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January 2011 Archives

2011 Banchet Award winners

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Avenues chef Curtis Duffy, the Bristol in Bucktown and the House that Paul Kahan Built (Blackbird, Avec, etc.) nabbed the spotlight at the Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence, held Friday night.

Duffy won in the "Celebrity Chef" category, beating out Stephanie Izard, Graham Elliot and Tony Mantuano, the elder statesman of the group, while Chris Pandel and Amanda Rockman, both of the Bristol, took the Rising Chef and Rising Pastry Chef titles, respectively.

Koren Grieveson of Avec was named Best Chef de Cuisine, and Blackbird's Patrick Fahy won the Celebrity Pastry Chef title.

Alinea was tops in the Fine Dining category.

Other winners included: Rachael Lowe of Sixteen, Best Sommelier; Kith and Kin, Best Neighborhood Restaurant, and Berghoff Catering, Best Catering.

Fellow chefs vote on the winners.

Red-carpet celebs will have a few made-in-Chicago treats at their disposal (do they actually eat?) at the Academy Awards on Feb. 28.

In the backstage green room and in the dressing rooms, they'll find Terry's Toffee, and in their swag bags, they'll have cookies from Cookies by Joey of Wheeling and chocolates from Chocolatines in Schaumburg. contact.jpg

This is the seventh year Terry's Toffee has made an appearance at the Oscars, all thanks to owner Terry Opalek's chutzpah (he heard through the grapevine that that's what you should do -- call the Academy and offer your goods to them -- so that's what he did). The luxe toffee from the eight-year-old company, which started out of Opalek's home, also was hand-picked for the mini-bars of the Trump Hotel Chicago when it opened in 2008.

Cookies by Joey owner Joanne Sherman is an Oscar first-timer but no stranger either to carb- and sugar-loving famous clients.

"The Judge Mathis Show -- they order regularly. The Chicago White Sox were eating our cookies all last season. The Kardashians have enjoyed our cookies," says Sherman, who started her Wheeling company in October of 2008. "Dreamworks . . . And Ellen [DeGeneres]. She actually introduced us to Judge Mathis."

Soon enough, Distinctive Assets, the company in charge of the gift baskets at the Oscars and other major Hollywood events, came knocking for samples.

Sherman bakes eight familiar but decadent cookie varieties. For the Oscars, she'll make boxes of eight to 12 cookies, which will go to all the nominees as well as the press.

It goes without saying that the media will gobble up the cookies. Advice to celebs: Screw the detox. Sherman's cookies are super-fresh with no preservatives, so it's best to eat them as soon as possible. Which, for the losers of the night, might not be such a stretch.

Clarification: A spokeswoman for Distinctive Assets says the gift baskets containing Sherman's cookies and other goodies (an understatement, as jewelry, trips abroad and private jet rides are common swag bag items) are delivered the morning after the ceremony to "all nominees who don't win an Oscar. It's their consolation." So there.

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[John J. Kim/Sun-Times]

Mike Austin's cover story about chefs taking the casual eatery route resulted in some very delicious-looking photos of wallet-friendly food that very likely will send you running to said casual eateries to satisfy your sandwich/noodle/taco craving. Place a towel over your keyboard and click away.

And as this cheap chic movement barrels along, here's something else to get behind (or, technically, in front of): the walk-up window. Big Star touts its walk-up window; the latest to do so is Taco Joint, which opened this week at 1969 N. Halsted (though its window won't actually be operational for a few more weeks).

The idea is nothing new, of course, but always appreciated, whether you're walking up for tacos al pastor, sugared waffles or a Tastee-Freez.

Bears Pizza.jpg [Courtesy Dough Boys]

The Bears are in the playoffs. Naturally, this excitement has spawned all sorts of blue, orange and/or oversized treats all over town.

Bleeding Heart Bakery has stocked its case this week with blue- and orange-colored cake balls (vanilla and white chocolate-flavored) for $1.50 each or 6 for $9, as well as and blue- and orange-frosted chocolate cupcakes ($2.75). And owner and Bears fan Vinny Garcia, who an employee reports has worn a Bears shirt to work every day this week, is faithfully abiding by his no-Green Bay Packers cake rule.

"Vinny refuses to do any sort of Packers orders whatsoever," says the bakery's Melinda Sterbenc. (Garcia could not come to the phone, as he was busy making a giant Bears-themed cake for a TV news crew, one of several such cakes this week.)

