Friday, April 29, 2011

April Showers Bring May Salons, Noodles and Dumplings!

We're gearing up for a busy month here at Food on the Dole, with four Salons planned for the month of May, plus I'm going to be cooking with my good friend Crazy Hair from X-marx at his spot on a few nights. More on that in a bit. As far as the Salons go, we've got some great ones to look forward to:
  • The Food on the Dole Brunch Salon Sunday, May 1 at 11am. We'll get all Jacques Pepin on it and visit old classics, and possibly brave some new terrain in our market-driven menu; a perfect way to resurface from the weekend's debauchery and all those Cadbury Eggs from the week before. BYOB of course, and a bloody mary'll find its way into your hand. $30.
  • The Food on the Dole Pasta Salon Sunday, May 15 at 3pm. Come spend a Sunday afternoon in the Salon kneading, rolling and cutting fresh pasta for a simple early spring dinner. We'll share stories of our experience with pasta, learn about what makes this simple food so comforting and dig in to a hearty and soulful meal together. Come with questions and an empty belly; leave with technique, a sense of community and a snapping waistband. $40.
  • The Food on the Dole Bistro Salon Saturday May 21 at 6pm. Join the bon vivant lifestyle--if just for a night! Okay, okay, so perhaps the rich foods of Parisian bistros aren't exactly in tune with the Dole ethic--or are they? We'll prepare some classic, simple favorites (think along the lines of steak frites) of the heartiest and warmest of restaurant styles on a très joyeux Saturday evening at the Salon. Come discuss your love of bistros, or come find out just what makes them and their style of food so important and well-loved. $60.
  • The Food on the Dole Spring Vegetarian Salon Thursday May 26 at 6pm. We've been cooking and eating a lot of meat lately at the Salon, so what better time to shift gears for a bit and explore the bounty that Springtime in the Midwest is producing? Believe it or not, as such a carnivorous chef, I've always enjoyed cooking vegetarian food, and love celebrating the beauty of vegetables for what they are, as opposed to finding ways of making them emulate meat--you won't find any seitan or tempeh at this Salon. This Salon will be highly market-driven based on what I find at the farmer's market. All are welcome--come discuss your views on food and share stories of your memories of the first produce of Spring, and come ready to eat some tasty food. $40.
The current offering of Salons will always be listed on the right side of Food on the Dole. To reserve seats, simply click on the desired Salon. And, as mentioned during the first couple of weeks of May, I'll be cooking with X-marx at their pop-up noodle joint, Flour and Bones, down in Fulton Market. I'll be there May 5th, 7th and 11th, but be sure to stop by anytime May 2nd-11th from 5pm-1am for some top-notch homemade Chinese-style noodles and dumplings. 954 W. Fulton Market in the Dodo space.

As always, any questions can be directed to me at Want to get updates as they are posted? Just "Like" Food on the Dole on Facebook, or sign up for email updates on the top left side of F.o.t.D. I'm looking forward to these upcoming salons, and be sure to stay tuned for more Food on the Dole adventures!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The War of the Roses is Happening In My Mouth, or, Did We Really Just Make All That?

The sizzling of the Taco Salon has nearly subsided, though I found myself with some leftover carnitas and a raw serrano chile last night. If you've never just crunched into a raw chile of moderate to high heat, give it a try sometime. The crisp brightness is followed by the heat and somehow, that just goes hand in hand with taco-style food. I learned this bold move from a guy I used to work with named Onofre; he would walk around the kitchen, carrying at all times a raw jalapeno in the pocket of his chef coat. He would gnaw away at that thing and replace it hourly--the guy ate several jalapenos per day. One day, after realizing the value of this and finding a spot for it in my daily routine--to a much lesser degree, of course--I undertook an ill-advised, though heavily encouraged and cheered-on jalapeno eating contest with him. I lost in rapidly drastic proportion, going down about one crunch into the second chile. He did that weird creepy showdown staredown like that guy in Indiana Jones in the first ten seconds of this clip. I was the quivering, cowering Marion Ravenwood. Only instead of a burning hot stake, Onofre was holding a burning hot jalapeno, right in my face. Lesson learned: don't go toe-to-toe with a guy from Veracruz in a jalapeno eating contest.

