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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.

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.

Food for good

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Thinking this past week about St. Joseph's Day (did you know he is the patron saint of pastry chefs? Neither did I), and it's charitable, as opposed to culinary, traditions, I was reminded that one aspect of the holiday traditionally has been that a feast is prepared in honor of St. Joseph, who answered the prayers of the people of Sicily in the Middle Ages, bringing them rain after a terrible drought. Part of this tradition is that food, or donations received from those partaking of the feast, are given to the needy.

What can we do, though, if not holding our own St. Joseph's Day feast? Currently, I know of two efforts to do good through dining out (and if anyone knows of other such efforts, please let me know).

One is via the Chicago Diner, the meatless Lake View eatery that often incorporates disaster relief efforts into their menu. Through April 1, $1 will be given to Japanese earthquake relief efforts from every Titanic BLT burger or Lucky Leprechaun Shake sold at the Chicago Diner. The proceeds will go to Direct Relief International and AmeriCares, each of which is working to provide disaster relief in Japan.

Another type of charitable effort has been taking place at Outback Steakhouses. So far, Outback has given more than $1 million to Operation Homefront, a national non-profit providing emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors. The money is raised through the contribution customers, when they order items from Outback's Red, White and Bloomin' menu. You can still help add to that $1 million figure, as this menu will be available at Outback through April 5. If you can't make it to an Outback before then, you can also visit Operation Homefront's website if you want to learn more and help that organization out.

There is alot we can do to help each other out. These are two little ways we can contribute something, but it is something, and collectively, our efforts just may be significant somehow.

Useless tidbits picked up from helping judge today's Country Chef Challenge, an Iron-chef like contest, in Daley Plaza: (and congratulations to Blackbird pastry chef Patrick Fahy, crowned Master of the Market):

Fellow judge and WLS personality Roe Conn has a martini AND a hot dog named after him at Harry Caray's.

Channel 2 meteorologist Steve Baskerville, who emceed the event, is not on Twitter or Facebook, and probably never will be, he detests it so.

And fellow judge -- and food truck chef of the moment -- Matt Maroni has nicknamed his Gaztro-Wagon "Dorothy."

One useful bit:
Piccolo Sogno chef Tony Priolo is organizing another fundraiser for bartender Shawn Koch, a brunch on Aug. 28. Priolo's restaurant isn't usually open for Saturday brunch, but all his staff will work for free. Koch is battling a rare brain cancer. Proceeds from tonight's Speakeasy Throwback at the Palmer House Hilton will go toward Koch's foundation.

Some things you should know about the Speakeasy Throwback on Thursday at the Palmer House Hilton:

The centerpiece (physically speaking) of the gathering of local distilleries and some of Chicago's top chefs will be a bathtub filled with booze.

The base of the concoction -- the only word suitable here -- will be tea from Rodrick Markus of Rare Tea Cellars. Spirits from Death's Door, Koval, North Shore, Hum and Templeton Rye will fill out the mixture, says Lockwood's Phillip Foss, one of the chief organizers of the event. Forner Sepia cocktail slinger Peter Vestinos will preside over the bathtub. There may or may not be a slushie version of the bathtub beverage; Foss is experimenting.

The person for whom this event has been organized, bartender Shawn Koch, however, doesn't much care for booze right now, only red wine, and only a half a glass at most -- though that won't stop him from at least sampling all the night will have to offer. shapeimage_4.png

This time last year, Koch was working the bar at the Paramount Room, 415 N. Milwaukee. Around the holidays, he started losing dexterity in one arm and became increasingly forgetful -- though he kept on tending bar with the good arm. In late January, when one of his legs quit working on him, his wife, Katie, took him to the doctor. They found three brain tumors in his brain, the largest the size of a golf ball, and diagnosed him with a rare form of brain cancer.

"There are only 58 people in the world with this cancer," Katie Koch says.

Since then, Koch, 33, has had brain surgery, seven weeks of chemo and radiation therapy -- and a blissful four-week vacation in Arizona and Iowa with his wife and 20-month-old daughter Charlie. He's now in the early stages of a six-round cycle of chemo.

This week, while momentum has been building about the Speakeasy and its amazing lineup, Koch and his family were en route to Detroit to bury his grandmother. And this latest round of chemo has left him feeling pretty crappy on top of that.

"You never know when you have treatment, when it's really gonna hit you. And it hit me this week," Koch says.

And yet.

Koch will be at the Palmer House tomorrow. He may not stay the entire evening, like the rest of us, but he'll be there.

"I'm a bartender and I was really serious about it, so I definitely want to go around and taste everybody's cocktails paired with the food," he says.

