Little things to know about your first real event.

Recently (October) our hospitality group, Madmoxie Hospitality,  did an incredible event at Wagner Farms. It was our first event and we learned a lot. Heres a couple of things I learned personally and hopefully, you can also learn for your next big event.

First of all, Go small on your first solo event. We did not. When you are used to making food for anywhere from 100-600 people in a professional kitchen, you can get a little cocky about what’s “easy” and how much manpower you actually need.

We decided to feed around 140 people, we ended up feeding 100 people, and it was a struggle.  I’m not going to lie, we struggled, man. people kept popping in to say hi, which was great, but we had so much going on and I could see the confusion in their eyes when they walked back into the kitchen area as a chubby bearded man tried to make polite conversation while manhandling food, gently cussing at himself, and crying, which is fine because the rain covered up most of the pain.

Next Lesson, the weather hates you and doesn’t give a shit about your plans. The entire week of our event it was surprisingly warm a dry. The days leading up to, and immediately after were some of the nicest days in October. But our day? The day we had worked on and obsessed over for over three months, The day we rented a tent for, just in case of rain? the day we thought we had covered no matter what? Well, that day was the hardest rain of the entire summer.

our tent got swamped out, our grill was on the verge of waterlogging for hours, It was almost a full-time job just to keep it going, and, AND,  in order to man the grill, you had to stand in what felt like a waterfall. AND two people that were supposed to show up didn’t.

Make sure that you have a backup for people not showing up. Make sure that you have over prepared for the number of hands you need. Make sure that you’re not relying on the lovely volunteers to help in your time of need. (although they did help and I love them more each day.)

When doing a shared plate dinner, don’t rely on people to actually share.  This was probably the most learning I did that night. People came starving, and the first couple of courses were smaller shared plates, and the later dishes were huge. People didn’t understand what was happening, and they tried to eat as much as possible, leaving other guests without any food.  Thankfully we over-prepped and had plenty for everyone. so this for me was a great lesson in portion size, and more importantly, portion control.

Controlling the guests’ portion is king. Making sure that they know what to eat and how much is even more king (the kingliest king…Kingking).

When everything is said and done, the event went great. Everyone left happy and full and we got some glowing reviews! I got to hold a chicken, we met some incredible people, and even with all of our hardships, it was easily one of the best days I had in 2017. It’s incredible how much more I know about hospitality and planning because of this one event, and Honestly, I can’t wait to do it again.

Update Life

I haven’t posted in a while. 

Sure I’ve been busy, trying to get my head around starting a new company, figuring out how I can get the most out of my skill set, trying not to push myself too hard or focus on things to an unhealthy level. But mostly it’s been hard to write.

Ive had he time, but I’ve been nervous about everything lately. I think it’s because I’m changing my whole world. I’m not just a cook anymore. I can’t just go to work, slowly I’m starting to get to a place where everything I do is my work.

It’s a weird place to be in but it’s where I want to be. I want to be the guy doing cool stuff, putting the right people in the right spots to make sure that things are successful and we’re getting there, slowly.

My friends and I have started something. We’ve taken the first small steps to being our own bosses and to do what we want to do. I think as I’ve been trying to swallow what we’ve been doing and what it means I’ve become a little paralyzed.

I think that’s natural. I think it’s important to be afraid. I think that’s healthy. And I’m glad I’m scared. I haven’t been scared of a kitchen in years, I haven’t felt especially challenged. And now I do, and it feels electric.

I’m going to start bringing you guys along. I want you to know how we’re doing, I want to keep you posted on how things are going and to do something most companies don’t do with their public, I want it to be honest.

I want to let you know about our challenges, and how we’re growing. I think this stuff is exciting and I’m betting if you’re still reading this, you do too.

CHITOWN vs. NYC THE EPIC CONCLUSION

So who wins?

Who has the better food, the better climate, the better service? What place is more fun and better for food? What feels more polished, at least from the small amount that I’ve experienced?

There is a lot here, and It’s important to take the time to dissect and evaluate correctly. These cities are incredibly complex and I am going to fuck this up. There is so much between these two juggernauts. There are thousands of restaurants, Beautiful spaces, different ideologies, and cuisines. There is so much to explore and learn and do.