Apparently suffering from "When in Rome" fever, the New York-based Crumbs Bake Shop, which recently opened its first Chicago store at 303 W. Madison, also is offering a chocolate Bears cupcake with blue and orange frosting through Sunday (or until Super Bowl Sunday, depending on how the Bears fare). It's topped with a plastic Bears helmet, and costs $3.75.

At the new Dough Boys, 626 S. Racine, a 12-by-36-inch thin-crust pizza (above) can be ordered during the playoffs with "Da Bears" spelled out in meatballs (or really, any topping you like -- it's just that the meatballs "look so cool," chef Leo Spizzirri says). It serves 8 to 10 people. and costs $29.95 ($5 for each topping).

Not to be outdone, Donny's Pizzeria in Arlington Heights has what it boasts is the state's largest pizza (below) -- a 20-by-50-inch monster serving 30 to 35 people, with pepperoni slices spelling out "Da Bears."

The family-run pizzeria tinkered with the concept early this week before announcing the special on its Facebook page. That generated some chatter, which caught the attention of a local TV crew yesterday, which in turn brought out a local newspaper today, says sales and catering manager Julie Gathman.

Gathman says the restaurant thus far has had 10 orders for the pizza, which costs $98.95 (plus a $20 deposit, because of the custom box it is delivered in) and comes as one giant rectangular sheet o' pie.

"We're requesting 24 hours notice," Gathman says, "because it's 11 pounds of dough and four pounds of cheese."

4.jpg [Courtesy Donny's Pizzeria]

Missing Swap Shop recipe

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Readers of today's Food section who live downtown, on the North Side or in the northern suburbs likely noticed a goof in the Swap Shop column: The recipe for Chocolate Popcorn Biscotti is missing.

You'll find it in the online edition as well as below. Our apologies.

Chocolate Popcorn Biscotti
MAKES 24 COOKIES

1 cup egg substitute
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 cups air-popped popcorn, ground in food processor or blender
2¼ cups flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.

In large bowl, combine egg substitute, vanilla and 1 cup sugar; mix well. Add popcorn, flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder; mix well (dough will be stiff but continue mixing until all ingredients are well combined).

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons sugar on work surface; divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll dough into 8-by-4-by- ½-inch logs; roll in sugar lightly on all sides. Transfer logs to baking sheet, leaving space between them. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow logs to cool 5 minutes.

Cut logs diagonally into ½-inch slices. Arrange in single layer on baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes; turn cookies over and bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisp on both sides. Cool biscotti; store in airtight container. Serve with hot cocoa.

Popcorn Board

Nutrition facts per cookie: 106 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 10 g sugars, 3 g protein, 209 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

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Phillip "Fly By Night" Foss is at it again.

The Meatyballs Mobile chef, who launched his food truck in September, has secured a second truck, which is making its debut today.

As with many events in Foss' life, the addition of the second truck (a bare-bones roach coach rental that for now is logo-less) was a rather last-minute affair. "I got the truck yesterday," Foss told me this morning. "It looks like the Cabrini-Green of Chicago. But it tastes like the Magnificent Mile."

And in the collaborative spirit that seems to be prerequisite among Chicago's food truck operators, Foss has brought on Dave Wojtonik, owner of the Simple Sandwich truck, to drive the Meatyballs Mobile II, as well as help with kitchen prep. Wojtonik has suspended his own truck's runs for the winter, so it all works out. The schedule for both trucks is posted on Foss' site, phillipfoss.net.

12-08-05 kim arun01.jpg [Arun Sampanthavivat | photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

Seven Chicago restaurants have snagged the AAA Five Diamond rating this year, the most of any U.S. city, the travel organization said Friday.

In addition, four hotels made the Five Diamond list, including two newcomers -- the Trump International Hotel and Tower, on the site of the old Sun-Times, and the Elysian Hotel in the Gold Coast.

More subdued than the release of the inaugural Michelin Chicago guide, the AAA ratings still hold much weight in the white-tablecloth world. Charlie Trotter's, which was awarded two out of three Michelin stars, has had five diamonds for 17 years now. Arun's, a five-diamond winner for the ninth year and largely considered one of the best Thai restaurants in the country, didn't see any Michelin stars. The other five-diamond restaurants are Alinea, Avenues, Everest, Seasons and Tru.

The Peninsula (home to Avenues) and the Four Seasons round out the Chicago hotel list.

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[Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times]

Here's what has Moto chef Homaro Cantu has up his sleeve with ING, his restaurant in the works at 951 W. Fulton:

* The name is an acronym for Imagining New Gastronomy.

* The food will be "delicious, comforting food, but creative," Cantu told me this morning. "I wouldn't say 'molecular' on this new concept."

