Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Manifesto: An Introduction to the Food on the Dole Salon

Wherever I go, I strive to learn about food. Not just to eat the best new dishes, but to look further, deeper into where they are coming from. Beyond the physical source of the food, to the person preparing it, their history, and what they are saying through their food. Here in Chicago, we've got all sorts of restaurants, top-notch chefs setting so many standards, the availability of great ingredients from our neighbors in the midwest and from all over the world. But sometimes what's missing is the actuality of the world of food. The fact that it isn't, and shouldn't be just restaurants that are feeding us--simply eating is, at most, half of the equation. We cook, thus we feed ourselves. I believe this wholeheartedly, and am going to share this with you. I'm going to introduce and cultivate technique and a more basic understanding of food. I'll provide a setting where anybody, beginner or pro, novice or expert can refine their skills and understanding of food, how it works, and why it matters. This will be a community based around real food. This is the Food on the Dole Salon.

A salon, you ask? What on earth is that? Well, despite my reluctance to quote Wikipedia, the first line of their entry on salons reads perfectly: "A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation." Not only do I want to provide instruction, tips and techniques of cooking; I want to provide an environment where people can come together from all backgrounds to discuss and learn about food:
  • I will provide the ingredients necessary (some sessions will include the actual shopping for said ingredients);
  • I will provide the setting and equipment necessary;
  • I will provide guidance through varying topics with the goal of expressing to you the concepts I like to apply when cooking--the why, the how, the story behind the food.
I am seeking guests who hunger to refine their cooking technique, want to enhance their understanding of food, and seek a community rooted in a common thread of the recognition of the importance of food and sound cooking. In a forum of others sharing these desires, an atmosphere free of exclusive notions, open to all viewpoints and the discussion of such, led by myself, Hugh Amano, chef and creator of Food on the Dole:
  • You will attend a session of roughly six people, receiving instruction from myself on a range of topics as the group cooks the evening's meal together;
  • You will sit down in a byob setting, eat and discuss the food we made and food in general, issues regarding food, things you may be curious about or feel need to be addressed;
  • You will help to create a community based on the joy of food, cooking, and the conversation and relationships they foster.
All topics are of course welcome in the natural course of the evening. I hope to develop a non-exclusive community of people who are not necessarily chefs and who don't necessarily eat at the fanciest restaurants (though these folks are definitely welcome), and who come from all sorts of backgrounds. I want to connect those of you who are experts in, say, theater, with those of you who keep bees. Those of you who eat regularly at places like Alinea, and those of you who visit tacquerias and hot dog stands on a daily basis. Over simple, beautifully prepared food, we'll converse on these things, and add to each others toolbox. And in this toolbox will be culinary techniques to make us better cooks at home. Dates, topics and cost will vary, and will be made known through Food on the Dole (

That said, the first Food on the Dole Salon will be held on Thursday, March 10, 2011. A donation of $50 per person is requested, and we will be cooking a full meal featuring what I believe to be an essential, and most appropriate for the inaugural Food on the Dole Salon: Roast Chicken. Email me at to sign up.

I'm excited to open a new chapter in my approach to and relationship with food, and hope to connect and influence many others in theirs. Hope to see you soon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Not Quite Armageddon, or, Let's Hear It For Delivery Guys

Chicago just had a bit of a snowstorm--a really big one, actually. The hanging from a lightpole horizontally, threatening to blow windows out kind. There was even thunder and lightening for God's sake. I can't remember the last time I heard or saw that in a snowstorm. But now comes the hard part: repeatedly shoveling cars out of parking spots, lawn chairs and sawhorses claiming said parking spots, everyone criticizing/praising the city's level of preparedness, then going on to describe, through gross hyperbole, how when they were a kid in Buffalo or Baltimore or Boston or Colorado (guilty) snowstorms were way worse, as though that somehow diminishes the magnitude of this one in an effort to not let this one diminish the magnitude of those. Plus, we've now got a bunch of dirty snow to look at for awhile, unless we get another cleansing, miracle rain shower like we did just before New Year's.

But hey! Reveling in the beauty of the storm as it happened (and stuck at home with a wicked cough), I refused to join the lines legally looting the stores the day before the storm. After all, the stores would be back open the day after the storm, or at least the day after that. I'd wager we all had enough littering our fridges to get us through that brief span of time. Maybe those six gallons of milk weren't that necessary? Though I can see stocking up on beer and whiskey--what better way to spend a forced day inside doors framed by feet of driven snow than by enjoying some brown liquor and a couple Jim Harrison books?
So, I poked around and did just fine. Sourdough waffles, begot by my new starter friend Flyod via old Crazy Hair were to be had, as were their cousins sourdough pancakes (I've been on some sort of strange sweet-ish breakfast bread-type thing kick lately). The ever prolific Flyod also spawned some great buns, which played their role perfectly in the ever important sloppy-joe-on-a-snowed-in day show. I had some beef I'd ground from scraps in the freezer, a million gorgeous spices a friend had given me, some tomatoes and banana peppers, barbecue sauce and a Busch Heavy. Into the trusty cast iron they went. There was a leftover Yukon Gold potato looking at me funny, so I sliced him up and dumped him in hot oil for chips, or crisps, depending on who you ask.
The next day, I made it in to work (the benefit/curse of being abe to walk there). I'd placed some orders the night before, kind of hopefully, wondering if they'd arrive as I shoveled a path to the back alley through feet of snow. These are the kind of food orders that require dollies and several trips to a huge truck. Sure enough, my guys showed up, in the midst of a day of huge orders, angry chefs, and terrible roads/alleys/sidewalks. But they were on schedule and smiling for the most part. They'd make it happen, however creatively. Today as I write, I'm watching deliveries being made to the building across the street. Same story. It's gonna be rough for these guys for some time. But they're doing it, just like so many others whose jobs involved road travel and being outside and dealing with all the snow and ice. Here's to the delivery drivers of Chicago.