Friday, September 28, 2012

Robert Johnson Was Spot On

The wind is blustering, voices and horns waft off of a busy Division street and my nose has stopped bleeding. The source of diesel fumes has changed from enormous Ford F-950s and the like to food service delivery trucks and I've got to start thinking about where I'm going to park again. And the guarantee of running into no one but smiling, healthy, tanned, white-toothed people as I walk down the street is long gone. I'm back in Chicago.

And I couldn't be happier. The question at the end of my stretch in Montana was relentless: "Are you excited to leave?" And the answer, in a does-this-glass-have-water-or-nothing-in-it kind of way was always "No, I'm not excited to leave--but I sure am excited to return to Chicago." Let it be known: Bozeman, Montana is a downright wonderful place to be. But as I wrote a month ago, I needed to be back in the city.

Out west, I learned a lot about what people eat when they aren't inundated with the newest, hottest thing on a daily (hourly?) basis by an onslaught of e-newsletters and--gulp--blogs. It was a fortifying break from being beaten 'round the head with preciously named new restaurants celebrating the next-new-trend-that-is-sure-to-stick-this-time. I encountered people that--get this--eat food to live, and perform the eating function as routinely as any other, and put their devotion and focus on other things, such as hiking, fishing, camping, raising children, drinking, etc. Gasp! The thought! But very refreshing. In a strange way, I kind of liked when people nodded politely and changed the subject when food came up. Not a whole lot of food/chef as deity out there, and it gave me a good amount of detoxification from the barrage of daily "food news" that is generated back home.

But at the same time, my tastes, spoiled by the city, grew anxious. There's only so far the best chicken fried steak I have ever eaten (and believe me, was it good--and I've spent my fair share of time living in the South) can go if there is nothing to contrast the round flavors it presents. I loved a bison patty melt I could get at a place called Aleworks--it even rivaled the one at Jeri's Grill--and spent many a lonesome cowboy evening saddled up to the bar indulging in that and some suds, but on my last evening there, a bartender I'd become friendly with said "don't worry--something tells me you'll be able to find this somewhere in Chicago." And I sat back, almost feeling patronizing for suggesting otherwise.

The point here is that my time in Montana highlighted the importance of contrast, or at least its importance to me. As much as I hate riding the El, and as much as the garbage tumbleweeds put me off, I kind of need that. The humidity in Chicago seems rough until your nose starts bleeding, hours at a time, from the dryness that is actually, somehow made drier when the whole state of Montana is on fire. Those same fires also make breathing smog seem, remarkably, somewhat safer. What I'm saying here is this: Montana is simply too good for me!

To that end, I'm going to write some posts on my time out there over the next few weeks. The nitty gritty of the amazing wood-fired-oven-on-truck and its build out. The drive there and back, what I ate and what I saw. The experience of cooking with few resources, in the middle of nowhere, for kabillionaires. And, of course, what comes next. So please, stay tuned, and feel free to contribute any of your experiences of this kind in the comments section. And go outside and hug an exhaust pipe.