* And it will be affordable -- "Nothing on the menu will go over $20 $25," he says.

* You'll be able to order a la carte, but don't expect a "traditional" menu (i.e. appetizers, salads, entrees).

* And beer drinkers will have a field day. Cantu is developing what he calls a "nanobrewing" program, with head brewer Trevor Hamblin and three other inhouse brewers developing on average, a new beer every three days.

* A kitchen table will be devoted to the miracle berry, a fruit that tricks the taste buds into perceiving sour and bitter flavors as sweet. "Everything at the kitchen table will be tasted on miracle berries," he says. Cantu played with miracle berries on his TV show, "Future Food," which was shot at Moto and had an eight-episode run last year on the Planet Green network. (Cantu says he is talking to "other networks" to pick up the show, and is confident it will happen this year; "Same show, different name," he says.)

* Thomas Bowman, currently in the kitchen at Moto, will run the ING kitchen (or kitchens, rather -- there will be three). As as Moto, all employees, including servers, will wear chef's coats and have a hand in all aspects of the operation.

* And when can you begin to experience all this? Cantu is shooting for a March 1 opening.

ING is replacing Otom, and will be right next to Alinea chef Grant Achatz's two new ventures, Next and Aviary, which, once all are up and running, will make this stretch "the number one dining destination in the world," Cantu says.

"I look at it this way: If Grant didn't move in there, would Sbarro's Pizza move in? I sure as hell wouldn't want that."

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[Al Podgorski~Sun-Times]

My, these Tacos de Camaron use a lot of garlic and chipotles in adobo.

That was my first thought when looking over the recipe from Mercadito's Patricio Sandoval, who wrote today's At the Chef Table column.

A 1/2 cup -- about 20 cloves -- of garlic, and an entire can (albeit a small can) of chipotles in adobo? For four little tacos? No way.

But it worked. These tacos were dreamy, bathed in this garlicky, lively sauce cut through with just a bit of lemon juice and butter.

The roasted garlic puree is key. This actually became clear to me when I did this story last summer on tomatoes; Province's Randy Zweiban, who contributed a tomato squash gratin recipe, uses roasted garlic puree a whole bunch of ways, and though he says you can use minced garlic, it doesn't quite hit you with the same depth that roasted garlic would. Is it kind of a pain peeling all these garlic cloves? Kind of. But take the whole head of garlic and smash your knife over it, then give the cloves a good whack, and you're halfway there.

Cover the garlic with oil and bring to a simmer. Once the cloves have softened up and started to color, you're ready to puree them. And bonus -- now you have garlic-infused oil to play with.

Soup & Bread multiplies

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Martha Bayne. [Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times]

Soup & Bread founder Martha Bayne offers some sage soup-making advice in today's cover story. She didn't offer up her own good news: The weekly soup dinner is going back on the road, and has spawned a New York offshoot.

Bayne will host a satellite Soup & Bread dinner Jan. 30 at the punk club the Funhouse in Seattle, where Bayne grew up.

Last February, Bayne went on the road for a one-night-only event at the Bell House in Brooklyn. It went over so well, a monthly Soup & Bread NYC at a venue called the Littlefield also is in the works, according to Bayne and Littlefield co-owner Julie Kim.

Helping organize the Brooklyn program is Jack McFadden, a former Chicagoan and partner at the Bell House who now books Littlefield. Still awaiting more details from McFadden, who just this week became a dad. "As an ex-Chicagoan, I was jealous of the very cool Soup & Bread nights they were throwing at the Hideout," McFadden said via e-mail. "When I had the opportunity to host out here, I jumped at it."

Pastry market redux

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The folks at Logan Square Kitchen, 2333 N. Milwaukee, are holding their second annual Valentine's Day Pastry Market on Feb. 12 and 13, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Consider it one-stop shopping for artisan treats and a chance to discover bakers you've never heard of, including one operating under quite possibly the best name for a gluten-free bakery: De-Floured.

"[The name] turns off some people off," says De-Floured's cheery-voiced owner Johanna Van Dorf, whose gluten-free brownies ($2) have the opposite effect -- she sold out of them at the venue's Holiday Market (where the former marketing exec officially launched her business). Van Dorf -- who doesn't have celiac disease but is merely a big believer in the baked good ("People are rarely never unhappy or surly when eating sweets") -- will sell five or six items at the upcoming market, including those brownies and heart-shaped, chocolate-dipped sugar cookies.

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Other vendors include Salted Caramel, maker of bacon-bourbon caramel corn, among other things; caramel and truffle queen Katherine Anne Confections and Jo Snow Syrups. Making its debut at the market: Small Comfort, which specializes in small, savory pot pies (at right).

