I spoke with two people who have businesses on the food scene this week about how they’re getting through it. First, Matt Sussman of Table, Donkey and Stick, which pivoted to pizza successfully, got through the PPP process arduously… then Coronavirus hit his family. And then Peter Klein, of Seedling Fruit, a familiar sight at the Green City Market and others, about trying to figure out what to do with the fruit that’s going to grow this summer, whether you plan for it or not.


I’ve tried hard this week to avoid learning any more than I had to about some food media controversy involving Alison Roman, apparently a cookbook writer and TV personality, and Chrissie Teigen, who is… a celebrity? Not married to Billy Joel, I’m pretty sure of that. What I’ve learned from Twitter, despite best efforts not to, is that it has something to do with devaluing People of Color and appropriating their food—one widely quoted tweet seemed to suggest that there’s an actual cabal of White Food Ladies, Julia, Martha, Nigella named by name among others, as if they meet in a secret ceremony with a live goat in the center of a pentagram and pass the mantle from one to the next. (I’m pretty sure that far from belonging to a conspiracy, some of the people on that list would actually have pretty salty opinions about some of the others and their approaches to food.)

It led to all the usual Twitter sort of shaming and moral oneupsmanship and talk about how terrible the world is—I read a great line (on Twitter) that called Twitter “a fetish site for people who like to scold and be scolded,” and it was certainly plenty of that. Many people who went to expensive schools got to have solidarity with working class cooks and shame invisible bad people in Trumpland (or Borisland as the case may be). A good time was had by all. Tom Wolfe never nailed this 50 years ago in Radical Chic.

Meanwhile, Food & Wine announced its Best New Chefs 2020 list, and as restaurant editor Khushbu Shah puts it,I struggle with the act of list making. But then I remember it’s these lists that dictate who gets to matter, what cuisines get to matter, what value systems get to matter.” The result is a list of one white guy, three white ladies, two black guys, and four Asians (three male one female). There’s actually even more Asian food than that, since the white guy makes Taiwanese food (in Brooklyn, natch).

Now, given a choice between these two media events, I’m going to pick the second one for a bunch of reasons—it’s actually diverse instead of being an upper class food fight in the name of diversity, it’s building up rather than tearing down. And, most of all, I think it’s truer to our world—if a celebrity is shitty about other celebrities, that’s something from fantasy land, but Shah’s list is about the food world we actually have. And in a surprisingly short time, that world, imperfect as it is, has transformed to be supportive of and inclusive of all kinds of people from all around the world bringing creativity and superior skills to their heritages.

Sure, sometimes it puts its foot in it—like Andrew Zimmern launching a Chinese chain by dissing Chinese-owned restaurants, or the lady who offered “clean” Asian food. But I’ve really come to look at diversity in food media in terms of something Dana Cree said in this Fooditor roundtable—as I interpret it, it’s that you don’t deserve credit and stardom because you’re a [woman/POC/whatever] who’s ten times better than some bros. If you have to be ten times better, that’s still a sexist/racist/whatever system. You deserve to be featured in media when you’re just as good as the bros, because somebody has to be in it, and why not a woman, a black chef, a Mexican or Asian one?

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From Chicago’s perspective, though, it’s not good news—we were, for the second year in a row, entirely absent from Food and Wine’s list, the capper to a week in which we got no Beard nominations for food outside the Great Lakes category (just two beverage-related ones), and we had no writing in the newly announced edition of The Best American Food Writing for 2020.

Some of this is that the food scene has become more diverse geographically—Food and Wine honored chefs from places like Detroit and San Antonio that weren’t players in the early 2000s, when we had a guaranteed slot every year. (We’ve never figured in the Best American Food Writing series, though Mike Sula was in it once.) But I spoke to someone who has a handle on the personalities and politics of the national food writing scene, and they had two observations in particular.

One is that the nature of food writing has shifted away from reporting and toward first person memoir pieces. I noticed this a couple of years ago when I had to read a bunch of recent pieces in bulk and by far the largest category was, basically, How Cooking Helped Me Accept X. The particulars might vary—baking, cooking, being gay, disappointing my Asian parents that I didn’t become a doctor—but it was that kind of confessional food-as-therapy piece. Which to me is not that interesting, because I want to read about restaurants and food subcultures—not about recent graduates of college writing programs. And if it was interesting to me, it was because it turned into real reporting at some point—David Tamarkin wrote a piece about Uptown’s Big Chicks, for instance, and it starts in that vein as a personal essay, but only as a way into a genuinely reported essay about a place, more than about the author. (Highly recommended, read here.) But as my insider said, bluntly, there’s not much market in the awards these days for what I’m selling—a white guy doing old school reported pieces, and largely staying out of it personally. (I have childhood trauma, too. When I was in college, my dad was in a federal pen. Who cares?) Apparently, food writing isn’t what I think of as food writing any more, about food and somebody else.