The feeling between these two cities is incredibly different.  Chicago has a much more laid-back, Midwestern vibe. New York is fast paced and precise. It’s a lot easier to go to a restaurant and just hang out in Chicago, There are a ton of coffee shops with big couches and comfy chairs, and even though New York is a lot bigger, there is more space in Chicago, every restaurant feels bigger and more spacious because, well, it is.

Chicago may have bigger restaurants, but New York has more. There is somewhere to eat on every corner in the city and the different styles are way more abundant. you can really feel the melting pot in action. Depending on where you go there is no limit on what type of food you can find. There is everything. If you’re in the mood for soup dumplings, NYC’s got you. If you want Dope ramen from someone who lived in Japan, NYC’s got you. If you want a duck a la presse from a Frenchman, NYC’s got you.

Not to say that Chicago doesn’t have those things, it has some of them, but New York has more, and, because of the amount of people there they tend to be better. NYC has a history of accepting different cultures so you can get a more authentic food and chefs are not afraid to serve what they love to eat, and they are rewarded for doing so.

What Chicago lacks in sheer volume and diversity, it makes up for with its unique style. New York is incredibly good at having restaurants that hold true to their origins. This is an aftershock of the eighties when you went to restaurants to learn about other places in the world. you would have Italian restaurants that focus on Naples or French restaurants that take you through Lyon. Everything from the food, to the wine and service, would be a reflection of that region and that was the thing.

New York’s history resonates through its restaurants.  It’s incredibly easy to go to an Italian restaurant or a French restaurant. Chicago has something different, where NYC has an incredible amount of different styles, Chicago has an overarching style. it almost doesn’t matter what restaurant you walk into, you can feel the Midwest. There is less focus on regionality. You will have your French restaurant or your Italian restaurant, but it’s more the style, not the cuisine. It’s Midwest cuisine with an Italian flare.

It’s common in Chicago to have a range of items on a menu. One menu will have taco’s, pizza, pasta, and gazpacho. There are no rules. In NYC you can almost guess what’s going to be on the menu based on the type of restaurant.  I think this is a great example of old school vs. new school.

New York has the history, old three Michelin starred restaurants that dominate the city. Places that have stood for twenty plus years litter the streets, and they are still just as good as they were back in the day. Chicago doesn’t have the history, there were no culinary giants until the late eighties. New York has decades of cutthroat restaurants. Even NYC’s steakhouses out date Chicago’s by almost 100 years!

To top it off, there are not a lot of people who own and run restaurants in NYC that are from NYC. Which gives it its beautiful diversity. In Chicago, Most people are from the Midwest. Which helped to develop this strange overarching style across the city.

The FOH is different as well. Some people think that NYC has a cold inhospitable culture. I don’t think this is true at all. The service is incredibly different from Chicago. It is incredibly precise, almost robotic, but I never felt rushed or undeserving. The Staff at most restaurants I visited were incredibly knowledgeable and in tune with their tables and professionally polite. I really enjoyed this style of service, It was almost a nod to, we know you’re busy, and we are going to give you exactly what you want, as quickly as possible.

Chicago service is different. I know I keep saying this, but it is incredibly more Midwest. people are a little friendlier, service has a tendency to be a touch unrefined, and sometimes you’ll get a server that has no idea what they braise the pork collar in. It’s not a bad style of service, it’s just that everyone has more time, and are a little more comfortable when they go out. You have a much better chance of going out for a beer with your server in Chicago or running into them at a bar.

After probably too much consideration, and sleepless nights littered with memories from meals and stages I’ve made my choice. I’m sorry Chicago, but NYC just has more stuff. I love how refined restaurants have to be, how crisp the service is and how immaculate and structured the menus and concepts are.

It feels like almost nothing happens by chance in NYC. Everyone has a plan and the execute like they’ll go out of business tomorrow if they fuck it up. Honestly, That’s how the city is. You can be hot today and gone tomorrow. NYC is brutal but under all of that pressure, they make so many diamonds. Chicago is catching up, with its unique style and hospitality, but in order for it to conquer the beast that is NYC’s food scene, it needs some refinement.

