There’s a minor Federico Fellini film from the late 1970s called Orchestra Rehearsal, a little fable made for Italian television, taking the form of a TV mockumentary. (You can watch it on Amazon Prime here.) The TV crew wants to examine how the famous conductor and his orchestra work together in harmony. What we soon see is that he’s a tyrant, and the orchestra has had enough. They overthrow him, and he goes off to sulk while they plan to run the orchestra collectively. But they soon come to feel that you can’t run an artistic enterprise by committee. They reach out to the conductor, who is chastened by the whole experience. He promises to be kinder and to listen to others, and he resumes the job of conducting, pledging mutual respect…

…and in the film’s last seconds, as they make music together, we see the tyrant beginning to emerge again.

It’s an allegory for Italy’s revolving governments, and when it came out, people condemned Fellini as saying dictatorship was inevitable, maybe even preferable. I don’t think he was saying that at all—I think a Roman, walking in the very city in the very places where Caesar ruled and was overthrown, knows better than anyone that history is a cycle, that republics and emperors, democracy and dictatorship alternate.

I thought of this film reading a bunch of articles last week on the theme that the rock star chef is so over. This one from the New York Times will stand in for the type:

For decades, the chef has been cast as the star at the center of the kitchen. In the same way the auteur theory in film frames the director as the author of a movie’s creative vision, the chef has been considered entirely responsible for the restaurant’s success. Everyone else — line cooks, servers, dishwashers, even diners — is background, there to support that vision.

This way of thinking has informed the industry’s culture at every level. But the power of the chef-auteur as an idea is fading, and as restaurant workers organize and speak up about abusive workplaces, toxic bosses and inequities in pay and benefits, it’s clear that the restaurant industry has to change.

I hope it changes! Progress is possible even in historical cycles; I think we can safely say that Italy in 2020 is more humane than Italy in 20 A.D. on many levels.

But the idea that the chef-auteur will go away forever is just foolish, and goes against everything we know about history. We’ll have restaurants run by collectives, working as ateliers and workshops; food media will make stabs, at least, at writing about kitchens from a democratic point of view and not just glorifying the single chef (we’ll see if Food & Wine crowds its cover with 50 people for the Best New Chefs issue, though). It will get closer to the collective truth about restaurants, the same way someone who writes about screenwriters and producers and cinematographers, not just directors, does. Places have always run like that to some extent.

And some of them will be very good restaurants. Others will be, well, not so good, have the feel of committee-driven food. Not just mixing Tuscan pasta and orange chicken on the same menu, but lacking an overall sense of a house style—that this is what we do to ingredients when they come in the door, and this is how we make it pop on the plate.

And then some kid will come along with a strong vision. And she’ll be ruthless about it, and go through staff, and the word will go out in the kitchen community that she’s impossible, and doing it wrong. And then you, as a diner, will go to the restaurant, and you’ll have a magical experience, and know that the only way it could be this good—the only way it could be this—is if she fired everyone who couldn’t see it, and made her own mistakes when people with more experience knew a way to make it work well enough. It will be a place that could only come to be if she was the ruler of her own little kingdom, for as long as the cycle spins. And the very publications declaring the end of the dictator-chef will write about her, and declare: Hail, Caesar!

Buzz 2


No place felt more like summer—a chic 70s European summer, anyway—than Bar Biscay. So the news that it has fallen to the Coronavirus economy feels like the news that summer is over and back to humdrum lives. Scott Worsham made the announcement on Facebook, with partners Sari Zernich Worsham and Joe Campagna:

The time has come to say goodbye to our groovy, Atlantic-coast inspired French-Spanish-Basque funhouse, our Oasis of Joy. Due to factors beyond our control, in addition to COVID-19, we have been forced to end our journey with Bar Biscay…

This pandemic has thrown a harsh light on truths we all pretend to accept but seldom act upon — that the future is unknown, that nothing lasts forever. Let’s try to salvage some good from this. Let’s take better care of each other, of our planet, of ourselves. We only get this one go around, friends.

I interviewed Worsham (who also has mfk.) about running a restaurant in lockdown early on in the run of Fooditor Radio Is All Dressed Up And Has No Place To Go (scroll down till you find him) and he was realistically grim about the odds for a place like theirs, even with a pivot to being a neighborhood bodega. This was the second-highest-ranked place in the Fooditor 99 to close under COVID (after Blackbird), and especially a bummer because it was pure pleasure, a place to make you smile, from the pink-lit interior that practically said “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?” to food that was simple, a little funky, and earthy and real. I will miss it.


Shortly after the news about Nichols Farm getting booted from the Wicker Park Farmers Market last week, I was contacted by two people about the situation. First, the Wicker Park Chamber of Commerce sent me their official statement, which reads in part:

All vendors including Nichols Farm received a copy of these COVID-19 protocols prior to the start of the market season.

