Tag Archives: Chicago

Chef Trotter Wonders If You Might Have Time For Lunch?

There are things in life that are assumed. If a famous chef invites me for a meal, then obviously the only questions are when and where. And when the chef doing the inviting is one who literally put Chicago’s culinary scene on the map, it’s actually hard to remember  that you actually need to say “yes!” when asked.

Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to answer out loud. I still remember my friend Les looking at me in disbelief, eyes wide, grinning. Few invitations in life are quite so exciting.

Adriana disappeared only to return a few minutes later, sparkling wine in hand. Was this really happening? From the expressions on Les and the filmmakers’ faces, we were clearly all wondering the same thing. Adriana knew what was going on, and kindly ushered us into the kitchen. We were to eat at Chef Trotter’s kitchen table–meaning the table in his set or studio kitchen, not the restaurant.

Let’s talk about the lunch guests for a moment. We had Lester and myself from The Peterson Garden Project, and then the film crew from Crosstown Productions. We were joined by close friends of Rochelle Trotter who were at the restaurant for a photo shoot for Today’s Chicago Woman, her stylist and hairdresser.  So we were not only treated to lunch at Trotter’s, we were treated to lunch at Trotter’s with family friends. It was a very big deal.

We sat around the kitchen table–the one you’ve seen in The Kitchen Sessions–and were presented with stories. Food, stories, restaurants and great meals are intertwined in my mind, for many reasons. While eating, I’m immersed in the flavors. In retrospect, the great meals of my life are those that I remember for many reasons. For great food and chefs (the first meal my husband cooked for me, Le Tour d’Argent, Alinea, a tiny unnamed restaurant in Venice) and also for great moments and great company. Chef Trotter didn’t know it when he invited me to this incredible lunch, but he was the chef for two of my life’s great moments. The birthday dinner for my Father, Aunt and I (the 30/50/6o dinner, one of the last when my Dad and Aunt spoke to one another) and also my engagement dinner, in which my husband and our dear friends Anthony, Michelle, my stepmum Katerina and Aunt Jan dined at the kitchen table at Trotter’s. That’s the meal where I first smelled Gewurztraminer. Moments like that you remember.

The food was delicious, spectacular even. But the things I remember most are the conversations with friends, stories from the chefs, ideas behind the meals. With lunch at Trotter’s, I remember the hospitality of Chef Trotter and Rochelle, and their stories. Rochelle spoke of growing up on a farm, and not understanding what pickles were the first time she tasted the industrial version. She had only ever tasted her grandmother’s pickles, and they just didn’t seem the same food as those that came from cans in a supermarket. I also remember Chef Trotter’s pride as his sous chefs presented their dishes, one after another, all of which highlighted another locally grown ingredient–each offering their favorite. And throughout the meal, our sommelier was omnipresent, offering pairing advice. He never steered us wrong.

And so now, a year later–what do I remember? Chef Trotter and Rochelle, Mattias and Adriana, and the absolutely unforgettable moment: “Chef Trotter wonders if you have time for lunch?” Don’t you hope to hear that question one day?


Victory Garden Revival

In the 1940’s, Chicago was home to one of the most vibrant Victory Garden cultures in the country. With post-war families growing rapidly and food in short supply, Chicagoans took to community gardens to grow vegetables and put dinner on their tables.

Today, community gardening is once again gaining momentum, but for different reasons. Personally, I became interested in urban gardening for two reasons. First, because I like the flavor of fresh, organic vegetables. And second, because I am looking for ways to contribute to a more sustainable future for my city. Turns out, there are lots of people doing the very same thing… in my own neighborhood.

This weekend, I was introduced to the Peterson Garden Project. It’s a local effort led by one of my neighbors, a blogger who writes at The Yarden. She began doing research on Chicago Victory Gardens, and decided it was high time to revive the tradition. So: she found a site, talked to Alderman O’Connor, rallied her troops, and… voila! A reborn Victory Garden breaks ground this Friday, May 21 at 11 a.m.