Moving right along, a quick synopsis of the F.o.t.D. Taco Salon:
  • Queso fresco, made the night before: two quarts milk, heated to just under boiling, a few tablespoons of vinegar/lime juice/any sort of acid added, stirring as the whey gradually separated from the curds, straining into cheesecloth, adding salt, pressing overnight. As the name implies, this fresh cheese is just that--pure dairy goodness to combat the heat and sharpness of other flavors in the tacos.

  • Carnitas, also started the night before: seared pork butt, braised in pork fat with garlic, orange, ancho and guajillo chiles, leeks ('cause I had 'em around), tamarind and tamarind soda. Also some pork stock I had left from the Pork Salon. The meat was removed when falling apart, and a saloneer completed this task while we reduced the braising liquid to add back in for a lovely dose of moist succulence. The tamarind soda is full of sour sugary-ness, which reduces down to a really luscious sauce.

  • Al Pastor: adapted from Middle-Eastern immigrants to Mexico, the idea is similar to shawarma, in that meat is marinated in chiles and often times pineapple, then piled onto a spit. Rather than the lamb used for shawarma, pork is used, the meat-spit is fire roasted, then sliced off into a tortilla. Since we don't have spit-roasting capabilities (yet) at F.o.t.D., we marinated pork loin in a puree of pineapple, orange, lime, ancho chile powder, onion and garlic, then grilled it lightly. When charred, we removed it, chopped it, then pan fried it with some of the leftover marinade and a touch of the chile salsa we made, described below.
  • Carne Asada: Skirt Steak, a quick marinade (and I do mean quick; don't overcook this in a marinade before you even apply heat to it) in olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Then grilled nice and medium rare, and sliced.

  • Roasted Poblanos: just that--poblano peppers roasted on the grill, peeled, and cut into smoky little strips.
  • Grilled Tomatillo Salsa Verde: tomatillos grilled, then pureed with lime, serrano chiles, garlic cilantro. Tangy and sour, with a bit of heat.
  • Simmered Chile Salsa Roja: tomatoes char-grilled, then simmered to reduce with dried and fried ancho and guajillo chiles, onions and garlic. Pureed, with a nice smokiness and depth of flavor from the chiles. Hot, too.
  • And Guacamole! Diced avocado (well, avocado pressed through my cooling rack, which has wires creating squares about 1/3"x1/3". Just peel your avocado and press it through for the easiest way to get the perfect size and amount of squished-ness. This will allow you to keep some texture in your guacamole), onions, cilantro and a good bolt of the tomatillo salsa.
  • Hand Pressed Tortillas: Masa, lard, hot water, salt. Pressed and griddled. So superior to packaged tortillas, the way fresh pasta is to dried.
  • Refried Beans: Cooked black beans (simmered in just water until tender, no crunch remaining at all, but not falling apart into mush). Onions, jalapenos and garlic fried in lard, beans added to the pan and then mushed up, reserved cooking liquid added as needed.
  • Garnishes including crema (sour cream), chopped white onion, cilantro and chayote, that funny looking member of the squash family that crunches like an under-ripe pear and doesn't have a ton of flavor, but adds a great texture to the softness of tacos.
  • And of course, those Margaritas: equal parts fresh squeezed lime juice, tequila, and triple sec/Cointreau/Grand Marnier, shaken and topped off in chilled glasses with a touch of special and smoky mezcal from Oaxaca.
Is that it? I think that's it. Seemed like, for this Salon, this list format was the best way to fit everything in. Otherwise, I'd fill up page after page with silly descriptions that might not be that necessary. We'll save that for more simple topics. Perhaps the Brunch Salon? If interested, I have a couple of seats left on May 1--the Sunday after Easter, 11:00. $30, byob with a Bloody Mary included. Seats can be reserved here.

A big thank you to the Taco Saloneers who made it out despite the--sigh--still cold and rainy un-Spring-like weather. I think we were able to capture, for however short a time, a touch of summer together. Here's hoping Mother Nature catches up, and soon!

Tacos! Tacos! Tacos!