Now, that sounds like I’m about to go into affirmative action white guy grievance territory here, so I want to get my defense on the record quickly. I’m hugely for diversity in subject matter, from different ethnicities, but I care less about hitting diversity goals in who writes it—yet the fact is, pursuing what I think is as diverse a body of restaurant and food stories in modern Chicago food journalism as anybody over the last four and a half years at Fooditor, has also resulted in working with writers who have been—other than me—primarily female and Asian. Be open to something, even if you’re not making an ostentatious public initiative out of it, and you get more of it. Who knew?

But that brings me to the other thing I talked about with my insider, and that’s Chicago. What my insider suggested to me is that Chicago is simply not very popular among national food media. They see it as defined by the big, impersonal dining spots of Randolph Street, but even beyond that, too in thrall to the Trotter/Alinea tasting menu paradigm—and driven by the inhuman demands of an obscenely hot real estate market. They see other, more recently hot or discoverable cities as being more casual, freer in their approach to cuisine. And that’s why we don’t get a spot on Food and Wine’s list when we certainly had the notable black and Asian and women chefs to land a spot this year (the last Chicagoan to do so, in fact, was Diana Davila two years ago).

There’s some justice to these claims. I’ve certainly observed that other midwestern cities like Minneapolis or Indianapolis can have looser, quirkier concepts at the moment, because a place like Milktooth in Indy can make it serving only breakfast and lunch—where if you don’t have dinner service here, you can’t pay your rent. But faulting places like Jeong for working in the tasting menu tradition—when that was a result of our real estate advantage over New York, that we didn’t have to turn your table like Manhattan restaurants did—seems almost a kind of prejudice itself. You wouldn’t fault a Southern restaurant for working in a Southern idiom. (Well, not now, anyway.) But it’s okay to say Chicago’s idioms are, by definition, tiresome.

Well, taste is taste, so I guess it is okay, but it still seems a bit closed-minded to me. But I have to wonder how we got to the point of familiarity breeding such contempt, and it’s hard not to think that it’s thanks to one of our great successes in the food world—luring the James Beard Foundation awards here. We’ve never had more food media coming through our town—and they’ve never liked it less.

*  *  *

For four and a half years I’ve been trying to get national attention for the diversity of dining in Chicago and for myself, and I hear what my insider says and I think, jeez, that didn’t exactly pan out like I hoped, did it? And now I can’t even do the thing I have been doing—hanging out with a chef in their place until I have a story about their functioning restaurant. I went to doing a podcast because it was technically achievable under these circumstances, but it was just out of an urge to still feel in the game during the crisis. Will I be able to keep writing Fooditor stories, will there be a Fooditor 99 this year? You tell me. The best thing I can say is that from the low point of nothing but listicles a few years ago, I feel like others in town are trying to do more real reporting and less gimmickry—maybe I can take some credit for encouraging that as the standard, even in a shrinking scene.

What I think is that the universe is telling me it’s time to think about the longer game—the book I’m doing. (See #10 here if you have no idea what I’m talking about.) If national food media folks don’t care about how real pork got into an airport or how a developer created a Mexican village in the Chicago suburbs, I can stop chasing their approval, which will never come because we’re not thought of as a city where important writing comes from, and focus for the next few years on the thing most likely to last in libraries—and to make a case for this city’s importance as a food capitol. I’m not shutting down Fooditor, but it’s obviously already different from what it was, and it’s going to continue being different, whatever it turns into. (Buzz List will continue for now because it helps me be informed and organize my thoughts, but it may take the odd week off.) But it’s Magnum Opus time, baby. When the book comes out, they still may not care about Chicago, but they’ll have to do so by ignoring an entire tome on the subject, not just an article every week or two.

Whew! I’m exhausted. Let’s have some links:


Hey, here’s a guy with a great idea—an online publication about food in the midwest! No way that won’t raise our profile nationally!

It’s a Substack newsletter called The Midwesterner, and you can get something of the idea from Iliana Regan (Food and Wine Best New Chef 2016) doing the first essay (grab your violets quick, they’ll be gone soon). The guy behind it, Jed Portman, is from Cincinatti, but he worked for the Southern magazine Garden & Gun—and maybe as a tactic for getting national attention for our part of the world, trying to be the new South, rustic and quirky, will work better than trying to be on equal footing with coastal cities, which is basically the tack Fooditor took. Go here to sign up.


Longman & Eagle, Gaijin, Le Sud, Mi Tocaya Antojeria and an Andersonville spot I hadn’t gotten to before the world ended, Gadabout, are all doing takeout now in one form or another.

West Town Bakery is offering “take home treat kits.” Because no one’s eating too much dessert right now.