The event was free last year. It's a little bigger this year -- and two days now instead of one -- which necessitates the outrageous admission free of ONE DOLLAR (still no charge for kids).

RSVP at event.pingg.com/LskValentinePastry.

Whoopie Pies 3.jpg (Whoopie pies coming your way. | Courtesy Sweet Ride)


New year, new food trucks. Among them: two on the sweet side, both with feel-good missions; one with a tamale-and-lucha-libre-spaceship-riding focus; and one serving strictly mac and cheese (though not vegan mac and cheese).

The Southern Mac truck, from the Southern chef Cary Taylor (below), is being outfitted this week with all the technical stuff (running water, generator, etc). Taylor hopes to have it on the road by end of January or early February.

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Taylor has toyed with the idea of a mac and cheese venture for "a few years now." He considered a stand-alone shop in Block 37. The idea stalled over time until he got to know one of his regular customers, Matt Maroni -- the driving force, literally, behind the Gaztro-Wagon naan-wich truck; and behind the proposed food truck legislation; and who, in a small-world twist, happens to be childhood friends with one of Taylor's college buddies.

Taylor told Maroni of his idea. Maroni's reaction: What's stopping you?

Taylor has tested and re-tested recipes, accounting for the fact that customers won't be eating it seconds after he dishes it out, and even sending testers home with orders to try it hours later, reheated.

At launch, Taylor will carry four to five types of mac and cheese on the truck in the $8 to $12 range (a hefty 12 ounces of pasta and 8 ounces of sauce, he says), including smoked Gouda and a crawfish and andouille number -- but not the lobster mac and cheese that's already been hyped.

"It's just not a good value," says Taylor, who will be driving the truck during the day (the restaurant doesn't do lunch). "Lobster's such a scam, anyway."

On the sweet side, there's the Sweet Miss Givings truck, which is quietly wrapping up its first official week on the streets; and the Sweet Ride truck, whose owner, Lupita Kuri, dreamed up the name in her sleep.

"I woke up, Googled it, saw there was a truck in San Francisco and called them," Kuri, 26, says. "It was right place, right time. They just found out they needed to sell the business."

In early November, Kuri flew to San Fran; she shipped the truck (below) back to Chicago a week later.

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Kuri isn't a trained baker or pastry chef, but a full-time marketing assistant who loves to bake (with dreams of trading that 9-to-5 job for this truck gig). In buying the business, she also acquired the recipes, which she says she's tweaked to satisfy Chicagoans' "robust" appetites.

She'll run the truck Fridays through Sundays, offering whoopie pies ($3), mini-cupcakes (three for $5), puddings and mousse ($4) for humans and bone-shaped cakes for dogs. Unsold goodies will go to the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and proceeds from her pupcake sales to an animal shelter in Grayslake.

Kuri has all the proper licensing and plans to be driving next week -- or as long as it takes her to recover from the emergency tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy she underwent yesterday.

As for Sweet Miss Givings, "We just got a Twitter feed for the truck. We just have 10 followers at this point," laughs COO Dana Lieberman. (Make that 16, Dana!)

A project of Chicago House, which serves the disabled and formerly homeless, the bakery also operates a stand at the Chicago French Market. And yes, the truck is selling cupcakes - as well as muffins, scones, brownies and cookies. Lieberman highly suggests the turtle brownie ($2.50).

lpp_7026_grande.jpg (Not the turtle brownie -- the German chocolate brownie -- but you get the picture. | Courtesy Sweet Miss Givings)

8-4-10_Hein_tofu_1.jpg (Ryan Poli with tofu. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times)


With a few exceptions, chefs aren't exactly the picture of healthful eating in their down time (or even on the clock, for that matter).

Which is why this vegan mac and cheese recipe on Perennial chef Ryan Poli's blog -- sprinkled with such phrases as "brown rice pasta," "vegan cream cheese" and "nutritional yeast" -- gave me pause.

Say wha? Ryan Poli, have you turned vegan?

"God, no," he says. "But my girlfriend is."

Ah, that explains it. Poli's love, Kelli Zink, an entertainment reporter for CelebTV.com, is actually a "self-proclaimed seafood vegan -- a sea-gan," Poli says. "She loves when I cook for her. But I can't just riff off whatever I've got in my fridge. It's really tough. Every Sunday, we cook together and it's like a Top Chef challenge."