Carnitas bubbling away, pork loin in a juicy, citrusy, pinapple-y marinade, masa awaiting lard and a hot griddle, skirt steak hanging out in lime, beans asking to be fried, tomatillos demanding to be roasted, homemade queso fresco begging to be slathered on top of tacos, 6 bellies ready to be filled...and of course, limes ready for juicing and tequila ready for's the Food on the Dole Taco Salon tonight! More on how it went down soon!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tacos! Brunch! Top-Notch Food Found Here!

The nice weather--combined with making all those tortillas at the last Salon--has inspired our next event. We'll be bringing the food of the Taco Trucks of Oakland inside to the Food on the Dole Oakland Street Taco Salon. We'll press and throw down all our tortillas, make a few sauces and generally create tons of tasty taco fillings a la the taco trucks in Oakland, CA. I'll even go a step further and shake up a round or two of margaritas as we cook, eat and learn together. Bring your questions, bring your appetite, bring those thick bottles of Mexican Coke; just bring your self--it's coming up soon: next Wednesday April 20 at 6pm. $40 and BYOB. Sign up here.

If you can't make the taco-fest, rest easy; we're putting on a brunch: the Food on the Dole Brunch Salon. We'll get all Jacques Pepin on it and visit old classics, and possibly brave some new terrain in our market-driven menu; a perfect way to resurface from the weekend's debauchery and all those Cadbury Eggs from the week before. BYOB of course, and a bloody mary'll find its way into your hand; Sunday, May 1 at 11am, $30. Tickets can be found here.

So far, we've had a great, rollicking time with the Salons. Thank you to all the supporters, and welcome to all new friends!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

That First Day That Leads Us Into Thinking Summer Is Here, or, Salon III

Sunday greeted us with temperatures in the 80s, and as I lit up my tiny Smoky Joe to smoke some pork belly, I thought with amazement about how just a couple of months ago snow was howling sideways down this very street, complete with lightning and ridiculously huge accumulation. So, clearly, everyone in Chicago was in love with this first really warm day; people were finally smiling on the street, cars weren't honking except for those friendly, short little "thank you for letting me in" honks, and yours truly was gearing up for the Salon featuring pork. Specifically, a lovely bit of pig from my friend over at X-Marx, who had just finished butchering a whole pig for his highly recommended head-to-tail dinner tomorrow night. For the Salon, we'd be working with belly, hock, shoulder, tail, flank and skin.
We started with the flank, a tiny little cut suitable for a quick grill, aiming to make Matambre de Cerdo, an Argentinian dish based on Matambre, a stuffed and rolled beef flank steak. Cerdo means pig, and in this version, nothing gets stuffed or rolled--just salt and pepper, then a hot, smoky grill. I've read differing accounts--that matambre, translated, means "shoe leather"; another story is that the word is a mash up of the words "matar" (to kill) and hambre (hunger). Who can say which story is legit, but my intention was to use it as the latter: a quick bite to satiate the hungry pack who showed up to the Salon. So, we made tortillas, hand pressed and cooked on a slick cast iron skillet, and a chimichurri, with parsley, cilantro, marjoram, garlic, lemon, lime, a tomatillo, vinegar and plenty of olive oil. In place of the ubiquitous iceberg lettuce so seemingly beloved in South America, I used a crisp asparagus lettuce tip, very similar to romaine lettuce in texture but a bit more flavorful. Grilled that flank, chopped it up and into the warm tortillas it went, topped with the lettuce and chimichurri.
Hock Before Braising

Then we wanted to make rillettes, so we moved on to the hock; I'd braised this overnight with thyme and garlic so it was soft and fell right off the bone. There was a good bit of flavorful liquid left from the braise, which turned into a nice pork jelly as the hock cooled in it. We picked the meat, minced a shallot, and beat it with some mustard, vinegar, and lard rendered earlier in the day. Plenty of salt and pepper, a touch of the pork jelly, and we packed it into a little pot. Served it as a spread of sorts with some epi bread I'd made and the pork belly jam we'd make next.
Hock After Braising

