Sky Full of Bacon

Do I Amuse You? Riding With Jared Forratt

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.”

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