End of the day, both cities are nothing but a treat to travel to and eat in. Hand to God.

Seasonality

Seasonality is something that is cherished in our industry. The seasons bring all types of flavors, colors, and textures. Seasons are the big call to arms to change your menu, re-imagine and evolve your cuisine or restaurant and to get back to your roots as a Chef.

The seasons are special. The all bring something unique to our profession. The spring brings delicate intense flavors, ramps, fiddleheads, artichokes, fava beans, peas.  Spring is fresh, Spring feels like new life and the excitement of the growing season. All of the seasons, to me, and people like me see the seasons as something new and exciting, another chance at success, a new opportunity to discover and create.

The seasons go way beyond vegetables, there is a season to almost everything. Fish, deer, grains. We have done a fantastic job at making most things available almost all of the time, but the quality usually suffers pretty hard. Salmon that is farmed is fed dye to make it pink, fruit is shipped from Guatemala for days on trucks. There is an incredible amount of this, and they don’t taste good. If you want something really delicious, go to the farmers market and get an artichoke during the height of

If you want something really delicious, go to the farmers market and get an artichoke during the height of its season. Go find your favorite vegetable and eat it when it’s really, really good. and It’s been picked a couple of miles away and you’ll be blown away. This is the secret to all of those fancy restaurants. When you use incredibly fresh food, of course, it tastes better.

Good food is expensive. Buying from the farm takes a lot of time and energy. It means that instead of having one big box delivery, you have multiple smaller deliveries. I’ve seen as many as 18 different purveyors and that doesn’t include alcohol. Ordering gets incredibly complex and intensive. Restaurants live on a shoestring budget and a lot of restaurants order for the day. That means a late truck or a missed order will royally fuck your day up.

Seasons can be hard.  There are a lot of options and people tend to go back to familiar dishes. This isn’t a bad thing, Creating in a restaurant setting is difficult. Making something new takes days, weeks, or even months of planning. You could have this perfect Idea for a new dish and then it just doesn’t work. It’s rough, it’s exhausting, and worst of all, it’s incredibly grating.

Creating a menu, even changing a couple of pieces is a pretty complicated process. On a traditional menu, you must have a couple of things. There has to be a dish that satiates everyone and anyone, vegetarian, fish, pork, beef, vegan, you have to have something. If you don’t,  you hear about it.

Seasons are fun, Some food just tastes better in different seasons. Stew in the winter, an incredibly fresh salad in the spring. They bring you back to your roots, and they remind us that pickles happened because nothing grows in winter. Beautiful things happen when we struggle, we have so many amazing techniques and processes because of the seasons.

The seasons are a chance to dig into our history to learn something new and grow with our community. A lot of love and effort goes into a restaurant months before a season hits, and when it’s done right, It’s a beautiful thing.

Lilia

Lilia is located in an old car garage It still has the white tile and spacious high ceilings. The kitchen is completely open. There is an Argentinian style wood grill on the side too. it’s, uh… you know how I feel about wood grills.

Anyways, This is a cool space, It feels very open and comfortable. The service is friendly and relaxed. The wine list is a great selection of wines from Italy. And the food is some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had.

There were so many highlights to our meal at Lilia. It started out with little fried fritelle balls. These little puffs of heaven tasted like cacio e pepe. cacio e pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish which is pretty much a ton of black pepper and pecorino romano. These tasted just like the classic dish. The balls even had this fluffy resemblance to pasta. they were the best way to start a meal.

They had Blowfish Tails. I have no idea how they cooked them, They were very close in size and texture to frog legs, and they are something I will always order from now on. I like those just like I like Chicken Wings. They were out of this world.

(Photo Cred goes to The Incredibly Talented Shannon Marie. She took all of the good photos.)

After that, it was an onslaught of delicious plate after delicious plate. There were so many cool items on the menu. An amazing whole artichoke stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs, insanely delicious wood fire grilled clams with Calabrian Chili and breadcrumbs. