No, it’s not another April Fool’s prank— my podcast, which I thought I killed a couple of months ago, is coming back for one day only! I’ll be live at the Taste of Chicago’s first-ever podcast area, “Food For Thought” with my special guest Joe Campagna, Chicago Food Snob, and whatever other audio segments I come up with between then and now. Being live, this will be an interesting exercise in whether we can talk that long without the ability to cut the boring parts out! Come see us in person, or eventually it will be distributed as a podcast episode. I promise some interesting news that may imply a certain future for Airwaves Full of Bacon…
Time: Wednesday, July 8, 1:30 to 2:30 pm
Place: Food For Thought area at the Taste of Chicago, near corner of Columbus Dr. and Jackson
We’re right after Car con Carne, who have the noon slot, so check them out too. Thanks to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for putting this on.
Not to make light of Memorial Day in any way, but it was very cheering to have these and other nice things said when the news about Grub Street shutting down went around:
Grub Street Chicago has been one of the mainstays of the Chicago food scene since back when it was Menupages. First under Helen Rosner (now at Saveur), then under Nick Kindelsperger (now at Serious Eats), and it has been one of our daily go-to spots for food news and analysis. Mike Gebert, the current editor, has only made it better — but apparently business got in the way.
Mostly, I’m just upset that I won’t be able to read what current editor, Mike Gebert, has to say about the dining scene. Along with covering the continuous onslaught of openings, he also took the time to tell the stories of neighborhood restaurants far from downtown. His daily commentary will be missed.
Sad to see @skyfullofbacon get the axe. He was one of the good ones. Now all we have left is Eater, blech!
— Bradley Gene Smith (@bradleygene) May 22, 2013
— Jeffrey Ward (@jeffreywward) May 21, 2013
— Josh Steinfeld (@jesteinf) May 21, 2013
One more bit of ephemera:
Once it reached the 30 day comments-are-closed-automatically mark, I decided to remove the post posted on this day, about a certain incident at a certain Thai restaurant, from public view.
There are several reasons for this. I trust the point has been driven home (like a sledgehammer) about the corrosive effect on the forum’s trust of protecting bad behavior, and the attempt to silence discussion of course blew up into ten times the attention that it would have had if they had dealt with the issue fairly and transparently. But it seems unfair to that Thai restaurant to associate it with the incident forever.
And keeping it, complete with comments, also seemed so contrary to the spirit of my site which should be about the joy of discussing food with all openly, not some pinched cliquish Heathers version of food fandom. A couple of days after the incident happened, I tweeted this to a friend:
I was on Taylor St. yesterday to shoot photo, just wandering around stopping in at last few old time places, the sun was out…
…gorgeous day and thinking… “How did we fuck this up? How did we find a way to turn this into a vicious grind?”
That’s just sad, to turn one of the most simple and joyous things in life into another form of greasy, small-minded oneupsmanship. So I’m just not going to be part of it. I’m not going to dwell in the past. (They already dwell in my past, every time they log in.) And if I see a bunch of them somewhere, next time I’ll just move along before they have the chance to go nutzoid again.
However, I do not believe in making things completely disappear, because I don’t believe in 2012 things really do disappear— they just fester. So in the name of open disclosure, and to answer in advance the criticism that I must have removed it because for some reason it embarrassed me, if you really want a copy of the old post, including comments (no matter how unflattering to myself), I will send it to anyone who requests it by email. This is not a veiled tease to encourage you to read it; I actually hope no one asks for it and it fades into oblivion. But it’s open to you, if you want it, because transparency was important to me on LTH in 2004 and it is now. Beyond that, I think point made, thread quietly moved offstage… and no, I will not be selling these at Christmas:
Hey, you gotta laugh at this stuff. It’s too ridiculous not to.
WE PULL UP ON A SIDE STREET near the Merchandise Mart. There’s a small group of people already waiting, each with a smart phone in one hand, a paper or plastic bag in the other. In the bag might be tamales from the Tamalli Spaceship, mac and cheese from The Southern, or sausage from the Haute Sausage truck. Jared Forratt, a lanky twentysomething with a scraggly beard and tattooed “sleeves” running up both arms, pulls the emergency brake, makes his way to the back of the white truck and opens the window. The first person in the crowd walks up, clutching three ones. “Uni shooter,” he says.
Forratt goes to work, setting out a shot glass, then splashing the inside of the glass with aquavit. Deftly he cuts a sea urchin out of its spiny shell and plops it into the glass; then he grates fresh horseradish onto it and places a single slice of candied kumquat on top. He sets it on the ledge of the window and plucks the three dollars from the man’s hand. The customer takes the shot glass, knocks it back in a single motion, and sets the shot glass back down. “That was beautiful, man,” he says. Forratt just gives him the slightest nod, and then points to the next customer.
Forratt is the proprietor of Bouche-Bag, the world’s first amuse-bouche truck. From his earliest days cooking, he was intrigued— maybe obsessed— by that tiny first bite of the meal offered gratis as a welcoming gesture in fine dining restaurants. “Everyone deserves to have their meal start out with something great,” Forratt says. “An amuse-bouche is like a ticket to adventure.” He soon became famous in Chicago restaurant circles as the master of the form— sometimes beyond practicality. “I’ve got three guys waiting to get at the fryer, and Jared’s taken it over, battering and frying individual microgreens that he’s holding in the oil in his tweezers,” Rick Tramonto recalls of Forratt’s tenure at Tru. “He’s an artist, no question about it, but at 7:00 on Friday night I gotta use my kitchen to make things people actually pay for.”
