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[photo courtesy Sweet Spot Macarons]

Yet another food truck is in the works for Chicago, but it's keeping a narrow focus that has nothing to do with the c-word.

Sweet Spot Macarons (still in the licensing process but slated for a mid- to late-September debut) will offer only macarons, those tres chic treats that, like every other pastry, have been hailed as the new cupcake. Galit-Macaron-Small-1.jpg

The woman behind the truck is Galit Greenfield, a French Pastry School graduate who honed her skills with her catering business. Greenfield will offer six flavors initially, at $1.50 a piece -- salted caramel, pistachio, chocolate espresso, hazelnut, strawberry and passion fruit -- though the roster will likely expand. "I've been doing all kinds of experiments with crazier flavors," she says.

Choosing to build her business around the macaron was an easy decision for Greenfield. "I really think it's a superior pastry. It's so diverse. I love that it's gluten free. I love the combination of crunchy and soft, that you can change all the fillings, that it's not huge. It's very elegant and very versatile. And I'm really attracted to the chemistry behind macarons .... It's complicated. It's about your oven, it's about the temperature, your egg whites. It's a challenging pastry, and I guess I love challenges."

Follow the truck on Twitter @SweetSpotMac.

Other new or soon-to-be-operational trucks that have popped up lately include Homage Street Food, which offers an ambitious global menu, and the Lillie Q's Meat Mobile, an offshoot of the Bucktown restaurant.

Can't keep all the trucks straight? The site Food Truck Freak keeps tabs on the whole scene -- which, some will argue tonight, is hardly official.

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[photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

Another day, another "Top Chef' season premiere.

The second installment of "Top Chef: Just Desserts" premieres at 9 tonight. Representing Chicago is Amanda Rockman, who's responsible for all things
sweet and tart at the Bristol. With the show and a a second restaurant in the works, the momentum is behind Rockman.

You'll see other familiar faces this season, including the 'Kings of Pastry' themselves, Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sebastien Canonne, founders of Chicago's French Pastry School. Pfeiffer and Canonne judged a key episode this season; Pfeiffer also says the caliber of this field of contestants is higher than the last, which had its share of highly entertaining drama.

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Amanda Rockman, pastry chef at the Bristol, 2152 N. Damen, talks up the tart in today's Food pages, and shares a recipe for a lovely buttermilk tart with fresh cherries and a mascarpone cream one might be inclined to bathe in rather than dollop artfully on top.

Make this tart, because Rockman's spot-on suggestions yield such rewards for very little effort. I'm always on the lookout for a good crust - this one's a winner (and a reminder of why the food processor rocks).

And make this tart so you can say you did it before Rockman gets all famous. On Aug. 24, she'll make her TV debut on Bravo's "Top Chef Just Desserts," the only Chicago chef-testant in the field of 14. (The first season had Chicago's Malika Ameen bowing out under pressure.)

[photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

brunobest-WKP-1231-18.jpg How 'bout that view? [photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

The view seems to be the only thing left untouched at NoMI during its five-month renovation.

The 7th-floor restaurant at the swank Park Hyatt is on track to re-open on June 3 with a new name (just barely -- NoMI Kitchen), a new attitude (no more tablecloths, no more Dale Chihuly chandeliers -- in plain sight, anyway; they are Chihulys, after all), a new color scheme, a new, open kitchen with Molteni stove -- and a new culinary team.

Joining executive chef Ryan LaRoche, 32, will be pastry chef Meg Galus, 32, most recently of the Sofitel, and chef de cuisine Sean Pharr, 30, whose resume includes Fat Cat in Uptown, Osteria Via Stato and Fred's at Barney's.

It's a reunion of sorts for the three chefs, who all cut their teeth in the kitchen at Tru, LaRoche as sous chef, Pharr on the fish station and Galus in pastry.

"You get into a role like this, and there's so much change going on in the restaurant with the menus and my position that I felt I really needed to surround myself with people I knew and trusted," says LaRoche, who had been chef de cuisine at NoMI for the past two years.

The menu has been much expanded with a focus on "ingredients rather than technique," LaRoche says. "More about the food than what 50 things can I do with a carrot." The pricing will be "not as astronomical as before," he says. "Approachable," says Lynne Bredfeldt, Park Hyatt's public relations director.

The sushi bar will offer more shellfish and ceviche in addition to the pristine sushi diners came to expect of the old NoMI.

LaRoche is particularly excited about two new categories on the menu: "Simply Prepared," with plates such as a New York strip with roasted tomatoes, and "For the Table" -- as in, a whole lobe of Hudson Valley foie gras for the table.

"I'm not sure if anybody's doing that [whole foie preparation] in the city," he says. "We'll do a prime, bone-in, dry-aged beef for the table, poached whole chicken for the table. That's how people want to eat now. The fine-dining dollar has changed dramatically." (Note: You still can expect that foie to cost you a pretty penny.)

In November, when we first reported on the overhaul, NoMI was celebrating its one Michelin star. Going forward, LaRoche says, the restaurant still has stars in its sight -- but it's taking the longer view.

"We fully intend on keeping our Michelin star, however, we want a busy restaurant and happy customers," he says.

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.

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.

She had them at her panna cotta. But she didn't have the heart to keep going.

Malika Ameen, 35, the lone Chicago contestant on Bravo's "Top Chef: Just Desserts" walked away from the competition on Wednesday's episode, citing her dislike of "cooking in a competitive environment." Ameen dropped the bombshell just as Gale Gand, a guest judge and fellow Chicagoan, was offering generous praise for Ameen's saffron-scented panna cotta.

"I think I'm the least of the group who wants to be 'Top Chef' and that's unfair," Ameen later told her fellow contestants.

Ameen, a divorced mom to three young boys (her ex-husband was the chef at their now-shuttered River North restaurant Aigre Doux), says she still doesn't regret her decision to quit, something she'd hinted at in the previous episode. "It was what I felt was right at the time," she said by phone today. NUP_138872_0819.jpg

The toughest part, Ameen says, was anticipating how her family would react. She called her mom, "and much to my dismay, she was grocery shopping," instead of watching the show, Ameen said. Later, after her mom had watched and digested the episode, the two talked.

So why did she bother going on "Top Chef" in the first place, if competitive cooking isn't her cup of tea? "To me, it was taking another step forward in my life. It was really outside of the box of what I'd do," she said.

Ameen's departure wasn't the only shocker. Seth Caro, viewed by many of the other competitors as a loose cannon in the kitchen, was physically removed from the set, and the show, after suffering a panic attack.

Ameen was empathetic. "I felt very badly for him. I think clearly he had some very big emotional or mental issues going on, and unfortunately, they all came to fruition on national television."

After just four episodes, the dessert spinoff is proving to be one of the most entertaining in the "Top Chef" franchise. Ameen says it's not surprising.

"Pastry chefs are wired very differently," Ameen said. "We are used to working in very controlled environment with formulas and recipes, and when you take us out of that element . . . We're just rigged differently."

Top Chef groupies can find Ameen plowing ahead with her custom dessert business, By M Desserts. Her home base: the kitchen at Pasticceria Natalina, 5406 N. Clark, owned by her friend and fellow pastry chef Natalie Zarzour.

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Chicago pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer makes his big-screen debut Friday in "Kings of Pastry," premiering at 5 p.m. at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State.

In 2007, a documentary film crew trailed Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago's French Pastry School, as he competed in Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. At stake: the prestigious title of Best Craftsman in France, or M.O.F.

It was the first time cameras were allowed in to the three-day competition, which takes place every three to four years.

Pfeiffer had no problem mentally shutting out the cameras. "Whenever you're competing, you don't think about anything else. You don't even go to the bathroom for 10 hours," he says.

Pfeiffer has no problems multi-tasking. He spoke to me by phone as he blow-torched a sugar sculpture to bring for his appearance tomorrow on "Good Morning America." He also was finishing a chocolate sculpture in the shape of a giant film reel, which will be on display at Friday's Chicago premiere.

Filmmakers Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker come to this project having done the documentaries "The War Room" about President Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, and "Don't Look Back," about singer Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour of England.

Different topics, same message: "It's about people taking a risk," Hegedus says.

There's another Chicago connection to the project: Flora Lazar of Flora Confections, a friend of the filmmakers from her days living in New York, first suggested Pfeiffer and the M.O.F. competition as a possible film subject. Lazar was studying at the French Pastry School at the time.

How did Pfeiffer fare in the competition? The answer is out there, but let's not ruin it, shall we? See for yourself. "Kings of Pastry" runs through Oct. 7; go to siskelfilmcenter.org for the schedule and tickets. Here's a taste:

KINGS OF PASTRY Theatrical Trailer from Pennebaker Hegedus Films on Vimeo.

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.

Here's a gem of an idea: The Logan Square Kitchen, a shared-use commercial kitchen and event space at 2333 N. Milwaukee, on Feb. 13 will host a walkaround day o' sweets featuring Chicago's boutique pastry and confection artisans.

Vendors sampling and selling their stuff include Floriole Bakery, a Green City Market fave; Katherine Anne Confections, whose story we first told back in 2006, when she was working at Potbelly and making truffles on the side; and Nice Cream, which sells its small-batch ice creams (Stout N' Brownies, anyone!) at places like Green Grocer Chicago and Provenance.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's free. And on Valentine's weekend, no less. How sweet.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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