1. KITCHEN SESSIONS

I’m working on a project for another publication, a part of which has involved kitchen culture, and a lot of people I’m talking to for it are saying that it has changed from the bad old days.

This week is proof that it hasn’t changed completely just yet.

Item one: more details on the Jimmy Bannos Jr. arrest, reported at Eater: “A line cook from Mi Tocaya Antojeria said Bannos Jr. punched him after an ancillary event for the fest on the night of Saturday, September 28… [Victim Alan] Mares said the argument was triggered after another Mi Tocaya worker bumped into Bannos Jr., who was bringing a steam table down the stairs leading to the south side of Randolph after the cook-off ended. [Mi Tocaya owner Diana] Dávila said she tried to deescalate the situation after she heard arguing… Mares and Dávila said Bannos Jr. charged at one of the workers, with Dávila stuck in Bannos Jr.’s path. Mares said he ran in between the two. Mares said that during that scrum, Bannos Jr. allegedly punched and connected with his jaw.”

Item two: I had heard last weekend that Doug Psaltis, a top Lettuce Entertain You chef (the P in RPM), was out of the company—the second high level departure from the company in a short time after Ryan Arnold, formerly of Bar Ramone, who faces a sexual harassment lawsuit. In Psaltis’ case, per Eater, “three people who have worked at or are currently employed by LEYE told Eater that Psaltis attacked a colleague last week at RPM Steak in River North, grabbing and violently shaking him by the shoulders. He also allegedly insulted the man, who has been a long-time kitchen receiver (responsible for tracking inventory in the kitchen) by using a pejorative for the mentally disabled. According to sources, a security camera captured footage of the incident.” They also point out that Psaltis was known to staffers as “Doug Assault-is,” a bit of workplace dark comedy which LEYE will probably not find so amusing if they start getting sued for a pattern running through the years in this highly lucrative division, and ignored by higher ups—apparently Brandon Baltzley wrote about a recognizable Psaltis in his memoir Nine Lives, seven years ago.

Item three: Phillip Foss, once a ready source for media but lower profile the last few years, outed himself in a frank and personal essay for Medium that talks about the struggles with alcohol and other things he’s had, which resulted in an incident involving then-El Ideas chef Joe Gancarz: “One night, sometime in 2014, my house of cards blew down while in a drunken stupor. My entire team and I were guest chefs in a friend’s restaurant, and in a moment of unbridled rage, I forcefully grabbed the face of one of my young chefs to reprimand him. I had never physically snapped like that on a chef before, and I freaked myself out. The next day when we returned to EL Ideas, to make matters worse, I received an email informing me that the entire team would walk out if I came into work.”

The result led to his graphic novel with his cousin Tim Foss, Life in El, as well as what sounds like progress, over the past five years, in becoming a more well-balanced person. It’s the most insightful look of the bunch into how kitchens and chefs can go wrong, and what it takes to recover. Read it at the link above.

2. TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Meanwhile, the Tribune has named Lettuce Entertain You one of the Top Workplaces in the Chicago Area!

3. BANCHET NOMINATIONS

The Jean Banchet Awards, the Chicago-based culinary awards which have a strikingly close resemblance to who later is longlisted for Beard nominations and gets national publicity generally, are out; see the whole list here. Restaurant of the Year, which goes to places that are at least two years old, nominated Brindille, mfk., Oriole and Smyth, while the Chef of the Year nominations are Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp of Honey Butter, John Manion of El Che, Anna and David Posey of Elske, and Erick Williams of Virtue. Best new restaurant nominees (which must be under two years old) are Galit, Jeong, Kyōten (take that, Michelin!) and Wherewithall.

Fooditor is especially gratified to see Larry Feldmeier of the Albert, who we wrote about here, nominated for rising chef, Passerotto, Munno Pizza & Bistro and Cafe Marie-Jeanne up for neighborhood restaurant, Xocome Antojeria and Bayan Ko for heritage restaurant, and Tortello up for counter service. Not that we’re the only one to have written about this or that place, Chicago mag’s best new restaurant list has a good track record too this year, but we do feel pretty influencery at the moment. And most of all, happy to see our friend and everybody’s Jewish grandma, Ina Pinkney, receiving the Culinary Achievement award. The awards, which benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, will be given out on January 19; go here for tickets to the show, which is full of snarky humor and generally speaking, a blast as well as a good cause.

Lots of fun social media reactions to the news from different chefs, too; check out Thattu’s, Landbirds’, Bayan Ko’s, Jeong’s, Middle Brow Bungalow’s, and John Manion’s. Or just go to the official Banchet footage of Michael Muser delivering the news here.

4. FUSION OR ILLUSION?

I’m not sure that Jeff Ruby is right that fusion cuisine ever went away—a place like Fat Rice is surely fusion-ish, albeit on a more sophisticated level than the Asian bistros of the 80s—but in any case, he’s at least somewhat taken with where it goes at Flora Fauna: “The first hint that the restaurant may be more than an anachronistic gimmick arrived in a play on chilled Thai som tam salad. After blanching shredded green papaya to al dente, per tradition, Meyer (the former chef of Broken Shaker in the Freehand Hotel) tossed it with Sichuan dan dan spices to bring the heat and Costa Rican jackfruit to impart a grape-like sweetness that dovetailed with the crushed cashews and scallions. It’s a ridiculous mash-up that also happens to be inspired — equal parts refreshing and intense.”

