Friday, July 30, 2010

In Memory of an Artisan

I only met Daniel once, about six weeks ago. I had gone down to Prairie Fruits Farm for the weekend for reasons that now seem cloudy, although I think the idea had been to talk to Leslie and her husband Wes about getting involved with the Chicago farmer's markets. Almost as soon as I arrived, I was told of a new vendor next to them at the market, a young man who'd followed his passion for bean-to-bar chocolate to starting his own business - Flatlander Chocolate. They were, believe me, absolutely incredible.

He also made caramels, and I'd tried to buy a salted one from him when I was there. Unfortunately, I'd waited too long, and he'd sold out. "Next week," he assured me with a smile. Of course, I couldn't make it to the market the next week, but I'd hoped to go down to the farm again, sometime this summer, and get one then.

Daniel was 24, and had been a graduate student in computer science (or maybe it was mathematics) at UIUC when he'd started playing around in the kitchen with cocoa nibs. Eventually, the hobby became an all-consuming passion, and he left school to pursue his chocolate-making full-time. When I was a the market, his zeal bubbled out from under his awning. He was a very charismatic young man, tall and thin, with a hipster edge. I both related to him and admired him for taking the leap and pursuing his passion full-time.

Daniel died Tuesday morning, an apparent suicide. The news out of Urbana is sketchy at best, but I have to admit, I find it hard to understand how someone who took such glee in his work could also be desperate enough to kill himself. But, of course, I only met him once, briefly, and our conversation never turned to matters of the heart or mind.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Caliente Doug's

I had an epic day of sexploration yesterday, by which I mean I ate a lot of really good food. The first stop was the always disappointing Hot Doug's. Seriously, could there be a place - anywhere on the planet - more overrated? Above is a picture of the entranceway, a picture that took two hours to get. That's right, two hours of standing in line to get a couple decent sausages.

I ordered the Keira Knightley and the infamous (and rather heroic) foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage (with truffle oil sauce). Those are pictured below, along with the pommes frites en gras de canard, i.e. duck fat fries. I'll let you in on a little secret: Pied de Cochon's fries were cooked in only 50% duck fat and theirs were a lot better. I'll let you in on another little secret: Pdc's fries are only about as good as Nightwood's.

This sausage, however, was a work of art. It was a rib-eye sausage with black garlic aïoli and a double cream Brie. Not worth the wait, but definitely worth eating.

Following a few hours' cooling off in front of HGTV (I was the only guy, that's my excuse), we headed to get some dinner. Xoco was our destination, a place that I have been eager to try since last summer, despite a slightly blah review from a trusted source. Those in the know will be aware that Xoco is Rick Bayless' sandwich shop, serving tortas and soups for lunch and dinner, but also serving coffee, churros, and the most amazing hot chocolate on this side of the Atlantic. It's at Illinois and Clark, right next to Frontera Grill, and words and images really don't do it justice. Just go there.

The tortas we shared were a Yucatecan-style pork offering, called cochinita pibil, with the ubiquitous pickled onions on the side and a fiery (but sooooo delicoius) roasted habanero salso. This one is on the left in the picture. The other was a daily special of shrimp and bacalao (it being Friday), and it was simply good. The bacalao hadn't been oversoaked, neither had it (crucially) been undersoaked. Just two very well-conceived tortas. The chocolate, their Barcelona offering, was just bittersweet chocolate heaven.

All in all, an amazing day. Now I get to get up at 4:30 tomorrow and cook my own amazing food. Cheers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Food Independence Day!

Here's a picture of an organic-egg-in-the-whole-wheat-basket. (The bread is from the Great Harvest in Evanston. So good!)