We all have Facebook friends we don’t remember adding, the 21st century equivalent to penciled-in contact info in an outdated address book. The difference? Back when updating an address book meant whiteout and thick black ink, we didn’t call everyone else in our phone book to let them know they survived the cut. Another key distinction, smudged names rarely post pictures of themselves riding a mechanical bull. You don’t flick to their page to find they’re suddenly grateful for Whisker Tomkins, the best cat EVER!! They don’t subject you to dispatches from the Jason Mraz tour. But this also means they can’t pleasantly surprise you and wind up the subject of your blog.
So, I’m scanning FB the other day, and Amber Tillet’s status update catches my eye:
“If I could,” she writes, “I would have a torrid sexual tryst with this weather, but that might look weird.”
And I think to myself (as opposed to thinking to Rahm Emmanual who’s still on my porch btw) “I’ve got to find out more about this remarkable yet totally unfamiliar Amber person.
Turns out Ms. Tillet’s job is as inspired and self-generated as her Facebook updates. Along with Monika Lotter, Tillet co-founded Flight Chicago, an innovative restaurant tour offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Chicago's world-famous food scene. Each three-hour flight visits three different restaurants, allowing guests to tour kitchens, meet chefs and sample food pairings.
Though Tillet had no earthly clue how we came to be Facebook friends, she was nonetheless delighted to discuss her burgeoning business. And me? Today I’m grateful for Amber Tillet, the best random Facebook contact EVER!!
Our Town How did you generate the idea for Flight Chicago?
Amber Tillet Years ago, my partner and I were discussing a walking neighborhood food tour she took in New York. There are plenty of tours that focus on neighborhoods and easy bites of food. We wondered why no one focused more on the food, and more specifically, on the chefs and behind-the-scenes. We riffed on the idea, removing the touristy aspect and zeroed in on finding intimacy with the food and chefs behind it.
OT Why focus on chefs and staffs?
AT Let’s compare a restaurant’s food to a movie. If you love the movie, wouldn’t you love to hear the director and actors talk about its creation? For people who love food, there’s often a built-in fascination. How do chefs come up with their dishes? What goes into the daily life? What inspires them? We think it’s cool to get to ask those questions – in person.
OT What else separates Flight Chicago from other food tours?
AT Everything. Unlike progressive dinners, we operate our flights when the restaurants are otherwise closed to the public, so we’ve got the place to ourselves. No one else offers that kind of intimacy. Unlike neighborhood walking tours, we don’t incorporate neighborhood or city tourist info. Finally, unlike many other food tours and events, we are casual and relaxed in nature.
OT Who’s your ideal participant?
AT Most people who come on flights are pretty friendly and outgoing. No need to be a foodie. In fact, our chefs and we approach most guests as if they aren’t. It’s all very warm and on the level.
OT Take me through a flight.
AT We meet up at the first restaurant, where I walk the group through what’s going to happen, including what they’ll be eating that day. We’re typically greeted and hosted by the chef, but on some stops we have wine specialists, owners or other restaurant ambassadors host us. From the first stop, we walk to the second, then the third. Along the way, our guests get to ask questions, walk through a kitchen or two, and sample three dishes with pairings at each stop.
OT You must know a lot about what Chicago restaurants have to offer by now. Any favorites?
AT Everyone asks me this question, and I find it incredibly hard to answer. I feel like I don’t go to many restaurants over and over. It’s hard enough keeping up with all the places opening and closing. I will say this: I used to live across the street from Lee’s Wok on Montrose and Clark. They only do takeout, but holy crap is their food good? I coulda worked there I was around so much.
OT What was your best food experience ever?
AT I was insanely lucky a few years ago and got a reservation to El Bulli in Spain. Ferran even called me himself to let me know there had been a cancellation, and asked if I’d like to take the spot. When I arrived, he greeted me by name and walked me through the kitchen. Like a tween girl in the presence of the Biebs, I cried. His kitchen was like a Benetton ad, with people from all over the world swirling around. El Bulli was delicious, casual, homey, vibrant, avant-garde and inspiring all at once. That interaction with Ferran was part of the foundation of Flight. I just knew there had to be others like me. People who love to see how it all works.
Find out more about Flight Chicago here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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