And because love makes you do crazy things, Poli has started fiddling around with vegan cooking. (It should be said that Poli respects tofu.) Nutritional yeast? "I had no idea what it is," Poli says. "I was like, what do you people eat? But it's actually very common. I got it at Whole Foods in the bulk section, and it's pretty cheap. They use it in place of Parmesan cheese. I think brewers use it for beer."

The first version of Poli's mac and cheese came about at Zink's parents' house during Christmas. Poli made a generous amount ("what I thought was too much") of gluten-free pasta with this cheesy vegan sauce, as well as a chefy, non-vegan version made with aged Gouda and all sorts of other lovely, stinky, artisanal wonders from Pastoral.

"Everybody chose the vegan pasta over the regular one," he says.

Poli revised the vegan pasta even further last weekend. This is how much he likes this dish: "We're actually considering putting vegan mac and cheese on the menu [at Perennial]."

Recipe after the jump.

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Instead of taking the tired "What foods will be hot in 2011?" route for today's Food cover story, writer Leah Zeldes tries to figure out how and why certain foods become trendy. Included is a clever sidebar on things chefs and trendwatchers wish were hot but which likely never will be, including aprons, wild game and hominy.

Of course, "cupcakes" and "pork" and "burger" appear many times throughout the story. Which explains our cover illustration (at left). Fun, isn't it?

Credit goes to Sun-Times designer (and Shopping writer) Jessica Sedgwick, who's the reason why the Food pages look so good week after week.

And speaking of cupcakes:

Crumbs Bake Shop celebrates the opening Friday of its first Chicago store at 303 W. Madison with a 1,000-cupcake giveaway.

Crumbs co-founder Mia Bauer says this is the first of four Chicago Crumbs locations slated to open this year.

Not blind to the view that the cupcake -- or shops touting them -- is nearing its saturation point (if not already there), Bauer admits, "I understand it completely. I kind of feel it myself. Sometimes, it's kind of like, Oh my God, there's so many now."

But, she quickly adds, "We are a full-service bakery and we still want to be a place where we know people's kids' names. And the cupcakes, they really do speak for themselves."

So yes, Crumbs does carry cupcakes -- their signature giant ones are $3.75 each -- but they also carry 149 other items every day, including that near-impossible-to-find-in-Chicago treat, the black-and-white cookie. Which makes me wonder: Am I the only one excited about black-and-whites cookies? Where else in Chicago can you find a good one? And will this be the year the black-and-white finally has its day?

Oh, forget it.

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(Courtesy King Arthur Flour)

Wanted: One bad cook

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Are you completely clueless in the kitchen? (Or, do you know someone who is?)

More importantly, do you want to change that -- with our help -- in 2011?

I'm looking for a non-cook who has a compelling reason for wanting to learn how to cook. I'm interested in someone who gets antsy at the thought of boiling water -- but who is willing to commit to his or her goal of getting to know the kitchen.

E-mail your story, in 400 words or less, to jfuller@suntimes.com; please include your age and contact information. And remember: Clueless doesn't mean hopeless.

Post and photos by guest blogger Lisa Shames:

So how do you follow up the completion of a 2010 New Year's resolution to make 100 different flavors of macarons? Well, if you're Fritz Pastry's Nathaniel Meads, it's by vowing to make a different classic pastry each week in 2011 (first up: panettone).

We first caught up with Meads back in September when he was three-quarters of the way through his French sandwich cookie project, which began as a tweet announcement from his wife and business partner, Elaine Heaney, in early January of last year and just took off from there.

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"Once we put it out there, we'd have looked like jerks if we didn't do it," says Meads.

To celebrate his achievement, Meads fittingly made a champagne-flavored macaron with a buttercream filling that made its debut on Dec. 31. Like the previous 99 flavors, it cost just 75 cents.

"I didn't want to make something that everyone couldn't afford to eat," says Meads, who had a lot of fun making them -- "It was great seeing people get so excited about them," he says -- but admits he was ready to move on to something else.

While the project may be over, that doesn't mean he's done turning out macarons. On any given day, you'll still find four to six different flavors at the Lakeview bakery as well as at Intelligentsia shops.

And if you're jonesing for one of the more unusual ones featured over the last year -- say, Guinness chocolate, port wine or PB+J+J+J, Meads top choice named after his favorite local band -- Meads says he's open to special requests.

In addition to the classic pastries he plans on making (if you've got a favorite, send him a message on their Facebook page or through Twitter), Meads has a few more items on his 2011 to-do list, including making more cakes and a special order bread program.

And croissant lovers take note: Meads hopes to have frozen thaw-and-bake croissants available soon.

Fritz Pastry, 1408 W. Diversey Pkwy, (773) 857-2989, fritzpastry.com.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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