Category Archives: Events

Chicago Chef Morel & Ramp Romp

Chefs flock to Chicago not only for its cutting-edge culinary scene, but for the city’s diverse neighborhood cuisines. Inspiration lies in every corner of the city: carnitas from Pilsen, downtown fine dining, a gourmet hot dog from the Northside. Essentially any type of cuisine can be found in Chicago’s city limits, and culinary exploration is unlimited. The only thing that Chicago is really missing (besides its fair share of warm months) is a true green space.  Of course, Lake Michigan offers some solace from city life, but when chefs crave some inspiration from nature, they travel up the shore to Harbor Country, Michigan, roughly an hour away from the city.

The First Annual “Chicago Chefs’ Morel and Ramp Romp” recently offered some hardworking Chicago chefs the opportunity to kick back, relax, and mingle with the culinary-minded. This locavore-centric retreat was thoughtfully coordinated by Adam Seger of Hum Spirits, wine distributor Beverly Malen, Drew and Lauron Turnipseed of Two Turnips catering and consulting, Rachel Collins of Collins Caviar, and Scott and Kristen Sullivan of Greenbush Brewing Company. Participating chefs (including Spiaggia’s Executive Chef Sarah Grueneberg and Prosecco’s Executive Chef Mark Sparacino) spent the day in Baroda, Michigan foraging for morel mushrooms and picking fresh ramps, touring local wineries and eating roasted pig prepared by Rob Leavitt of Chicago’s Mado Restaurant. Winemaker Mike de Schaaf poured tastings from Hickory Creek, one of the premier wineries found along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. The day’s events held a mood of earthy spontaneity and peacefulness, as well as revealing Harbor Country’s culinary aspirations and resources, which perhaps deserve more attention than granted previously.

Adam Seger muddling ingredients for a cocktail made with Hum Spirits.

Rachel Collins serving Michigan caviar on fresh blinis.

Chicago chefs embark on a morel and ramp hunt.

Morel mushrooms-what a find!

Picking local rapini from Michigan fields.

Chicag0 wine distributor Beverly Malen munches on just-picked rapini.

Roasted pig prepared by Adam Leavitt of Mado Restaurant.


Fishy Love

Aaah, love. Heart-thumping, gut-wrenching, the I’m-yours-you’re-mine-forever-and-all-time kind of love. Romantic love can ebb and flow; the monotony of everyday life, laundry, and bills can sometimes cool the flames. For me, planning my wedding with my Mr. Wonderful has become a fine, manic line between complete obsession and pulling myself back towards reality in fear of becoming Boring Bride: she who only communicates about THE WEDDING and forgets about the sentiment behind the event.

Some may scoff at the concept of “dating anniversaries,” but I think its important as a couple to remember and celebrate the origins of your coupledom. Since this year’s dating anniversary  with Aaron was our last to fete before our marriage, it was even more meaningful to us. Aaron surprised me with a reservation at Wellfleet, which bills itself as an “occasional restaurant.” I’d read about Wellfleet a few years ago in a Chicago Magazine article that highlighted such spots (Efrain Cuevos’ Clandestino dinner parties also come to mind). Wellfleet’s dinners are held every Friday at The Fish Guy, Chicago’s solution to fish mongering.

The Fish Guy, Chicago.

The Fish Guy, otherwise known as Bill Dugan, has been in the fish business for many years and has earned a stellar reputation in Chicago. Not only does the Fish Guy sell the freshest seafood in the city, but it also holds monthly sushi classes (led by Chef Leo Bariso), provides seafood to some of Chicago’s finest restaurants, and offers delicious take-out options like lobster rolls and fish tacos. The night that Aaron proposed, he brought home fresh oysters on the half shell and caviar from The Fish Guy. So, of course, I was extremely excited for this unique experience.

Wellfleet September 2008 Menu.

As we pulled onto Elston Avenue, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Once we walked into the doors of The Fish Guy and realized that we were actually eating in the shop itself (with the fish removed from the counters), we eased in and popped open our bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Bill was extremely friendly and interested in our celebratory occasion, and was glad to talk about his career, ecological issues that impact seafood, and most importantly, the beautiful food that we enjoyed. Each dish featured The Fish Guy’s freshest selections, and each was simply amazing. Some, like the Chilled Heirloom Soup, were light and delicate, while others, like the Arugula Salad with Cortez Shrimp and Green Goddess dressing, were complex in flavor and totally addictive.

