Buzz List for May 30, 2017

It's a light week, but get an education in Ethiopian from Mike Sula, reviews for hotel restaurants (Palmer House! Radisson Blu!), the best burger in Chicago is... wott? and, of course, stop culturally appropriating tortillas!

Selam/Facebook
A plate full of food on injera bread at Selam
1. TORTILLAPPROPRIATION

The story everyone was talking about was the one about the women who started a tortilla truck in Portland—and then, showing why Portlandia is named what it is, were shamed out of business by the local alt-weekly, which took everything they said as a sign of felonious cultural appropriation. Was that appropriate?

Me, I think the reason that no one can come up with a firm idea of what they think on the subject is because anyone sensible holds two views on the subject—there is such a thing as stealing from and trashing a culture, but there should be no such thing as being allowed or not allowed to make a particular food. I believe firmly that food is our primary initial form of cultural exchange, and no one is better off if we put up walls between cultures and invent rules about who’s allowed to touch anything. Let them try their hand at it, and we’ll judge how it is then.

In Chicago, this debate always comes back to one practical example—Rick Bayless, whose supposed “cultural appropriation” has been a boon in every way to our city, from the education he’s given us all to the restaurants he’s spawned created by former cooks of his. A year ago Bayless was referenced in an NPR piece on the same subject and his response, preserved here at Reddit, is the most eloquent defense of open borders between cuisines that I’ve read, and well worth your time:

I invite you to criticize me if you think I’m not talented at writing recipes, as a restaurant chef, or as a communicator on television. Criticize my work if you think it’s not well researched enough, or if you think all the years I’ve lived and traveled in Mexico isn’t enough to absorb the cuisine. But don’t criticize me for being white, for falling head over heels for Mexico and it’s incomparable cuisine, and for wanting to share it with the world.

2. OF CHEFS AND MENTOR

Julia Thiel did this cool piece as part of the Key Ingredient Cook Off a couple of weeks ago, asking each competing chef to talk about someone who mentored them—even if they don’t know it, as in the case of Dan Salls and Rick Bayless: “I spent a lot of time watching Mexico: One Plate at a Time and cruising through that awesome encyclopedia of Mexican food on [Rick Bayless’s] website… In some strange shape or form I feel a mentorship even though he probably doesn’t know who I am.”

3. NEVER GO FULL TEFF

Mike Sula’s review of an African restaurant-bakery called Selam Ethiopian Kitchen is a full education on its subject—here’s just one sample: “The chef grew up cooking in her parents’ Addis Ababa restaurant, and since arriving in the U.S. she’s made it her business to perfect an injera recipe that maximizes use of the traditional teff flour and avoids unhealthier self-rising flours. That’s not such an easy feat in the States—injera batter made purely of teff doesn’t react well with the steel griddles typically used here as opposed to the traditional earthenware mitad. Selamawit’s injera previously incorporated 15 percent buckwheat flour, and it was tangy and resilient. But now, with the acquisition of a new mitad, the restaurant has gone full teff.”

4. WHICH SIDE IT'S BUTTERED ON

I have to admit I haven’t really kept up with the Tribune’s month of sandwiches, and I was ready to stand by my statement that Nick Kindelsperger’s piece on Mexican sandwiches was the best thing it was going to produce—but there’s a close rival in Louisa Chu’s piece on interesting breads being made by bakeries and chefs around town. How many have you had? (My score is 8 out of 12.)

5. CURD YOUR ENTHUSIASM

Michael Nagrant finds cheese curds of his dreams in the Palmer House: “They’re not just some pedestrian Northwoods greasy curds either. They were popcorn light, the Wisconsin cheddar, not oozy, but gossamer and enveloped in a fluffy, fried-well-salt and peppered tempura jacket. The accompanying dip was also balanced. Peppadew peppers blended into a creamy aioli added tangy zing and a touch of fiery spice and lightened the overall load of what could have been a gut bomb.” (Redeye)

6. FILINI'S AQUA

I actually ate at some earlier iteration of Filini in the Radisson Blu and it was, if overpriced, pretty good. It’s at least two chefs later, though, with current chef Aaron McKay already planning to depart, and Graham Meyer in Crain’s is underwhelmed: “The Filini panino ($16) epitomizes the high-class, low-ambition strategy. Prosciutto, mortadella and soppressata that would hog attention on most charcuterie boards layer in an overtoasted roll with an olive-y peperonata spread. Everything in this sandwich tastes good, but it lacks a final fillip of sour, spice or other bravery that would justify the restaurant’s name on it, signifying an aim for signature status. Each ingredient, up and down the sandwich, outdoes a Potbelly Italian, but the two share most of the same DNA.”

7. BURGER SURGER

Thrillist did a countrywide burger exploration, some places in Chicago are ranked highly… but don’t look for our top burger at Au Cheval or Kuma’s—it’s at a place I never suspected of even having one, Mott Street, which comes in at #7 nationwide. Honestly, I kind of wish not every place had to have a burger, especially hipster Asian restaurants, but good for them anyway.

8. FIDGET SPINNER

Nice, decently in-depth piece at the Tribune about one of the city’s sweet little underappreciated gems—Humboldt Park soda fountain-and-pie shop Spinning J: “‘We liked the thought of being a place in the neighborhood that everyone could come, the idea of being a real fixture in the community that was comfortable for both families and individuals to come sit at the counter by themselves and not feel awkward.’”

9. DEVON POINT

Fooditor had a Devon Indian food guide by someone from that culture and now DNA Info has one too. Always worth knowing more about what’s available on Devon. (H/t Cathy Lambrecht)

10. HELLO, MY NAME IS PODCAST

Dana Cree is the guest, talking ice cream, on The Feed. What more is there to say?

11. PIG'S EYE

What will the future of local food media look like after the media consolidates itself into nothingness? We already know it looks like Instagrammers showing off free dinners to the world—but it will also look like restaurant groups deciding not to have anything to do with food media at all.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I will still miss Analogue, but Fifolet is a perfectly pleasant Cajun place that fits right into the Division strip like a bar on Bourbon street. Liked the cornbread and the gumbo best.

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