All proceeds from the evening will go toward the Shawn Koch Foundation. Tickets -- $95 -- can be bought at the door. See you there.

Go on vacation for a week, and you miss everything.

Chefs change their names, beloved soul food restaurants take their last breath, food trucks start rolling.

About those trucks -- or the one helmed by Matt Maroni that had everyone waiting with baited breath for. Less than a week in operation, and the Gaztro-Wagon already is welcoming guests. 080510foss.jpg

Today's two-fer: Maroni and Lockwood's Phillip Foss (at right), who will be serving a Tunisian lamb naanwich. (Foss says it's a nod to his wife Keni's own food truck concept in the works. Again, see what happens when you leave town?!)

Maroni says he will be riding with guest chefs for next 10 days, to drum up support for next week's Taste of the Nation event at the Aragon Ballroom. The uber-multitasking Foss will no doubt be drumming up support for his pet cause du jour, Thursday's Speakeasy Throwback at the Palmer House Hilton. The event will benefit former Paramount Room bar manager Shawn Koch who is fighting a rare form of brain cancer.

Follow the wagon on Twitter to find out its whereabouts -- and who else is coming on board. First stop for Foss and Maroni today: the Board of Trade in about a half-hour.

So Bon Appetit magazine is the big sponsor for this year's Chicago Gourmet food fest, to be held Sept. 25 and 26 in Millenium Park.

And of course, Bon Appetit editor-in-chef Barbara Fairchild, speaking this morning in front of Mayor Daley and a roomful of Chicago's finest chefs (seriously - and we're not just saying that), would say that she loves Chicago.

But here's a tidbit we were delighted to learn: In the early '80s, Fairchild was the editor for the late Abby Mandel, the creator of Chicago's Green City Market, who wrote a food processor column for the magazine (and for this paper in the mid '80s).

"She was really the one who gave me so much enthusiasm for this city," Fairchild said. "You have here some of the most talented, smartest chefs working today.

"And as I know," she added cheekily, "it only takes 25 years to become an overnight sensation."

Chicago Gourmet attendees will be able to hobnob with Fairchild, other Bon Appetit editors and Iron Chef Cat Cora at the September festival under the Bon Appetit Marketplace tent. Also new this year: a pavilion hosted by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. Think of it as a mini-Fancy Food Show. McCormick Place lost the annual trade show in 2008.

And speaking of Mandel's legacy, the Green City Market's annual chef's barbecue -- set for Thursday in Lincoln Park -- is, once again, sold out.

Yesterday's word that Rick Tramonto is leaving Tru (and likely Chicago) trumped some other big Chicago chef-related news: a contingent that includes Gale Gand, Perennial's Ryan Poli, Della Gossett of Charlie Trotter's and Paul Kahan and Koren Grieveson of Blackbird/Avec is at the White House now to kick off First Lady Michelle Obama's Chefs Move Into Schools campaign.

The program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the help of Share Our Strength, will pair chefs nationwide with schools in their area to help educate kids about healthy food. More than 1,000 chefs already are locked in. Gand, talking yesterday by cell phone on the Metro, said she's signed up with Deerfield High School, where her son, Gio, will be a freshman in the fall. "The lunch lady and I will be close friends," she said.

And for the voyeuristic among us, check out Kahan's Twitter feed for a few good photos from this morning's breakfast.

The sweetening of Chicago continues.

We love the idea of the one-day pastry market highlighting some of the city's talented, little-guy bakers that Logan Square Kitchen has hosted twice now this year.

Now, from Chicago food bloggers comes a blogger bake sale from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Smash Cake, 2961 N. Lincoln.

Proffering their scones, cookies, cupcakes and more will be bloggers Maris Callahan of In Good Taste and Jaclyn Kolber of Foodie Reflections, as well as folks from Foiled Cupcakes and Kudos Kookies.

All of this is part of the annual Share our Strength Great American Bake Sale. Proceeds go to Share our Strength's No Kid Hungry program, aimed at eradicating childhood hunger.

Blackbird and Sepia cleaned up, you could say, at the 2010 Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence, announced Friday night at the Fairmont Chicago. Congratulations to them and all the winners:

Best sommelier: Scott Tyree, Sepia
Best rising pastry chef: Stephanie Prida, Blackbird
Best rising chef: Michael Sheerin, Blackbird
Best celebrity pastry chef: Cindy Schuman, Sepia
Best celebrity chef: Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill/Topolobampo/Xoco
Best neighborhood restaurant: Piccolo Sogno, Tony Priolo
Best fine dining: Vie, Paul Virant

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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



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