5. SIRENA-ING OFF

Anthony Todd rounds up a lot of news this week, including the imminent end of La Sirena Clandestina: “About four years ago, Chef John Manion told me that he’d gotten so frustrated with insane real estate pricing in West Loop that he would never renew the lease… This is yet another blow to smaller, independent restaurants in the West Loop; within a few years, everything there will be expensive and/or owned by a large restaurant group.”

6. FOOD HALT

The Food Hall movement has its first casualty—sadly, it’s not the awful Forum 55, but the Fulton Galley food hall, which was, in my experience, too small, too far away from the center of the action in Fulton Market—and thus required you passing through way too much construction to get to it. Palita Sriratana, who has Pink Salt, the Isaan Thai restaurant, talks about the effect of its closing here.

I also noticed that the Bayan Ko folks are shutting their Politan Row stand, Crave, for what sounds like work/life reasons. The long hours at these downtown food halls are undoubtedly tough to keep up when it’s your second restaurant.

7. SIDES PIECE

I sort of scratched my head at the Trib’s monthly theme being side dishes—in an era of small plates, who thinks about sides? Well steakhouses do, as Nick Kindelsperger demonstrates.

8. CRATE AND BELLY

Joanne Trestrail thinks the Bill Kim restaurant inside the Oak Brook mall Crate and Barrel—The Table at Crate—is just fine for the neighborhood: “Kim’s responsibly sourced, vegetable-forward menu, the same for lunch and dinner, leans light. Many offerings are free of things some people want to avoid—gluten, meat, all animal products—and marked accordingly.”

9. WHERE THERE’S SMOKEHOUSE THERE’S FIREHOUSE

Station One Smokehouse is a barbecue joint in an old firehouse in southwest suburban Plainfield run by a Green Street Smoked Meats veteran, and Steve Dolinsky makes you hungry for it here: “‘Beef is king of the castle. Brisket is definitely our number one here. Beef short ribs are a huge sell for us as well,’ said Owner Brad Hudetz.”

10. WHAT’S UP, DOCK’S

A hymn to the south side fried fish chain that likes to open in other chain’s closed stores, Dock’s, at South Side Weekly.

11. SHINE ON YOU CRAZY CHEESEBURGER

One Illinois food landmark I have not been to is The Moonshine Store, a grocery and burger stand that’s a destination for bikers in tiny Moonshine, Illinois near the Indian border. Titus Ruscitti visits it and some other obscure regional burger joints: “The building itself was originally a general store in the 1910’s. You can get up to three patties but one makes for a nice beef to bun ratio. There’s nothing fancy about this burger. It’s kind of like one you might find at a local VFW type town hall. That said it’s just about perfect for what it is. A classic American cheeseburger.

12. CRY THE FOOP

Ji Suk Yi looks at growing local hot chicken chain Fry the Coop: “It was love at first bite when Joe Fontana had some Nashville fried chicken at ‘Top Chef’ winner Richard Blais’ San Diego-based Crack Shack… ‘It was that distinct flavor, that specialness that just lingers, you can’t get it out of your head. [It was the] addicting flavor that drew me to it.’”

13. HERE’S JACKIE

Everyone seems surprised that Jackie Shen, a big name in Chicago dining in the 80s and 90s, owns a breakfast place in New Buffalo now. I thought we all knew that! Anyway, Rick Kogan goes down memory lane with her in a nice piece, though it does seem like Chicago is in a reflective, nostalgic mood about restaurants at the moment—Ed Debevic’s may even come back! I’m all for that, and for a pro storyteller like Kogan getting the space to craft a tale, but I’d like to see more of this in-depth coverage of our current stars from the on-staff crew, too—who are we gonna be nostalgic for in 2040 if we don’t tell their stories now?

14. EMBEYEZZLER PLEADS GUILTY

Attila Gyulai, former co-owner who embezzled from Embeya, leading to the restaurant’s closing in 2016, pled guilty to wire fraud and will be sentenced Tuesday. The Sun-Times has more.

15. WILL TRAVEL FOR COFFEE

A ten best coffee shop list is a little perverse—few are going to deliberately travel to Wichita for Leslie Coffee Co., though it would have changed things for Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles—but kudos to Purple Llama, Intelligentsia and Four Letter Word in Chicago for making Food and Wine’s listicle anyway. But have they been to Naperville?

16. FAZOOL

For Better, David Hammond looks at four places that are handcrafting pasta in Chicago. Duncan Biddulph of Tortello: “Fresh pasta is just a much better expression of what pasta is. From the texture to the flavor, it’s a different world. It expresses more character of the flour, the eggs, and the person who made it. Fresh pasta is a soulful product, and it takes textures to an even higher level. We’re able to respond to changes in moisture and let the ‘bounce back’ of the dough guide us.”

17. IN MEMORIAM

Paleta man Fidencio Sanchez, who was still pushing his cart at age 89 in Little Village when admirers raised money for him via a GoFundMe campaign to allow him to retire in comfort, has passed away. (Block Club)

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