Sky Full of Bacon

Food’s Social Whirl, Part 3: Lollapalooza

Graham Elliott Bowles beams down from the Muthaship to bring some funk to the food at Lollapalooza.

Everybody loves to hate on Taste of Chicago, me as much as anybody, but if it has one legacy that runs deeper than $6 cheesecake on a stick, it’s the wave of festivals and events that have blossomed in recent years to bring the diversity of Chicago’s cuisine to the outdoors and a party crowd…

…on a stick.

The Green City Market Chef’s BBQ last week was one example, and this week’s is the food that Graham Elliott Bowles (of, as you surely know if you’re reading this, Graham Elliott) coordinated for Lollapalooza.  Last year he cooked for the band Jane’s Addiction, whose frontman Perry Farrell is also the organizer/big cheese of Lollapalooza, and sold a few of his signature dishes (like the lobster corn dog above) at a stand for festivalgoers.  That inspired a bigger idea this year, of trying to replace the Connie’s Pizza and other standard mass-produced fare entirely with food of a level of creativity comparable to the music on stage.  Considering that the music on stage includes Lady Gaga, that’s a tall and possibly too bizarre to be appetizing order, but nonetheless, he made some calls to fellow chefs, got the band back together and will have food including:

pork bao from Sunda…

tacos from Big Star…

Kuma’s burgers (since this was a sample size for this event, it used quail eggs)…

…and shrimp with a mango salsa from The Southern.  (I didn’t have a good picture of that, so here’s one of Nick from Grub Street Chicago trying to capture the ineffable essence of the Kuma’s burger.  If he runs a picture of one showing the egg, it’ll actually be of my burger, seen above.)  It’s hard to judge which was my favorite when one is something I’ve had several times before (the Kuma’s burger), and they’re all in a league above standard festival fare, but I really liked Sunda’s bao, no, it’s not as authentically funky as something you’d get in Chinatown, but the delicacy of the bao, sweet pork flavor and crunchy fresh vegetable toppings evoked happy thoughts of the Peking duck at Sun Wah.

But wait, there’s More… cupcakes from More.

Here are my homies Elliott, Perry and Hammond.  Farrell, alarmingly fit, is seemingly not built for foodieism, but he plainly cares about that stuff all the same, and far from maintaining rock star distance, came up to Hammond and me to preach the gospel of festival food that doesn’t suck.  As he put it, you take a girl to Lolla to listen to the music, you’re not going to impress her with a hot dog. It’s hard to argue with the rock and roll logic of that.

I also talked with Cary Taylor (SFOB #11) of The Southern, who said it represented a financial risk for his restaurant— between the seven places providing food, they’d spent $7 G’s on licenses alone, thank you Mayor Daley— but the opportunity to get known to 90,000 festival attendees was just too much for his restaurant to resist.

People talk about “rock star chefs” but there’s something that still strikes you as funny at first about mixing rock and roll and haute cuisine.  Or me, anyway, as I try to imagine how ZZ Top keep their beards from getting stuck in the custom-made utensils at Alinea.  But obviously to a generation that grew up with both rock and the food culture of the 80s and 90s, they’re all just part of America today, so why should your music be chained to bad baseball park food, or the clout-connected institutional food choices you associate with the Auto Show?  Why shouldn’t food go up to 11, too?  Grab a spatula and go my son, and rock.

P.S. Here’s Nick’s piece on the preview at Grub Street, and yes, that’s my hand Vanna Whiting a couple of the food items.  I like his picture of Bowles about to bust into Jailhouse Rock, too.

P.S. Well, and now here’s Audarshia’s account of the dustup that followed, and an LTHForum thread about how corrupt we all are for attending this party.

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