.'s Ludo Lefebvre and Wilo Benet of Puerto Rico.

Fite says she had to beg Bayless to participate.

"Going back to doing mise en place and chopping onions ... these guys haven't done that in 15 years," she says. "And think about how old these guys are. Rick is fifty whatever. It was lot of work."

Meanwhile, expect Smith to be the crackup of his group because, as he told us, "Yes, it's a serious cooking reality show but the reality is it's television. People want to be entertained."

"Here I am with these big deal chefs and they're going to cook circles around me, but they sure as hell could not beat me in the funny part," Smith said.

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These days, given the wildly fluctuating temperatures in the Chicago area, where it can be warm and sunny in late-May but cold and rainy in early June, it's understandable that people can get confused. You don't know what's what -- you don't know how you should dress, you never know if it's safe to put that winter coat away for the season, and you certainly don't know if it's time yet for iced coffee.

Fortunately, though, there is a Web site that can help alleviate some of your confusion (well, at least as far as the iced coffee is concerned -- you'll have to overcome the wardrobe challenges on your own). It's called, surprisingly enough, isiticedcoffeeweather.com, and quite simply, the site is nothing more than that question and a spot for you to type in your zip code. Once you click on the question, stated again next to that box, the site somehow, magically, takes into acount all the weather factors it needs to and ... tells you if it's appropriately warm enough for an iced coffee. No more standing and gazing vacantly at your favorite barista when they ask, "would you like that hot or cold?" Just fire up this site on your mobile Internet device and you will know in an instant whether it's iced coffee weather.

I'm sure there are those who will say, "Well, I'm an adult and I'm paying for this coffee drink. I should be able to order an iced coffee or a frappalatta whenever I please, no matter what the temperature is!" Sure you are, and of course you can. You can also wear those cool sunglasses indoors and bring out the grill in winter. I can only wish you'd have a barista like the waitress at the Melrose Restaurant many years ago who, when I asked for a milk shake in January, told me, "Are you kidding? It's 32 (lovely) degrees out!" Sometimes it can be fun to play by the rules.

Can you taste gender?

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If you closed your eyes at dinner, would you be able to tell if the meal was cooked by a man or a woman? It's an intriguing experiment, one that Alinea's Grant Achatz and other food cognoscenti will undertake at an event in New York on Monday.

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So, do men and women cook differently? Achatz's initial thoughts, in a nutshell: Not really.

The chef, not a man of few words, continued: "Some people I have talked to mentioned men liking bolder, spicy and more rustic flavors and women tend to favor subtleties. I certainly do not think that to be the case. In fact I wonder if gender classification can be made at all. What is a masculine presentation? Is it a giant chunk of roasted meat? What makes that manly -- the caveman connotation? Does the use of finesse in the plating mean it is from a woman's hand? I like to think I have finesse.

"Same for beautiful. I have seen many beautiful plates cooked by men. If a dish contains flowers, does it hint to female preferences? I use a lot of flowers in my cooking.

"I think where you might see a difference is when you create some framework or boundaries. Dig into periods of time or age, geographical location, ethnicity and urban versus rural areas and you will find a separation in cooking familiarity and perhaps skill. But that has more to with society's control over gender in general than the genetic makeup of people.

"One way to find out for sure."

(And in other Achatz news, the chef is shopping around his memoir.)

Becks Loves Pigs' Butts

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BecksMilan.jpgSoccer superstar David Beckham, now playing for international powerhouse AC Milan, has a passion for pigs' posteriors, a UK Web site says.

Now, before you think, "Oh, Posh Spice, poor gal. Hope she doesn't catch anything from her hubby," you might want to know that said pig butts are a delicacy that David Beckham has come to enjoy recently.

Beckham, according to The List "reportedly has a huge appetite for Culatello - which translates as "little bum" - an Italian delicacy made out of pig's rears."

Beckham, "The List" reports, "was first given the food by his club's former manager Carlo Ancelotti, and the pair have been spotted eating it on a number of occasions."

"A source" told the site, as if it was reporting on an extra-marital affair, "David can't get enough of this fine delicacy. It's got a much lighter and less meaty taste than most other prosciuttos. He's dying to get Victoria to try some."

Culatello, we learn, is a refined type of prosciutto made from heavier pigs and cut to a fraction of the thickness of normal prosciutto and aged, and may be cured with wine. It is most commonly served as a starter with melon or figs.

Hmmm. Well, put it that way, it doesn't sound so bad.

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Our annual listing of Chicago area farmers markets is just that -- a massive listing -- so you may have missed this one: the first ever farmers market at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Opening day of the market (held in the museum's east parking lot) is Friday, after which it will be held on the third and first Fridays of each month through October.

The market is an extension of the museum's current exhibit, Smart Home: Green + Wired. Whether the museum keeps the market going after the exhibit's run depends on how things go this summer, a spokeswoman says.

Also good to know: This Friday and June 19 are free days at the museum. Culture and just-picked produce -- what more incentive do you need?

(And if you haven't checked out the museum's Web site in a while, as clearly we have not, you should. It'll bring out the inner 3rd-grade science geek in you. Like this little instructional photo gallery of how to cook food using the sun.)

Are you the type to make a bunch of restaurant reservations in the city you're planning on visiting before you actually book your plane ticket? Do you build your days around specific meals, snacks and drinks you've so carefully researched in advance? Ever spent your vacation cooking in someone else's kitchen (after having paid a tidy sum to do so)?

Welcome to the club, you food geek. It's called culinary tourism, and it's the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, writer Brian Clark says in today's Food section.

A co-worker just told me about his dream vacation: a culinary bike tour of Italy. Twenty miles during the day, pasta so fresh it will make him cry in the evening.

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I've always wanted to do one of those cooking in a farmhouse in Provence sort of deals. Of course, with the recession and all, domestic travel might be more realistic. In that case, a New York City gelato tour sounds just about up my alley.

What's your ultimate food trip?

The junk food watchdogs (a.k.a. The Center for Science in the Public Interest) are out today with their annual Xtreme Eating Awards, calling out the worst of the worst dishes -- nutritionally speaking -- at chain restaurants.

Like a fresh loogie on the sidewalk, the "bigger is better" mantra just won't go away at the nation's fast-casual restaurants, where cheesy, saucy and fried are in heavy rotation.

At the Cheesecake Factory, the $14.95 Chicken and Biscuits entrée -- chicken breast over mashed potatoes, with biscuits, mushrooms, peas, carrots and country gravy -- clocks in at an astounding 2,500 calories. CSPI helpfully points out that's equivalent to an 8-piece bucket of KFC chicken and 5 biscuits.

Then there's the Mega-Sized Deep Dish Sundae at Uno Chicago Grill. (Hint: any menu item that begins with 'mega' can't be good). It's a chocolate chip cookie baked in a deep-dish pizza pan, topped with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Total: 2,800 calories and 72 grams of staurated fat.

Nutritionists suggest most of us stick to 2,000 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat and 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

And now consider this, from a study that appears in the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Medicine: The percentage of adults who eat five or more fruits or veggies a day went down from 42 to 26 percent between 1988 and 2006. In that same period, those who engaged in physical activity at least 12 times a month also went down from 53 to 43 percent. Logically, the number of people with a body mass index greater than 30 rose.

Now we're depressed.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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