The James Beard Awards are a big deal, the Academy Awards of food. Sadly, due to the niche nature of the culinary world (and often times less glamorous), not many people are aware of the actual weight that comes along with being a winner, or even a nominee of the James Beard Foundation Awards.

James Beard was hailed by some as “The Father of American Gastronomy”. He was an early proponent of fresh, American grown ingredients and was partially responsible for introducing French cooking into the mainstream. Between his cookbooks and his cooking schools in both New York and Oregon, Beard gave a face to a newly realized culinary identity for America. The James Beard Foundation, founded in 1985 after Beard’s death, has been giving out their prestigious, peer voted, awards since 1990. Not only do they recognize the best the food world has to offer, but they host numerous events around the country to help foster an American culinary history and culture. Most importantly though, they give out thousands of dollars in culinary school scholarships each year to students of all ages.

At the awards ceremony that took place last night at New York City’s Lincoln Center, the Big Apple was the stand out of the evening, naturally. Though it has to be said that the Midwest really held their own by taking home Best New Restaurant (Next, Chicago), Outstanding Pastry Chef (Mindy Segel of Mindy’s HotChocolate, Chicago) as well as Chicago gastronomical mainstay, Charlie Trotter, being named the Humanitarian of the Year award.

Bringing one in for the home team, Chef Tory Miller of Madison’s L’Etoile was awarded the Best Chef in the Midwest category, which spans Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisco. With the care, the creativity, and the talent that Tory puts into each dish, as well as his passion for seasonal and locally sourced food this award doesn’t come as a shock to anyone whose ever eaten his food that he has been awarded such an honor.

Congratulations Tory!

A Complete Listing of the James Beard Award 2012 Recipients 

I’ll admit it, I have an intrinsic bias against suburbia. So, when my suburban bound friends, Steve and Lindsey, suggested that we try Salvatore’s Tomato Pies in Sun Prairie I was immediately suspicious. After a quick inspect of their website my suspicion quickly turned to intrigue. The ingredient choices were interesting and thoughtful (Underground Meats, come on!) , and I was actually excited to check it out.

Located in a typical strip mall, the decor left everything to be desired. It was clear though that some semblance of an effort had been put forth, however misguided it may have been. The service, on the other hand, was lovely. Our server incredibly friendly to the point of overdoing it, but it was clear that she took pride in the food she was serving. Additionally, a few minutes into our pies the chef stopped by to check on everything, which is always a great touch. When we told him how delicious his pizza was he was beaming. Adorable!

We started with a bottle of Pinot Noir and their family style salad. The salad was nothing terribly unique: greens, red onions, carrot shavings, ricotta, tomatoes, and cucumbers tossed in a citrus vinaigrette. The ingredients were fresh, and although the combination wasn’t terribly creative, it was delicious. And frankly, $7.00 for a heaping plate of fresh greenery can’t be bad.

We decided to order two pies: the nightly special of chicken basil and the fig with bacon pie. The crust was soft and airy, but not chewy, one of the most notable pizza crusts I’ve ever had. The chicken basil pizza was good, very good. The chicken bits were super moist, which is unusual for chicken that has been baked on a pizza. It seemed to have been marinated in a sweet soy sauce perhaps? The shining moment of the meal, however, was when I bit into the fig, bacon, and gorgonzola pie making it my absolute favorite pizza combination on earth. The subtle sweetness of the figs and the creaminess of the gorgonzola was nearly too much to handle. The bacon was crispy but not too overpowering, like bacon tends to be. There was nothing wrong with this pizza.

After my dessert of pistachio gelato with fresh strawberries, we sat for a while and commiserated over the simple, yet perfect, dinner we had just shared. Salvatore’s isn’t good for Sun Praire, it’s just good. Salvatore’s has officially surpassed Pizza Brutta as my favorite pizza in town.

 

Delivery options in Madison are a dissmal, at best, so when I heard about Banzo opening I was elated to try it. The Banzo falafel pita sandwich, side of couscous tabouli, and freshly brewed iced tea delivered to my house?! Fresh, delicious, and fast. All I can say if that you must try it.