For the belly jam, I did a quick cure, just overnight (as opposed to the several day cure bacon gets), with brown sugar, salt, star anise, fennel seed, black pepper, ajowan and cumin. Took it out in the morning, rinsed it, patted it dry and placed it on a rack in the fridge to dry out as much as possible in order to get the important pellicle formation--that dry, somewhat sticky outer coating of meat left uncovered in the fridge--that helps the meat absorb smoke. This usally takes more time as well, but hey--the Salon was that day so we did what we could. I then smoked it for a few hours on said Smoky Joe with some hickory chips; it got nice and smoky, and deliciously crisp on the outside. It was all I could do not to eat it all right when it came off the grill. So, when the time came, we cut it into little chunks, and fried them in lard in a pot, sort of mashing them around as we went, letting them crisp up, then we deglazed with red wine, red wine vinegar, and threw in some blueberries and mango and a bit of sugar. This cooked down for a bit, the berries popped, and we had ourselves a real nice, smoky yet bright accompaniment for the bread and rillettes.
I just had to pull out that salty Bentons ham as well, so we cubed it up, fried it in that lovely lard, then added big wedges of red onion. Got these nice and charred, deglazed with sherry vinegar, drizzled in plenty of olive oil, and tossed it all with adult spinach. Baby spinach has less flavor, costs more, and would just wilt immediately; the adult spinach kept a nice in between of wilting and staying crisp. This decadent salad was intended to be served with a garnish of pork rinds, but hey--we were drinking beer and just plain forgot. But the pork rinds would be made. Oh yes, they would be.

I cleaned the skin of the pig as much as possible, removing fat and meat. Then I boiled it for a few hours, the heat removing any fat I missed and breaking down the tough protein; then I used the back of a knife to scrape it clean again and put it in a low, low oven to dehydrate it more overnight. I then repeated the process all over again, making these guys really, really dry and tough. We heated canola oil to around 350 degrees or so, then threw the chunks of skin in; they puffed up light and crisp in seconds; we tossed them with bacon salt, a mixture not containing any bacon, but lots of salt and smoked spices that emulate bacon. Crispy, crunchy, oh so porky.

At this point people were getting pretty full, but we had to make the entree, so I gathered the troops and we made a pasta dough, then made a loose sausage as it rested. We used chunks of shoulder for this; nice and fatty and through the grinder they went. We mixed the meat with all kinds of things--garlic, marjoram, oregano, cayenne, isot pepper, red stamp pepper, cumin, coriander, red chile flake, black pepper, salt, red wine, mezcal, and the list goes on and on--then friend the spicy sausage with leeks, roasted golden beets, more pork jelly, and preserved lemon. The pasta was rolled and cut into fat thick noodles; after boiling, everything was tossed together, a bit of orange zest on top and a good dose of olive oil as well.

To finish, we whipped egg yolks and maple syrup into a sabayon--a light, foamy mousse of sorts--then folded in whipped cream, crispy bacon we'd cooked earlier and the fat that rendered out of it. Gave it a light freeze, then gobbled it all up--a nice little bacon semi-fredo.

It was a great Sunday afternoon that turned into evening that turned into night; we discussed food, the south, and demented haunted houses. I got to meet some new interesting friends, and we all ate copious amounts of food. This was a happy incarnation of the Salon, and I look forward to many more. Which reminds me--I was at a benefit last night at Kith and Kin in Chicago and ran into someone who attended the Seafood Salon by the oyster bar (where I spent much of the night parked). She proudly declared that she'd been eating the oysters bare, and chewing them, ever since the Salon. I beamed, and happily ate another with her.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Salon III: The Wondrous Pig

On heels of the delicious pescetarian dinner we created at the second Food on the Dole Salon, I've got a hankering for pork. Therefore, I'd like to announce the next Salon coming on Sunday, April 10 at 5:00pm. What better way to spend Sunday than exploring our good friend the pig through numerous creations while cooking and eating a great end-of-weekend meal together? Come with as many questions as you like and get in and get your hands dirty; come to relax and enjoy the sights and smells and enjoy the results; just come! Six seats are available for a donation of $50.00 each, and can be reserved by clicking on this link. The event as always is byob, so bring your pork friendly wines and beers, which, naturally, includes pretty much anything. Of course, if you have any questions about the event or the Salons in general, email me at Thanks again to those who played a part in making the first two Salons such a success, and I look forward to cooking with you soon!