My plan for my plot at the Peterson Community Garden

Naturally: I had to be a part of it. So here’s my plan for what will be my first foray into community gardening. Now that my own square foot garden is firmly in place in my own back yard, I’ll use the community garden space for a few things. First, to meet my neighbors. Second, to learn about gardening from people who know a heck of a lot more about it than I do. And finally, to grow some unusual veggies to share with my friends. If you’re hungry & willing to help me weed a little now and again, come on out to the garden and dig in!

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Spaces We Forget

I ride the Red Line to work every day, and my favorite part of the trip is invariably snaking around the curves of the track that center around the Sheridan stop. Part of the reason is that I love seeing Wrigley Field each day, and this time of year, dreaming of spring. The other reason is it’s such a gorgeous view of the rooftops around Wrigleyville. Not the ones that sell tickets to the Cubs games; literally the rooftops on the typical Chicago three-story walk-ups. There’s an abundance of them there, and the rhythm of them is beautiful from the vantage point of the El.

Allison Arieff has an outstanding post on her New York Times blog today. It’s all about unused spaces in cities, and she opens her article with a Buckminster Fuller quote:

“Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time.
Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time.
Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time.
It’s time we gave this some thought.”
— R. Buckminster Fuller

When you start looking for them, the unused spaces in cities are staggering in their breadth and complexity. What better example than Chicago’s rooftops?
So here’s my idea for Chicago: can we make a “transform your roof into green space” toolkit? What would it take to create gardens and parks atop our brownstones and graystones? I believe one of the major impediments is the need to structurally transform roofs to accommodate green rooftops. Can we find a way around that?

I bet we can if we set our minds to it.

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Ode to the Neighborhood Bar

All cities have vices. New York has impatience. LA has superficiality. Chicago? It’s a city that drinks. Lots. And the up side of that is: we have spectacular neighborhood bars.

What makes a neighborhood bar? It’s small. The bartenders know the patrons. They don’t serve food or mixed drinks that are too fancy. But: everything is delicious. Neighborhood bars are where you’ll find true Chicago, not the fakely-polished, overly-peppy craziness of River North or Rush Street. You will see real Chicagoans from every walk of life at neighborhood bars. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

First, the friendliest bar in the world: The Whirlaway. Maria and Sergio, the owners, know their neighbors and serve them mighty fine drinks. If you live nearby and invite them to a barbeque, they’ll come. And on Tuesdays, Maria cooks up food for everyone that stops by. The Whirlaway is not fancy in any way, and that makes it all the more loveable.

Lately, I’ve been loving the Fireside. It’s almost too big to be a neighborhood bar, but somehow, it manages its scale well. They have an enormous menu, so you can offset your drinking with good bar food. They also have an above-average assortment of beer on tap. You can play darts here, watch sports, or even sit outside on a year-round patio with sparkly lights. And if you’re a night owl, you can stay here until 4 a.m.

The quintessential Chicago neighborhood bar must be the Charleston. It’s in Bucktown, and it was there long before Bucktown became hip. I remember hearing someone play the fiddle at the Charleson back in the early 1990’s. It’s friendly, out-of-the-way, and just a great place to hang out and drink. I’m not sure why, but it seems to attract lots of architects. Every Chicago neighborhood has a great local bar. That’s where you really get to know this city.

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Walking in Chicago

I’ve got a long commute between work and home; it’s an hour on Chicago’s public transportation. So you’d think I’d be eager to jump on the train and get on with it at the end of the day. But yesterday I realized something: usually, I stall. I work in the Loop, and I love walking the streets of Chicago. I’ve lived here 17 years now, but I still have a tourist-like awe for the life of its streets.

So rather than hop on the train fast each night, I tend to wander. I walk State Street, or maybe Michigan Avenue, and just watch the people, buildings, the park. I love it.

When I was in college I was lucky enough to spend a summer working in Paris for a woman named Heather. She once said to me, before leaving for a short vacation, that her favorite part of any vacation was returning to Paris. Just seeing the city gave her a jolt every time. I hoped I’d find that one day, and now, I have. Like a tourist seeing it anew, I love Chicago. I’ll be writing about why on this blog.

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