The first week of our market, Nichols Farm was in noncompliance of several safety protocols, and we attempted to work with them that day to resolve the issues. Then, a DCASE inspector visited our market on July 12 and identified additional noncompliance issues. Nichols Farm was notified of their noncompliance issues that day in person, and they were the sole vendor to decline to rectify the issues on-site that day. We followed up to Nichols Farm with an email as well, but they returned to Wicker Park Farmers Market the following weekend still in noncompliance with some of the COVID-19 health regulations for our market. On each of these occasions, our staff attempted to work with Nichols Farm to comply with the guidelines.

The leadership of Nichols Farm has not yet reached out to us to properly address these health and safety issues. Instead, they first went to social media claiming they were removed without cause, then later acknowledged some of their noncompliance with COVID-19 health protocols, but attacked us for enforcing these protocols to protect our patrons. We do not take these protocols lightly and take our role to enforce them seriously, in order to ensure the health of our community during a pandemic.

There were also stories in the Tribune and Block Club, which don’t make it much clearer what is going on, but it seems as much a matter of long-running personal antagonism as a health reg issue—the Trib quotes an email from market manager Alice Howe to Nichols that refers to “several years of dealing with incredibly difficult and disrespectful staff who have jeopardized our market.”

The other person who reached out to me was restaurateur Amy Morton (Found, The Barn, etc.). She admits she doesn’t know the specifics of this market, but she offers some historical perspective—and why it would be good for everyone to find a way to back down a little:

“I don’t really know what happened in Wicker Park’s farmers market. But what I can say is that there is no one, no one more upstanding than Lloyd and Todd Nichols, who run the farm. Evanston, where I live, was the first farmers market in the state, starting in 1979. Nichols was the first farm at the farmers market. This is what they do, and if what they were doing in Wicker Park was a fraction of what they do in Evanston, they go through the most extraordinary measures to do the right thing and keep everybody safe.

“Was there a, no pun intended, bad apple? I have no idea, but I have learned, through thirty years in the restaurant business and just being on the planet, that sometimes the best known are made examples of. I don’t know what the situation was, but I’m so dismayed to hear about it. It’s the antithesis of what we need to be doing right now.”


Eater Chicago reported earlier this week that workers at Pacific Standard Time, the River North restaurant part-owned by One Off Hospitality, had circulated a document expressing concerns and fears about Coronavirus and service at the busy (at least the last time I went there, before COVID) restaurant. I read the open letter and my feeling was… concerns are legitimate, but not clear what actions they thought the restaurant should take. They seemed to want what you can’t have now—absolute assurance that coming to work will be safe and none of your customers will be a-holes to you. PST has been a bit of an outlier in the One Off group, it initially began the lockdown doing takeout business until the whole group shut down, and the workers seem to feel that communication from management has been lacking, which is one of those things, if you feel it, it’s true by definition—though your expectations may or may not be realistic.

Now the Tribune reports that founding chef Erling Wu-Bower—who opened the concept with manager Josh Tilden as partners who were backed by their former employer, One Off Hospitality—actually left the restaurant some months ago. Not sure why One Off chose this moment to fully take ownership of a mess, but they did. Perry Hendrix, who succeeded Wu-Bower at Avec, is now the chef of the restaurant, but my question is—what’s the concept? Is it still Californian cuisine, or just a bigger Avec?


Mike Sula tells about a new Indian food popup, from Jasmine Sheth, who’d cooked around the city: “In early May, she launched Tasting India, a meal delivery ‘dabba service,’ each week announcing on her Instagram, @the_amusebouche, a thali-style set of dishes from one specific Indian regional cuisine, taking virtual orders and payment, and delivering, in the beginning, mostly to Facebook friends and coworkers.”There would be no more fusion. The first menu focused on Punjab, the northern Indian state whose food westerners are probably most familiar with—except the season’s last ramps were folded into her roti dough, and not many restaurants on Devon offer vegetable khichdi, ‘an Indian ‘detox’ dish made with mung beans, lentils, rice, and vegetables flavored with the immune-boosting power of turmeric.’”


Louisa Chu has been checking up on Chinatown in the Tribune, and this week on the Chewing podcast, she also checks out longtime Fooditor favorite Richland Center and its basement food court, to see how it’s surviving the lockdown.


I’m not planning to do a new Fooditor 99 this year because I feel the situation changes too quickly to be nailed down in a printed book, particularly at the high end. But I probably will do some kind of piece at least covering the new neighborhood places that have opened by years’ end, because I hate to not note their existence and give them some encouragement in some way. I was just pondering that when I saw that Time Out Chicago did a list of The 18 Most Exciting New Restaurants in Chicago, covering places that have opened since the lockdown. It’s interesting, not just because it will surely point you to some things you don’t know about, but also because in aggregate it shows you how the restaurant industry has adapted—some are bona fide new restaurants, like Ever or Robert et Fils, but more are pop-ups or temporary spots, like Andrew Brochu’s Friend of the Devil or Takeaway Bagels at Superkhana International, finding a way to do business successfully in this lousy time.


