Buzz List for February 27, 2017
Immigration protest and boycott in Pilsen, gentrification in Mezcal-Land, Kurdish food in Chicago, fake food is lying to us, and 'nduja is moving into the city!
1. DISH IT OUT
It’s not often that dishwashers make the food media, but that’s precisely what happened when a dishwasher at Dusek’s in Pilsen, Eliseo Real, skipped work for the “Day Without Immigrants” protest on February 16—and was fired the next day for failing to give notice before not coming in.
A teacher of his, Ricardo Gamboa, followed with a lengthy Facebook post (opening words: “BOYCOTT DUSEK’S”) claiming not just that he was treated shabbily, but that the chef, or possibly someone else in a management position, spoke in a derogatory, vaguely racist manner. “Not only is this awful on principle, but it is a horrific instance of a white person attempting to discipline a person of color into docility and obedience and punishing them for exercising their agency because it is not convenient for them. It was over the head of this inconsiderate racist that the fact that he needed my student there and was inconvenienced by the absence of his body and labor was precisely what the Day Without Immigrants action was supposed to illustrate. This is disrespectful and irreverent exercise of privilege–citizenship privilege, class privilege, white privilege, etc.”
Well okay then! There’s plenty of commentary on both sides in the thread, plenty of good liberals ready to shame and boycott Dusek’s for being an oppressive exploiter and gentrifier of Pilsen, but I found much more thoughtful commentary in a thread started by Jonathan Zaragoza of Birrieria Zaragoza fame, and mostly consisting of restaurant people. Sympathetic they may be to the protest—but they also have a strong commitment to the idea that you don’t let a restaurant team down by not showing up to work. As one cook says: “I’m totally for the exercising your right to peacefully gather, it’s one of the best things about being American. But profesional ethic and taking proper step is what makes you a respected adult. Respect, it’s important.”
2. MEZCAL MOVES IN
Speaking of gentrification, it comes up as a topic in Anthony Todd’s interview with Caitlan Laman, who just took over at the mescal Mezcaleria Las Flores (the other half of Johnny’s Grill): “Laman’s also not blind to the fact that she’s using Mexican ingredients to make fancy drinks in a gentrifying neighborhood. She’s spent time in Mexico, but doesn’t pretend that anything here is ‘authentic’—in fact, she isn’t sure that really means much… So straight pours of mezcal at Mezcaleria are served with oranges, chile salt and cacao salt. Is that ‘authentic?’ At some bars in Mexico, sure, and at others, not so much—but it tastes good, people like it, and that’s what matters.”
That laissez-faire attitude toward authenticity and gentrification seems to have set off her predecessor at Las Flores, Jay Schroeder, who writes about it very thoughtfully (while airing a few grievances about the circumstances that led him to leave the place) on Facebook (h/t Melissa McEwen): “What pains me most is not the alteration of such a personal concept, it’s the potential danger in turning something with such specific potential into yet another just another cool-kid cocktail bar. Logan Square is changing by the minute. Communities are being displaced and rent is through the roof. I did much soul-searching before creating such a specific concept in a neighborhood in transition. At the end of the day, I decided that discourse, education, and cross-cultural understanding were more important than being seen at risk of cultural appropriation.”
3. FU FIGHTERS
Michael Nagrant rhapsodically compares Kitsune to a Nirvana album—which prompted Iliana Regan to tweet back amusedly that she’d mostly been listening to Stevie Nicks during that time. Anyway: “One of the best things I ate was a piece of raw uni dusted with pulverized nori, sugar and sea salt splashed with yuzu juice ($11). As much as foodies love uni, most of America is not pining for sea urchin gonads sprinkled with dried seaweed. Yet the resulting taste—a scoop of citrus-spritzed and slightly funky custard—should be universally delicious if people open their minds to it.”