After a tempestuous history with many of the city’s top restaurants— Trio, L2O, Graham Elliot, The Black Sheep— and repeated struggles with chefs who, he felt, compromised his vision for “an amuse-bouche that, as Aldous Huxley said, opened the doors of perception,” Forratt was talking with Phillip Foss, then operator of the Meatyballs Mobile. Foss, jokingly, pointed out that the city code which prevented food trucks from preparing food on board defined prepared food as multiple ingredients put together in a dish to be eaten in multiple bites. Therefore an amuse-bouche, which is designed to be eaten in a single bite, was technically not food for the purposes of the regulations. Excited by the prospect of doing amuse-bouches exactly as he wanted to, without the distraction of other chefs or a restaurant, Forratt quickly found a backer from among the fans who had followed his work over the years from one four-star place to the next, and at last he had his own rolling establishment where he could offer amuse-bouches that met his precise vision, directly to diners.
IT’S 12:34, AND WE’RE A FEW minutes late for a rendezvous at the Aon building. The line is about 15 deep, all clutching bags— Pret-a-Manger, Au Bon Pain, Taco Bell. I ask Forratt if it bothers him that his beautifully-crafted amuse-bouches are often followed by fast food. “No, man. An amuse-bouche is a promise; it’s not my problem if it’s a promise that the rest of your meal can’t keep.” Today on the menu he’s got three choices, each priced at $3: the uni shooter, a stamp-sized square of Arctic char on a cauliflower semifreddo with pickled Japanese turnip, candied blood-orange peel and radish sprouts, and a spelt cracker with ahi aioli, hazelnut dauphinoise soil and mung-lychee sorbetto.
The Arctic char amuse.
Forratt works amazingly fast, “plating” each onto a plastic spoon or other utensil with tweezers in less than a minute. Yet not a piece looks out of place, and the buyer receiving each handcrafted jewel holds it carefully, almost reverently, before downing it and then getting on with his chicken salad on Asiago roll or Doritos Locos taco. I ask one customer, graphic designer Wade Murdock, why he’s willing to pay $3 for a single bite of food. “I thought it was crazy, too, but as soon as I had one bite— which is all there was, one bite— of his pork belly niçoise with wasabi poutine gelee and banh mi smoke, I was hooked,” Murdock says. “It’s worth $3 for something that really sets up your slice of Sbarro’s so perfectly.”
Despite the high price, Forratt admits that he’s barely breaking even on the amuse-bouches; he’s thinking of adding a line of palate cleansers to his menu, so that customers might come back during the same lunch for a single spoonful of Thai lemongrass gelato, say. But at the same time, he curses himself out for even thinking of compromising his vision of the perfect amuse-bouche. “The most exquisite moment is the one right before you take that first bite, when all the possibilities and wonder of the meal are before you,” he says. “If I could, I’d sell you that moment, and then drive away as fast as I can before you ruin it by actually eating.”
The 50th episode of Key Ingredient— that would be about 4 hours’ worth so far, if you were going to watch them back to back— is this week, starring Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe.
Julia Thiel, my partner in chef-torment, has a cool remembrance of our year of eating weird stuff in nice restaurants. As for me, it’s time to recount how the last ten were, as I do every ten episodes (click on Key Ingredient at right to see any of these):
• Luke Creagan/bamboo worms: Fried, they were just fine with cheese, French fries and mustard.
• Dirk Flanigan/sugarcane: Flanigan worked his butt off to experiment with this in so many directions; I wish I loved some of them more but they didn’t always pay off (like the pink powdery sawdust). The dish was fine in itself, it’s just that sugarcane didn’t contribute as much to it as one might have hoped.
• Kevin Hickey/Mountain Ash berries: the berries were fine, very well made upscale dish— but what blew me away was the squab, easily the best and most flavorful of that bird I’ve ever had.
• Beverly Kim/black cardamom: One of the few I’ve actually made at least part of— I made her black cardamom ice cream, which was very good.
• Edward Kim/turtle: A very pleasing pot pie… but turtle is just one of those ingredients that doesn’t have any character of its own, really.
• Kristine Subido/balut: I’m the only one who wasn’t grossed out too much by the fetal duck to eat this. I was actually more grossed out by the overwhelming egginess of it.
• Ariel Bagadiong/haggis: This was really tasty— the slight Asian touch on a funky comfort food dish was totally pleasing.
• Rodney Staton/calves’ liver: I can eat calves liver but I don’t love it, that’s for sure. This was an elegant approach, but still, liver comes through like a bell.
• Mike McGill/grass jelly: I didn’t get the bitter aftertaste from the grass jelly, so this was just a pleasant ravioli to me.
• Duncan Biddulph/cod milt: Although the cod jizz stunk up my fingers for two days, in the dish it was just a subtle brininess. I still find the idea of putting it on toast repulsive, though.
• Jason Hammel/gjetost: I thought this was pretty irresistible, actually— he was dead on about giving it some bitterness to cut the cheese (so to speak). I got the sense that being both cheesy and sweet, Jason thought it was a little white trash for Lula, though.
Happy Holidays to all.
I am doing some copywriting work for Falafill, currently at 3202 N. Broadway, soon in the Loop and elsewhere. This means I won’t be writing about quick-service middle eastern food concepts (as they’d say in the biz) anytime soon.