By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes
NEW ORLEANS -- From the outside, the famous New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase, looks to be an unemarkable residence.
Like a space in a science fiction film, the restaurant at 2301 Orleans Ave. is larger on the inside than the out. Expansive rooms have widely spaced, linen-clad tables. The walls are hung with large pieces of elegantly framed art - art that a Chase braved Katrina to save.
Dooky Chase is a true family business, headed by a small, energetic whirlwind of an octogenarian chef. At 86, Leah Chase runs her kitchen with talent, humor and frequent detours to the door, where patient customers wait to ask her to sign copies of The Dooky Chase Cookbook.
Leah Chase's daughter and her namesake, a Juilliard graduate, works the front of the house -- when she isn't singing at jazz club Snug Harbor. In the dining rooms, a nephew serves food and stories. And, in the kitchen, a young Dooky Chase - Edgar Chase IV, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris - cooks alongside his grandmother.
There's no doubt who's at the helm of the good ship Dooky Chase. As grandmother and grandson work, Leah Chase cheerfully thumps the young chef's arm, scolding and directing him. "Add garlic. The people want more garlic." (He adds more garlic.)
The dish of the moment is Shrimp Clemenceau, a bright, uncomplicated item that brings out the best of each ingredient without masking a thing.
Nothing needs to be hidden. The food at Dooky Chase is good ... good enough that Barack Obama made a point of eating there last year.
Chase dispenses spice and advice with the aplomb of a woman who knows her place because she owns it. If you're allergic to shrimp, you can enjoy this dish: just use chicken. If you don't like chicken, substitute steak or lamb or whatever makes your plate and palate happy.
Versatility is key. New Orleans isn't about making do with what's at hand; it's about making the best with it.
What's the dishy best in Chicago right now? Lyle Allen, executive director of the Green City Market, is always ready to talk substitutes. He leads with Twin Oak Meats , which has fine pork - no steroids, no growth hormones.
If you want to go with steak, then Heartland Meats humanely raises Piedmontese cattle, producing beef that is tender and flavorful.
At Mint Creek Farm, a small family farm in Stelle, Ill., the lambs graze on alfalfa, grass and clover. Free-range living leads to better meat.
"It's amazing," Allen says. "I just love their sausage."
Sausage Clemenceau? Why not?
More than meats can be local. Allen says, "We have one of the best mushroom providers in the Midwest: Eric Rose, with River Valley Ranch. Unbelievable variety of mushrooms. He does a mixed bag for $10 - it's just my favorite thing."
A fast, adaptable, one-pot dish that comes with love, laughter and a serious heritage - That's a kitchen's favorite thing.
Recipe after the jump.