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June 2011 Archives

It's the first day of the newest city-sponsored farmers market along the riverwalk outside of the Trump Chicago hotel, 401 N. Wabash.

The market is ideal for commuters, as it's open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. It's the only downtown market to keep early evening hours.

The downside: It will only be held once a month this summer, on the final Thursday of each month. And Frank Brunacci, the chef at the hotel's swank Sixteen restaurant who pushed to get the market going, won't be there.

Brunacci's last day at Trump was Tuesday. He left to join his wife, Lillian, in their year-old truffle importing business, the Chefs Diamond. 3-19_Stewart_Bruno28_6.jpg

The Brunaccis, both native Aussies, are the sole importers in Chicago of Australian truffles, whose season is now (it's winter there now). They source truffles from elsewhere -- Hungarian honey truffles starting about two weeks from now, white truffles from Italy later on -- but the truffles from Down Under are the crown jewel of their business.

Brunacci might best be described as a truffle junkie. He'd already been helping his wife sell to fellow chefs while at Trump. He had a habit of bringing a cooler of truffles to events where he was cooking.

"For the last year and a half, it's like I've been simmering in a pot that's been a pressure cooker," says Brunacci, who is looking forward to spending more time with his two young kids. "Just this week, we've opened up the pressure cooker, opened it all up, and it's like a huge weight off my shoulders."

Not that he's giving himself much of a break. In the last 18 hours, Brunacci has sent out two emails about the business and background on the Australian truffle. He has plans to open a combined retail space/restaurant, similar he says to what the Petrossian caviar folks do in New York, out of which he could sell specialty, ready-to-eat products, handle distribution to restaurants and serve a single, luxe truffle menu for diners.

"Maybe I'll have a truffle booth [at the Trump farmers market] next year," he says with a laugh. Maybe...

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The Pump Room will stay the Pump Room, in name at least.

Hotelier Ian Schrager, who is renovating the famed restaurant and the Ambassador East hotel at 1301 N. State, invited Chicagoans two weeks ago to vote on whether to keep the Pump Room name or change it to Gold Coast Kitchen.

The result: "It was a landslide," Schrager says -- 95 percent of the nearly 20,000 votes in favor of "Pump Room" (though that figure dipped a bit in the last few days).

Schrager bought the flagging property last year and is in the midst of a total overhaul of the hotel -- to be called Public -- and the restaurant, which opened in 1938 and in its heyday was a celebrity stomping ground, the place to see and be seen.

"All we wanted to do was what the people of Chicago wanted, so we figured we'd ask them," he says.
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Schrager, who pioneered the "boutique hotel" concept, is sensitive of his role as an outsider -- a New Yorker, at that -- coming in to shake up the hospitality scene. Hence, the naming campaign.

"I think it's a little bit of a treacherous balancing act that we're doing," he says. "We're trying to balance the heritage but also do something innovative and responsive to the era we're in now."

Schrager still wants the Pump Room to be a place to see and be seen. But the reinvented restaurant will take a farm-to-table approach and will serve three squares a day, as well as a late-night menu.

The food will be "reasonably priced"; hotel room rates will start at $135.

Schrager has put New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in charge of the restaurant. The chef heading up the kitchen day to day, though, will be Bradford Phillips, an Indiana native whose resume includes Blackbird, NoMI, Tru and, most recently, LM Restaurant, a French bistro in Lincoln Square.

The hotel and restaurant will open its doors in September, Schrager says.


Amid the hubbub at his attention-getting, concept-changing restaurant, chef Grant Achatz will focus his energy Tuesday in a different direction: cancer research.

Achatz will cook a 13-course dinner tomorrow at Alinea for 50 people, at $2,500 a head, to benefit head and neck cancer research at the University of Chicago.

The U. of C. is familiar territory for Achatz, who was treated there for tongue cancer, an experience he wrote about in his memoir published earlier this year, Life, On the Line. achatz-FOO-0302-21.JPG

This is the third year of his fundraising dinner, an idea he pitched to the U. of C. When Achatz was seeking opinions on how to treat his cancer, the medical team there was the only one that told him they wouldn't have to cut out his tongue.

"Ater treatment, obviously it became very important to me to support medical institutions that think outside of the box," Achatz says. "In talking with doctors, ironically, a lot of this forward-thinking movement in medicine is severely underfunded because the medical institution as a whole is very old-school."

Alinea is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. "I was like, 'Look, we can have my staff donate their time,' " he says.

Attendees pretty much get the run of the place. "We make it fun, and the food's pretty good," Achatz deadpans. "So on top of the ticket price, a lot of times, they'll write an additional check."

The event has netted about half a million bucks.

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[The goal at Next: to transport you to Thailand. | AP photo]

Next, the groundbreaking restaurant from chef Grant Achatz and Co. that has turned many a Chicagoan into desperate, mouse-clicking junkies trying to snag a ticket to dine there, is getting ready for its first facelift.

The debut menu -- the food of Escoffier's Paris, circa 1906 -- is in the home stretch. On July 8, the next Next will open, serving a tour of Thailand.

