Thursday, January 25, 2007

The "Right" Way to do Food in Chicago?

This is an excellent post from Hungry Magazine about a topic very much on my mind recently: inexpensive meals prepared with care and skill. It's cool because it highlights some interesting things happening in Chicago, and talks about some prominent Chicago and non-Chicago chefs. It's amazing how many names in this piece that I recognized, mostly not because of their restaurants.

  • Homaru Cantu of the Chicago restaurant Moto just beat Morimoto on Iron Chef America.
  • Tom Colicchio (based somewhere in California) is the host chef on Top Chef, a reality cooking show that I watch with some regularity.
  • Rick Bayless was also on Iron Chef America this past year, and also has written possibly the best cookbooks by a "celebrity" chef that I have ever read and cooked from. His PBS show is fun and accessible.
  • Charlie Trotter is, quite simply, everywhere. The press loves to interview him or write about him.

I got bored with the list thing, but of the four chefs listed, I have only eaten at Bayless's Frontera Grill (which is excellent, by the way). It is impressive how these chefs have become so famous.

Quick side note from the diversion: I have eaten at Hot Doug's quite a bit. It's amazing. Doug Sohn is a personal hero of mine. Every time one eats there, he is the person that takes your order. He's funny, he's friendly, and his specials are some of the most creative and tasty in the city. All I want to do is sit him down and talk with him about his take on food and specifically about the feasibility of opening a unique, casual, inexpensive, lunch only restaurant. In spite of his friendliness, I get a little star struck when I'm there, and only manage to smile and order my wild-boar sausage with imported cheese and house-made sauce.

But allow me to dive back into the point I was going to make. The author of the article throws down a bit of a challenge: "I’d like to see local food stars commit to making well-prepared, well-farmed and creative food affordable in 2007." Chicago is positioned in reasonably close proximity to quite a few farms the provide amazing sustainably grown produce, meat, and dairy products. I know Bayless makes good use of this, but I'm surprised that more places don't. My ideal restaurant/ tavern in this city would have a rotating menu of whatever is coming out of these local farms. I do understand that you can't exclusively use local products without making some big sacrifices on the menu. That's ok. I'm a realist. But if I can get local sustainably grown chicken, beef, and pork year round, and even have it delivered to my door once a week, I feel like the restaurants should be able to, as well. And not just the big name places. It's easy for Frontera to serve me a lamb chop that was grown in Wisconsin. Bayless has the name recognition and the pull to move the industry around a bit. But why can't the smaller places do a little legwork pull in food of the same quality? I'm sure there are some small places doing just that, but we need more.


ay said...

So go interview the man!

jsa said...

Hot Doug (in the voice of Morpheus from the matrix): "Stop trying to interview me and interview me"