Nick Kindelsperger finds Publican Anker a little unmoored from its claimed influence: “The restaurant’s website claims that the tavern is an ‘homage to the early 20th-century saloons and breweries that once comprised Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood,’ but I don’t know any time in world history—forget this neighborhood—when fried eggplant, pork rinds, avocado salad and swordfish sausage shared space on a menu.” But he likes its highly eclectic menu anyway: “the more you dive into the unknown, the happier you’ll be.” (Tribune)
5. KURD IS THE WORD
One Kurdish restaurant in Chicago is one more than Istanbul admits to having, given the policies there against promoting Kurdish identity. So I’m excited to check The Gundis out, and so was Mike Sula: “Some of the food is familiar in form and practice. You can start meals off (or linger indefinitely) with a basket of puffy Kurdish flatbread baked in the kitchen that morning. Dredge it through a sampling of conventional mezes: hummus; grilled calamari; chewy, salty slabs of blistering grilled halloumi; or a deposit of ezme, the tomato-and-pepper mince shot through with isot, aka Urfa biber. That’s the crushed, raisiny, crimson pepper that’s the power behind the slow-building sweet heat that characterizes much of this food, from the lentil soup to the fried potatoes. You’ll taste it in the light, tomatoey broth that bathes a brimming bowl of mussels. It’s impossible to miss in the garlic-lemon-butter sauce that drenches a pile of snappy crustaceans, a lip-smacking preparation that seems like a lost cousin to New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp. For a cuisine that has its origins in landlocked regions, Kurdish food seems to have a way with seafood.” (Reader)
6. FAKE NEWS
David Hammond talks to Larry Olmsted, author of Real Food, Fake Food: “Species substitution in seafood is common: a cheaper species is sometimes passed off as a more expensive and desirable one, and the cheaper ones can be dangerous, even potentially fatal. Escolar, nicknamed the ‘ex-lax fish’ because it’s widely known to cause digestive distress (and is banned in Japan), is widely substituted for tuna in sushi restaurants. In Chicago, pufferfish, or fugu, was sold to consumers as monkfish, and poisonous pufferfish contains one of the world’s most deadly natural neurotoxins.”
7. WINTER GREENS
Peter Frost looks at the range of indoor farms dotting industrial areas of Chicago and the vicinity, and their financial outlook: “‘Right now the demand in the marketplace exceeds our supply,’ says Viraj Puri, CEO of New York-based Gotham Greens, which operates four greenhouses, including the 2-acre greenhouse on the roof of the Method soap factory in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. The company, which sells lettuces to restaurants like Gibsons and Honey Butter Fried Chicken as well as grocers Jewel and Whole Foods Market, has raised more than $30 million and is exploring an expansion in Chicago.” (Crain’s)
Franklin Park’s ‘Nduja Artisans is moving to the city, opening a restaurant/deli called Tempesta at 1372 W. Grand. Though (I did not know this) it’s not their first business in the city—the same family owns the neighborhood fave Ristorante Agostino on Harlem Avenue. (Crain’s)
9. MEAD MYSELF & I
Many years ago, one of the first things I went on with folks from Chowhound was an eating tour up and down Western. The very first stop for many was a homebrew store in Beverly where the guy talked about homebrewing mead, the honey-based spirit you more often encounter in old books than life. (He also offered remaindered copies of a book of recipes from Chicago politicians, which led to this theatrical work with future Baconfest co-founder Seth Zurer. It was a momentous occasion, apparently.)
Well, many years later, here’s the same guy, Greg Fischer, talking with Julia Thiel about his meadery, Wild Blossom Meadery & Taproom.
DNA Info looks back at the history of Andersonville’s Swedish Bakery as it prepares to close.
11. FEED, ME
The author of a new book about Chicago food joins Rick Bayless and Steve Dolinsky on The Feed this week—hey wait, that’s me! Check it out as we talk about Chicago food and chow down on food from Immm Rice and Beyond, La Chaparrita, and Al-Sufara Grills.