Achatz and chef de cuisine Dave Beran are interpreting the word "tour" "both socially and regionally," Achatz says -- offering in one sitting what travelers to Thailand would encounter regionally, from north to south. Street food, so integral to the culture, will figure prominently. As will Thai newspapers.

"We want to be like, let's say, you're walking down the street in Thailand and you're noshing on street food," he says. "Then you walk into a more formal restaurant, you sit down, it's more refined, more composed. Then, when you walk out of the restaurant, the final plate is indicative of what you'd get back out on the street, in a more dessert-like fashion."

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To help set the scene, the team ordered "reams and reams" of Thai newspapers online. They'll cover the tables in newspapers, and then serve those first street-food courses on banana leaves set on top of the papers.

For the more formal courses, the papers will be whisked away, replaced by Thai silk runners.

"We wanted to give that theatrical feel to it, the same way we served some of the Escoffier food on antique stuff," Achatz says. Initially nervous that it would come off as "contrived and cheesy," the chef happily reports that after some test runs, "it really feels cool."

Prices are being worked out, but Achatz figures it'll be "comparable to lower" than the Paris menu, which averages $100 a person, excluding beverage pairings.

Scott Crane, the young Northbrook man who inspired Chicago chef Rodelio Aglibot to leave his high-profile NYC restaurant gig and start a charity, has died.

Crane, 23, a foodie with a cookbook in the works who suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy, died Saturday -- just three days before an event to launch Aglibot's charity, In Chef's Hands: Food Therapy for the Soul.

The concept behind the charity is to connect chefs with people with special needs for individualized, day-in-the-kitchen experiences -- which is how Aglibot got to know Crane last fall. Crane had been cooking regularly in hospice care with a volunteer who also had a culinary degree; the two were even working on a cookbook. Crane's cousin asked Aglibot if he would give Crane a behind-the-scenes look at Sunda, and the two clicked.

Aglibot has so far recruited more than a dozen Chicago chefs to volunteer their time to In Chef's Hands.

Tuesday's party is still on at Old Town Social, 455 W. North, from 6 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Chicago chefs mobilizing to do good is nothing new, and brings to mind former Paramount Room bar manager Shawn Koch, who last year was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer. His restaurant industry brethren were quick to respond. In August, then-Lockwood chef Phillip Foss threw a boozy bash for Koch at the Palmer House Hilton. A few weeks later, Piccolo Sogno's Tony Priolo held a benefit brunch. Most recently, it was chef Chris Curren's turn at Blue13.

Koch is now in hospice care and, as his wife Katie wrote today, "is just patiently waiting to cross into his new world of eternal happiness."

Update: Koch passed away around 4:30 p.m. Monday, his wife said.

fast-FOO-0126-05.jpg [photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

Get ready for Belly Shack brunch.

Bill Kim is launching a monthly, coffee-focused, pop-up brunch at his restaurant at 1912 N. Western. The first date: Fathers Day, June 19.

It'll be walk-in only, no reservations, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with an edited menu of brunch non-classics. "No waffles, no pancakes -- I hate that," says Kim. More like: fried chicken with chorizo gravy. Choose one of five mains for $12; sides will be $5.

For each brunch, Kim hopes to partner with a different local roaster or coffeehouse. The first to be featured will be Ipsento Coffee, 2035 N. Western, just up the road from Belly Shack.

The famed Pump Room is coming back - but perhaps under a different name.

Hotelier Ian Schrager, who last month announced his plans to rehaul the restaurant and the entire Ambassador East Hotel, is asking the public to vote on whether to keep the Pump Room name or change it to Gold Coast Kitchen. Voting will be open for two weeks starting Thursday, and Schrager will announce the name on June 22.

Schrager already has decided on a name for the revamped hotel: Public. For the restaurant, he has enlisted the help of New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who will model it after his farm-to-table Manhattan restaurant ABC Kitchen.

People can vote at publichotels.com; by calling (888) 682-7867 or (888) 943-4653, or by texting PUMP or GOLD to 24474.

Seems like just yesterday (or maybe it was last week) it was a blustery, springlike 50 degrees. Now it's 89 and humid, just about right considering the Taste of Chicago is less than three weeks away.

From 11 to 2 p.m. Tuesday in Daley Plaza, the city will offer a Taste preview, with nine restaurants serving street fest-friendly fare. They include new-to-the-Taste vendors Lao Sze Chuan, Beggars Pizza, Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery and Texas de Brazil.

Lao Sze Chuan's dry chili chicken might be one of the best bets to be had. There's also Adobo Grill's guac, pork tacos and chicken tamales; and Manny's three-course offering -- corned beef sandwich, mac 'n' cheese and apple pie - that isn't quite what the USDA had in mind with its new MyPlate icon for healthy eating. Oh well.

The other vendors include: Connie's Pizza, Polo Cafe and Robinson's No. 1 Ribs.

Tomorrow's samples are cash only and will range from $3 to $6.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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