Salon II: Oysters, Clams, and a Real Big Fish

Saturday night's Food on the Dole Salon found six food enthusiasts in my kitchen staring down a lovely mountain of seafood. Building that mountain were Bras d'Or Oysters of Nova Scotia, Californian Hama Hama Oysters, Manila Clams (from Washington, not the Philippines, much to the chagrin of one attendee), salt cod brandade, and a gorgeous wild striped bass, whole and weighing in over five pounds. Rounding out said mountain was homemade epi and baguettes, my beloved bibb lettuce bistro salad, "teenage" artichokes and a bright salsa verde for the bass. With six of the city's best eaters in tow, we forged ahead, and we conquered this mountain.
I started with the salt cod by soaking it in cold water for about 24-36 hours, changing the water every 4-6 hours or so. This food, which is discussed at length in Mark Kurlansky's two remarkably informative books, Salt and Cod, offered the preservation (salt) of the nutrition (cod) necessary for long sea voyages and thus global expansion way back when. Seeing it these days in a store, one wouldn't realize the enormously important role it played in the development of civilization--it's just a crusty looking piece of old fish. BUT, it can be transformed into something delicious and hearty and filling; in this case, brandade. After the above soaking to remove all the excess salt, I briefly poached it in milk, at which point it was, relatively, tender and flaky, not too different from fresh cod. I gave it a few pulses in a food processor with some roasted garlic and lots of olive oil, then folded in potatoes that had been baked, then pushed through a ricer. Salt, pepper, more olive oil, and a bit of the poaching milk, then it was spread into a baking dish, topped with some panko bread crumbs, more olive oil, then baked 'till crisp. Stick a spoon in it and put it next to a few loaves of bread, and it's gone like that.
I shucked some of our oysters, but wanting the saloneers to get the full experience, I left quite a few for them to do. Some did one or two; one guy, a navy man from New Orleans, blew through them like he'd been doing it his whole life. Well, maybe not quite that fast, but his claim that he had never shucked oysters didn't line up with the speed at which he did it this night. That's the funny thing about oyster shucking--there's always someone in a group who just kind of "gets" it from the start. The rest of us don't, and have to practice and practice. Either that, or there's a band of underground oyster shucking hustlers walking the streets.
I encouraged all guests to eat the oysters nude, by which I mean to say I asked them to try the oysters without the assistance of sauce and to chew them, while remaining fully clothed. I've written before about the importance of understanding and enjoying the terroir of oysters; despite mignonette's acidity being one of my absolute favorite flavors, I feel it masks the great things about oysters, and chewing allows us to enjoy their texture, and to release some more of the tasty liquid inside. Happily, everyone tried this, and though I offered a tangelo granita as a more subtle topping, the oysters were eaten on their own. Perhaps it was politeness, or perhaps it was the fact that sparkling wine was flowing pretty freely at this point, but I was glad to see them gobbled up so enthusiastically.
We prepared our bass in the spirit of good timing; it would be thrown in the oven as we sat down to eat our clams. Guests chopped leeks, fennel, lemons and green garlic, all of which went into the fish's belly cavity after it had been rubbed inside and out with olive oil, salt and pepper. We laid it on a bed of fennel fronds and leek ends and set it aside as we moved to the clams. So very, very simple.

For the clams, I had prepared a version of soffrito--found the world over as a flavoring agent made of simple ingredients (in this case onion, tomato and olive oil) transformed through heat and time. I minced an onion, put it in a pot over low, low heat with a bunch of olive oil and let it start to brown. Since good tomatoes are in super short supply right about now, I used some nice canned tomatoes; chopped them up fine and added them to the mix, letting the olive oil-covered soffrito go all night in my oven, as low as it could go. The result is a highly concentrated, reduced little mishmosh of flavor--keep it in a jar for weeks in the fridge, and add it to anything for a burst of flavor. We sauteed some of the leeks and fennel we'd sliced for the fish in butter, added a few good dollops of the soffrito, then the clams (purged in salt water for an hour or so to help remove any sand), hit the pan with some white wine and threw a lid on. These little guys steamed open in a few minutes (manila clams open much more quickly than most other clams) and we were set. Toasted some baguette slices and spread them with aioli, dished up the clams into bowls, and tucked in.