Black People Eats, which began as an Instagram account and blog, has grown rapidly to highlight African-American-owned restaurants in half a dozen cities, and shows the power of social media to reach audiences off the radar of “mainstream” (in other words, white) media. Steve Dolinsky did a piece this week on proprietor Jeremy Joyce and three Chicago places he’s called attention to.


Titus Ruscitti took a road trip to Michigan and has two recent posts, one on the area closest to Chicago (Three Oaks, etc.) and one on Grand Rapids, which looks like one fun place after another and definitely deserves exploration.


Whatcha doin’ Monday night? I’ll tell you—you’re getting pizza from one of three places that are making special chef-collaboration pizzas benefiting My Block My Hood My City, which works with underprivileged kids to intriduce them to broader cultural opportunities in the city. A collaboration between Schwa’s Caleb Trahan and Professor Pizza (Anthony Scardino) is already sold out, but as of this writing, you can still get pizza from Table, Donkey & Stick and Brian Fisher (Entente), or from Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird), Edwin Perez (Rootstock) and Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream. Details and ordering are at Schwa’s Tock page.


Last year I just happened to be at Mitsuwa Market close to my wife’s birthday (son #2 and I were tagging along for this piece) and spotted a cake place called Lady M, doing crepe cakes (the cake is made of lots of crepe layers with sweet cream in between). Expensive but elegant, it was a hit. I honestly didn’t know if they were still open or not, but happily, I just got a press releases that they have reopened. So check them out, I’m pretty sure I’m going to hit it again in a few weeks.

In the meantime it was Son #2’s own birthday, and he was very clear about his preference for caramel cake from Brown Sugar Bakery on 75th. Who are, as it turns out, one of the subjects on this podcast from Slate, talking about how 75th street has survived and even thrived a little in the lockdown.


What’s it like with bars reopening? The Chicago Bars Twitter account shared this from the Emerald Isle up on Northwest Highway, and it’s not pretty.


TASTE, which aims to be kind of the Saveur-in-the-90s of the online 2020s, had a piece close to my heart—on food newsletters, which have popped up all over the place mostly thanks to the arrival of the Substack platform:

“Food media in more traditional avenues has either died, calcified, or mutated, and there are hardly that many places to share these kinds of thoughts,” says Helen Rosner, a longtime editor and writer and the New Yorker’s current roving food correspondent. “As food magazines are falling like dominos, and newspaper food sections are less and less places to explore and go deep because of these horrific and ravaging budget cuts, it’s like, what do you have left? Blogs aren’t cool anymore, so we do newsletters.”

Of course, some of us have been doing them for quite a bit longer than Substack has been around, and of course Fooditor’s Buzz List is not mentioned, since national food media willfully ignores/condescends to Chicago food media. (They also would have had a more varied and interesting bunch if they’d heard of Dennis Lee.) The article is well worth reading for its understanding of the dynamics of the phenomenon—not least the prospect of making actual money through Substack.

But the examples it favors tend to be ones selling the conventional wisdom week by week—in other words, the ones who are all talking about the end of the rock star chef this week. To me those newsletters are the food media talking to itself, often as not, like the guy who became Twitter-famous for talking back to the NYT’s Sam Sifton. Whoop-de-do!

So read the article, take in its exploration of the phenomenon—but seek out the newsletters that are talking about food in your area, not to the echo chamber of food writers. They won’t get national attention, but they’ll have real impact on your dining life. And if you care to suggest Buzz List to others you know, thank you. It’s free, and it’s spectacular.


Mostly home cooking of sentimental favorites as the kids prepare to go back to their schools, but I did follow Titus’s advice from last week and tried his favorite quesabirria place, Restaurante y Taquerria Jerez in Melrose Park. Turns out the quesabirrias aren’t even on the menu, so I don’t know how you’d know about them if not for Titus. Anyway, they were a good gooey mess, though I’m not sure that having the birria solo, or putting the cheese on simpler grilled steak, wouldn’t have been a better combo—they counteracted each other a little. But it was something new to try.

I knew there a gelato place up on Milwaukee near Portage Park somewhere, but I’d never spotted it driving around. So after our quesabirrias, Son #2 and I headed up there to find it and realized why it’s not easily spotted—Ix-Chel is the very last thing on Milwaukee before the overpass, tucked in a corner that leads to a pathway alongside the highway, a cute little hidden spot. Anyway, we both felt like chocolate, I got Mayan which meant a little chile heat mixed in, and even with car noise it was kind of a peaceful little place to have a cool snack and enjoy the outdoors.