 

Over the last 9 months (fitting) I have met some really incredible people and I’ve learned more than I could have ever hoped of knowing about growing babies, having babies, and raising babies. Valuable knowledge who has shaped who I will be as a mother.

However, I am pleased to announce that my foray into the world of administrative work has come to an end. Starting soon I will be serving at the latest manifestation of Underground Food Collective, Forequarter. Check ya’ later, suburbs and office work!

http://undergroundfoodcollective.org/forequarter

This movie was artfully shot and thoughtfully told. If you’re into sushi, fine dining, quality story telling, family dynamics, foreign cultures, contemporary cinematography, or adorable elderly men this film is for you. 

It goes through to discuss the hard life and hard work of Jiro Ono, the 85 year-old, three Michelin star awarded sushi master. The oldest person to ever be awarded three stars, actually. Besides the sushi, the story line focuses mostly on the pressure facing his eldest son, 50 year old Yoshikazu, to one day take over the restaurant, the world renowned Sukiyabashi Jiro. At one point it is observed that Yoshikazu has to exhibit twice the amount of skill and talent that his father has just to be seen as an equal. I must admit that there are parts when just how suffocating such pressure must be. In all fairness though, Jiro has no problem discussing the importance he is putting on his son carrying on his legacy of perfection. It is still tough to watch at points.

A  portion of the film that really stood out to me is when father and son discuss how the quality of their dishes can only be as good as the quality of the product they are sourcing. You follow Yoshikazu to the fish market, which may be one of the strangest things I have ever seen, and you’re able to see his relationships with his vendors and what they put into choosing some of the highest quality seafood in the world. Yoshikazu also goes on to talk about how important conservation is, noting that seafood is clearly an integral part to maintaining his livelihood but that doesn’t mean that every last fish should be harvested.

Go see this movie, please.

And to all of the Francophiles out there: Robuchon makes a cameo appearance!

 

The month of April was a long one. Justin was out of town three of the four weeks for work and frankly I had milked Madison for all it was worth. When I found out he was going to be gone I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to head South, but I hadn’t anticipated needing it so badly. So, on a Thursday morning I woke up early, grabbed a coffee and a Batch Bakehouse marzipan croissant from Johnson Public House, and headed out.

After a quick stop at Ikea, I met Ms. Tiffany Skemp on her lunch hour at the Chicago French Market. A lovely indoor market with a couple of great little places to grab a bite to eat. While Tiff was grabbing her lunch at Pastoral’s lunch counter, I was hanging out with the cheese guy eating as many samples as he would give. Out of the handful of cheeses I tried the one I was really taken with was a chevre frais from a place called Dutch Girl Creamery in Nebraska. It was delicious and creamy, not terribly sharp, but exactly what I think a chevre should be. After T.Skemp ate and we parted ways I stopped at Vanille Patisserie and grabbed a pretty impressive looking morsel. Vanilla custard essentially covered in a raspberry jam IS as incredible as it sounds.

I had forgone lunch with Tiff at the market because I was on to bigger and better things. A couple of months ago the James Beard awarded Fulton Market restaurant, The Publican, had opened a casual delicatessen right across the street called Publican Quality Meats that I had been salivating over since hearing of its inception. As I expected, it is designed to the nines: stark white tiling with beautiful hardwood and vibrant blue accents. Really busy, but really hip and clean at the same time. You are met with three large cases of beautiful meats of all kinds, carefully prepared and beautifully displayed. Baskets of bread and jars of accouterments line the floor and fill the shelves.

I was seated immediately despite it being during a packed lunch hour, as I was alone. They have five communal tables, which is both charming and perfect for a habitual eavesdropper like myself.  The menu looked great and I ended up ordering a roast beef sandwich with maytag blue cheese, butter lettuce, and smoked onions on country bread. Instead of a bag of chips I opted for the radish salad, which was raw radishes with a wonderful vinaigrette. Perfect! I rounded my lunch off with a Victory Prima Pils, from their small but impressive beer list.

I may even go as far as to say that I like this spot more than The Publican. Yeah. Way more.

After lunch I headed to MCA where I stumbled around in amazement for a couple of hours, working up an appetite. I was fortunate enough to take in an incredible exhibit called “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980’s”. It was really interesting, subversive and beautiful and right up my alley.