To serve with the fish, artichokes I like to call "teenage"--not baby, but not so adult that the choke has developed into something inedible yet--were cleaned and quartered, tossed with more fennel and leeks in the same pan the clams were cooked in, a few juices remaining--and put in the hot hot oven along with the fish as we ate. The bibb lettuce (good hydroponic stuff) was tossed with a sharp shallot vinaigrette and tarragon, basil and parsley leaves. We finished the clams, moved to the salad, then the fish was ready--soft and moist, with a few crispy points on the top half--the bottom rich and succulent, braising in the juices created through cooking. I made a quick salsa verde: parsley, tarragon, basil, garlic, capers, olives, a couple anchovies, sherry vinegar and a good bolt of olive oil pureed together. I was thrilled that this group was so comfortable with each other--people were, without abandon, picking at the fish on the pan after having eaten a few helpings; an eyeball was eaten for the first time, we discussed the benefits of the top (crisp) vs. the bottom (succulent and juicy), and how flavorful the juices in the pan were. We talked and talked, food and more, well into the evening. And yours truly was thrilled when the offered whiskey was taken late in the night/early in the morning.
It was a truly vibrant group, a simple yet beautiful meal, and I am ready to parlay this energy in to the next Salon. I will release details of that in the coming week--most likely the event will be somewhere around that second weekend of April, not far away at all. Of course, a huge thank you to the guests who have attended so far, and here's to great cooking, food and company!

Great Soup and Bread, and a Couple Seats for Salon II

Yet another great night of Soup and Bread happened on Wednesday; nine people showed up with soup, a few more with bread, and some serious cash was raised for the Marjorie Kovler Center. It's amazing to see how much this has grown from year one with two other soup makers on the night I cooked, to year two, where there must have been five of us, to this, the third year, with the mentioned nine cooks and a ton of people filling the room. It's a special thing Martha Bayne has created down there, and I encourage each of you to check it out each Wednesday.
Moving right along, The Food on the Dole Salon II is tomorrow night, yes, Saturday night, with a focus on seafood. I've got some great things in store (that may or may not include that wonder of gastronomic alchemy, baccala and/or some honey tangelos), and a cancellation has opened up a couple of seats. If you are interested, we'll be cooking together, eating together, and discussing all things food and beyond--email me at to nab the seats. Hope you can make it!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Salon I, Photoless For Now as We Move to Salon II

The first Food on the Dole Salon was, by all accounts, a great success. I was joined by a group of lovely people from varying backgrounds to cook and eat together, with the goals of connecting otherwise strangers, sharing great discussion over well crafted food and, of course, picking up some solid cooking knowledge to be put to use at home. Yours truly led the group over a menu focused on roasted chicken (the rest being filled out by what was looking good in the market that day--tough in the winter in Chicago, but nevertheless--I got most of the food at Fresh Farms); we worked together in the kitchen, sharing stories and perspectives on food, then sat down at the table to continue talking with each other until well after dessert was served. It was, to me, an ideal Salon. The menu was:
  • Homemade Epi Bread, Aged Cheddar, Volpi Cacciatore (a salami, aged and aged, loosely meaning "fox hunter"
  • Watercress, Herb and Beet Salad, Herb Vinaigrette
  • Roast Chicken
  • Bacon Wrapped Rosemary Onions
  • Smashed & Fried Garlic Potatoes
  • Plum Tart Crumble, Black Dog Gelato
Unfortunately, I was too focused on the food and the guests to take any photos, though I do have a sneaky friend who has offered to come and do so one of these times. I suppose the focus is on the event itself, rather than reporting it; a dilemma that will work itself out as the Salon ages. I was pleased that we had so much perspective at the Salon; I believe that one of the things that will make it successful is the variety that guests offer. I've said it before: any level of cooking knowledge is welcome.

Moving on , I'd like to announce the second Food on the Dole Salon: Saturday, March 26. This six-seat Salon will be focused on the gems of the sea; whether the main dish is a rich seafood stew or whole roasted fish remains to be seen. The requested donation is $50; if you are interested in attending, please email me at Interested in future events? Email that same address and I'll put you on the F.o.t.D. mailing list, which will announce future events. More information on my thoughts behind starting the Salon Series can be read in this article with The Onion A/V Club.

A warm thank you to the members of the first Salon--you brought immeasurable energy to this project, and I hope to see you at another Salon!