Speaking of Roscoe Village (Le Sud), hot dog stand Man-Jo-Vin’s, which goes back to the 50s and which I knew very well when my kids were of the age to go to Fellger Park, has a for-lease sign in the window. (H/t Peter Klein)

Big changes at one of this year’s bright spots, Hermosa (which isn’t new, but keeps reinventing itself, so it might as well be). Per owner Ethan Eang Lim: “Sandwiches are still on but condensed to make space for the complete roll out of the Cambodian Menu. In addition, @professorpizza [Anthony Scardino] will be setting up residency here. He makes some great pies and is pretty rad as well. Please give him a follow. Pizzas at Hermosa! So yes, we are becoming a collaborative space.” Speaking of Lim, Michael Nagrant interviewed him here.

Daisies launched its first market during Sunday’s torrential downpour; but watch for future editions and their launch of a “first-of-its-kind vermouth-inspired hard kombucha” in June. Hoping for better Sunday morning weather will be Brasserie by Cookies and Carnitas’ takeout and shopping event (you have to register for your time to shop) including meats from Avron Farms and specialty foods from Regalis; it’s next Sunday, the 24th, go here to register.

Rhine Hall Distillery raised over $11,000 to produce hand sanitizer from beer donated by breweries including Goose Island and Hopewell; over 140 gallons have gone to 35 area hospitals.

Amy Mills of 17th Street Barbecue downstate (I talked to her here) has been working with farmers and small businesses in her area to create barbecue packages; you can order them for Memorial Day, contact the restaurants directly.


Amy Cavanaugh talks to Kevin Boehm (Boka Group) about the current situation as Boka restaurants get back into takeout. His most notable words don’t go easy on the PPP act: “The PPP is a loan that is only forgiven if you are able to bring back all of your employees during an eight-week period, starting on the day you are funded. Restaurants can’t bring back all of their employees because they’re not allowed to open fully. That’s coupled with the fact that many employees don’t want to come back out of safety concerns, and rightfully so. It becomes an albatross around restaurants’ necks: We have to start paying it back as a loan in six months, termed out in two years. That is a death sentence.”


Phil Vettel won the first Food Coverage award from the Peter Lisagor Awards—and his reward from his employers was to be furloughed for the next few weeks.(Grace Wong was also furloughed from the food section, not sure about others.)

No newspaper has ever responded to a national crisis by laying off reporters, Colonel McCormick would have voted for Eleanor Roosevelt before doing such a thing, and no newspaper would have to if it hadn’t been plundered by Michael Ferro and Alden Capital and had the money that it distributed to stockholders right up to the beginning of this crisis. Shame.

In the meantime, read the last thing his byline will be on for a while, about restaurants that are—or were—planning to open in the next several months.


Comp Tab is a benefit program started by three bartenders—but meant to include ancillary workers like cleaners, too.


Ashok Selvam at Eater has a fuller story on Claudio Velez, the city’s best-known (or at least publicized) tamale vendor, who seems to have been the victim of a political peeing match among big wheels in the West Loop.

And speaking of Mexican food coverage at Eater—no, really!—this is a good piece by Naomi Waxman that includes Marcos Carbajal of Carnitas Uruapan about how social distancing will change carnitas culture.


The Delta saw its PPP funds dustbroomed from its bank account by one of its investors, and owner Eldridge Williams says that it’s down at the crossroads and could close, which would not be a fair deal goin’ down. Eater has the story but misses the most piquant detail for a place called The Delta—the other figure in the dispute is named Robert Johnson.

10. A/V DEPT.

Overserved talks to Julia Momose (Kikko/Kumiko) about cocktails, raising money with cocktails, and trying to be allowed to sell cocktails to go.

Steve Dolinsky talks to two places that are trying to survive opening right as Coronavirus hit, the new Logan Square cheese shop Beautiful Rind and Korean Miki’s Park in River North.


Quote from Friend of Fooditor Meathead: “When it comes to the education of the American cook, this is the third wave. The first was Julia, Claiborne, Beard, MFK Fisher. The second wave was the launch of the Food Network. And this is the third wave. If there is ANY silver lining, it is that people are learning to cook and when this is over the restaurants that survive will have a clientele more knowledgeable and experimental.” By the way, he has a new newsletter about the meat scene and industry—I guess you get it by subscribing to his existing one at his site.


Elske, pictured here, I talked about last week. The one I forgot to mention last week was Flat and Point, but I really liked where their mix of barbecued meat and more cheffy sides is now. Glad to get back and see how they’ve evolved into an “Alpine smokehouse” (because they were confusing people who expected a standard BBQ joint).

Leña Brava had me at “Mexican porchetta,” so we ordered a full meal that came with tortillas, beans, guacamole, and some extra sides we ordered; I was really kind of tired of the taste of my own cooking, glad to have the taste of Mr. Bayless’ instead, which gave me Proustian memories of being in Mexico City last year. And I hit J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop, newly reopened; I miss the Italian pork (he’s stripped down the menu for now) but chicken sandwiches were a hit all around.