When the museum closed I headed North to meet my friend Tiffany for dinner at a place called Uncommon Ground. They have two locations in Chicago, and unfortunately the one that was near the theatre was not the location with the rooftop farm (and in Wrigleyville). However, right up the road from the restaurant I discovered an incredible used book store called The Bookworks. After picking up a few great finds, I went and grabbed a table.

I stumbled upon this place a while back, but neither location is near much of anything I generally find myself doing while I’m in town, so I hadn’t had the chance to try them. The menu was pretty contemporary, albeit not terribly unique. I really wanted to give this place a chance for two reasons: the first of which being I am endlessly fascinated by urban farming and for whatever reason this organization is the only rooftop farm in Chicago. Secondly, you really have to give a place credit for presenting an entirely organic menu. One thing that really caught my attention about this place is that while we were there, there were two separate children having a birthday dinner with friends and their family. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a Chuck E. Cheese, but the menu and atmosphere is very family friendly. Which doesn’t always appeal to me, but I can certainly appreciate it.

Uncommon Ground is incredibly charming, despite it having sort of a chain feeling. The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly, but not the most professional. Like I mentioned, the menu wasn’t terribly creative but there were some tasty sounding things on it. I started with a lemon, ginger, and vodka cocktail with candied ginger. A delicious, but pretty standard combination these days. As an appetizer we ordered a baked artichoke with goat cheese and pesto dip that was served with crostini. Accessible, a slight deviation from the norm, and absolutely delicious. But then again, it is goat cheese. As a main course I ordered ricotta ravioli made with ramps, asparagus, tomatoes in a roasted garlic cream sauce. Very good, nothing I couldn’t have made at home, but good.


After dinner, Tiffany and I took in a play I had been waiting a while to see. “Freud’s Last Session” has been playing off Broadway for a couple of years now and I have kept my eye on it, never having the opportunity to catch it. A few weeks back it opened in Chicago, and lucky for us, the New York cast came to the Midwest for a few weeks to open it. The basis of the play is a meeting between C.S. Lewis, an adamant believer in God, and Sigmund Freud, who was famously atheist. The dialogue was so smart and so impressively non-biased and SO fascinating. If ever you have the opportunity to see it, I suggest you make that happen.

The play wrapped up around 9:30, and after a couple hours of photo boothing at a lovely Logan Square watering hole called Weegee’s (yes, named after the amazing photographer) it was back to Madison with me.

What a delicious and perfect day. God dammit, I love Chicago.

When I saw that Mark Bittman was coming to Madison to speak at this years Isthmus Green Day I was pretty stoked. His recipes are consistently delicious and I am an avid reader of his column “On Food” that he writes for the NY Times. I find his writing to have a directness that the whole food movement is lacking in most of it’s other luminaries, and this lecture in Madison certainly didn’t disappoint.

In a packed Monona Terrace I was fortunate enough to find a single seat in the front row. Like virtually every performer/speaker I have seen in Madison in the last year, Mr. Bittman started with shameless pandering, committing the first 5 minutes of his talk to dissing Scott Walker and at one point calling Madison the “last bastion of liberalism”.  Yeah, could have done without that. However, once he got the point at hand, I was pretty into it. His subtle snark won me over while he discussed veganism, “What really matters is that we move from the cheeseburger end of the spectrum to the salad end”. He went on to say that you don’t necessarily have to only eat raw vegetables, but to be conscious of what you’re eating. That certainly isn’t a revolutionary concept to you and I, but a re-framing of the conversation never hurts.

After about 45 minutes of preaching to the choir, in my opinion, he wrapped things with a few bold, yet pretty obivous, statements. He said that food that is bad for you should not be subsidized nor should food stamps pay for them. A soda should be $4.00 while water should be free to everyone. Taxing soda in the same way that cigarettes are taxed. Revolutionary? Hardly. Reality? In a dream world, Mark.

All in all, I enjoyed his lecture all though I didn’t really feel like I heard anything new. That certainly didn’t stop me from getting my copy of “How to Cook Everything”.

http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/

http://markbittman.com/

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