Scallops with Pico de Gallo, Wellfleet.

Chilled Heirloom Tomato Soup with Bay Scallop and Herb Swirl, Wellfleet.

Arugula Salad with Cortez Blue Shrimp and Green Goddess Dressing, Wellfleet.

Sashimi of Faroe Island Salmon, Lemonfish, Mano de Leon Scallop, and Rooftop Shiso, Wellfleet.

Golden Trout with Parma Pomme Puree, Wellfleet.

We were simply over the moon all through dinner. Aaron remarked to Bill that the sashimi reminded him of “a melting brass doorknob.” In general, this simile would be labeled as the hallucinogenic type, but Bill seemed to get the gist. The sashimi was velvety-smooth and would convert all raw fish phobics. I actually hugged both Bill and dear Chef Leo on my way out, and with sincerity told them this was the best meal I’d had in a long while.

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Chicago Gourmet

Next weekend, I’ll be attending Chicago Gourmet,  the only urban gourmet food and wine showcase with tastings, demonstrations and hands-on workshops in the U.S. open to the public . Hopefully, I’ll snag some interviews with chefs and sommeliers and of course, I’ll be documenting this fabulous event for my readers!

This inaugural annual event welcomes some of the world’s most esteemed culinary experts, fine-dining chefs and sommeliers. The two-day festival features celebrity chefs, international and world-renowned American chefs.  For wine aficionados and lovers, Frederick Dame, the first American Master Sommelier with three other Masters will offer tastings and seminars.

Chicago Bean, Millenium Park.

Here’s the great news: for No Olives readers, a special online promotion of 10% off is available with the promotional code: CG2008TEN. Tickets are available at If you’re interested in the latest in gourmet cooking and dining, this is the event to be at! Hope to see you there!

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Beer, Meet Food.*

I was lucky enough to attend the “Principles of Beer and Food Pairing” seminar last night at Just Grapes, a wine school and wine shop conveniently located in the Loop. The seminar was just one event of many that Just Grapes hosts; every Saturday brings a complimentary wine tasting and their “Global Grapes” series focuses on different wines found throughout the world.

This particular event concentrated on the relationship between beer and food, a concept that I really haven’t explored before. Sure, I’ve had Kingfisher with mouth-numbing Indian food, Duvel with mussels, and Sapporo with sushi, but those combinations were usually the result of pairing regional cuisine with indigenous beer.

Paramount Room Beverage Director and beer sommelier Shawn Koch and Executive Chef Stephen Dunne (also of Volo) lent their talents for the evening. Koch led an interesting discussion on the origins of beer (“Beer is as old as civilization itself, possibly even pre-dating bread!”), and then food was paraded out, course by course.

Some stellar pairings included smoked trout, bitter greens, and caper raisin aioli with Wittekerke Wit Beer, steak tartare with Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, and a toffee-crusted chocolate brownie paired with Delirium Tremens.

Culinary misses were few and far between, but sadly did include “Cabbage Stuffed Cabbage” with an off-putting corned beef vinaigrette, which didn’t seem to pair well with any of the suggested beers (Kasteel Belgium Brown, Alpha King IPA, and Anchor Porter) and a scotch quail egg, which when combined with overwhelming flavors of anise and grain mustard, overshadowed the beer pairing of Blackthorn Cider.

All in all, the experience was interesting and satisfying, and I learned about the “3 C’s:” cut, compliment, and contrast. Shawn Koch says:

When pairing food with beer, ask yourself whether there is fat, oiliness, or heavy spice in the dish that a crisp beer could cut through? Are there aromatics in the dish that may match with some aromatic nuances in the beer? Are there bold flavors in the food that can be balanced by contrasting flavors in the beer? Certain pairings are successful while some aren’t. The pleasure of a nice pairing is great, but experimenting (and failing) is part of the fun!

*Originally Published in Gapers Block.

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