Off We Go!

As the inaugural Food on the Dole Salon approaches, I'd like to give a big thanks to the support I've received from so many people. It's reassuring to know that in a culinary landscape so seemingly dominated by re-purposed scientific equipment (fine) and stories of how much meat is actually included in fast food, uh, meat (not so fine on so many levels), there is still a strong base of folks quite interested in the food cooked and shared in the home. From old friends responsible for the flyer above and around town to news articles in print to crazy haired people giving advice and trumpeting the cause, the Salon has been on the receiving end of some great support. Thank you thank you.

So, fresh off a relaxing trip into the mountains of Colorado, a trip full of spaetzle and homemade bread and green chile and braised Colorado lamb and chats with funny Italian chefs in cutoff shirts and sunglasses in tiny mountain towns, I'm pretty pumped for the first Salon tomorrow night. We've got a great bunch of guests lined up, and a couple of good looking chickens hanging out and waiting for their moment as well. I'll be sure to write about it and announce the next Salon posthaste (email if interested); until then, cheers, and here's to food!

Manifesto: An Introduction to the Food on the Dole Salon

Wherever I go, I strive to learn about food. Not just to eat the best new dishes, but to look further, deeper into where they are coming from. Beyond the physical source of the food, to the person preparing it, their history, and what they are saying through their food. Here in Chicago, we've got all sorts of restaurants, top-notch chefs setting so many standards, the availability of great ingredients from our neighbors in the midwest and from all over the world. But sometimes what's missing is the actuality of the world of food. The fact that it isn't, and shouldn't be just restaurants that are feeding us--simply eating is, at most, half of the equation. We cook, thus we feed ourselves. I believe this wholeheartedly, and am going to share this with you. I'm going to introduce and cultivate technique and a more basic understanding of food. I'll provide a setting where anybody, beginner or pro, novice or expert can refine their skills and understanding of food, how it works, and why it matters. This will be a community based around real food. This is the Food on the Dole Salon.

A salon, you ask? What on earth is that? Well, despite my reluctance to quote Wikipedia, the first line of their entry on salons reads perfectly: "A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation." Not only do I want to provide instruction, tips and techniques of cooking; I want to provide an environment where people can come together from all backgrounds to discuss and learn about food:
  • I will provide the ingredients necessary (some sessions will include the actual shopping for said ingredients);
  • I will provide the setting and equipment necessary;
  • I will provide guidance through varying topics with the goal of expressing to you the concepts I like to apply when cooking--the why, the how, the story behind the food.
I am seeking guests who hunger to refine their cooking technique, want to enhance their understanding of food, and seek a community rooted in a common thread of the recognition of the importance of food and sound cooking. In a forum of others sharing these desires, an atmosphere free of exclusive notions, open to all viewpoints and the discussion of such, led by myself, Hugh Amano, chef and creator of Food on the Dole:
  • You will attend a session of roughly six people, receiving instruction from myself on a range of topics as the group cooks the evening's meal together;
  • You will sit down in a byob setting, eat and discuss the food we made and food in general, issues regarding food, things you may be curious about or feel need to be addressed;
  • You will help to create a community based on the joy of food, cooking, and the conversation and relationships they foster.
All topics are of course welcome in the natural course of the evening. I hope to develop a non-exclusive community of people who are not necessarily chefs and who don't necessarily eat at the fanciest restaurants (though these folks are definitely welcome), and who come from all sorts of backgrounds. I want to connect those of you who are experts in, say, theater, with those of you who keep bees. Those of you who eat regularly at places like Alinea, and those of you who visit tacquerias and hot dog stands on a daily basis. Over simple, beautifully prepared food, we'll converse on these things, and add to each others toolbox. And in this toolbox will be culinary techniques to make us better cooks at home. Dates, topics and cost will vary, and will be made known through Food on the Dole (

That said, the first Food on the Dole Salon will be held on Thursday, March 10, 2011. A donation of $50 per person is requested, and we will be cooking a full meal featuring what I believe to be an essential, and most appropriate for the inaugural Food on the Dole Salon: Roast Chicken. Email me at to sign up.

I'm excited to open a new chapter in my approach to and relationship with food, and hope to connect and influence many others in theirs. Hope to see you soon.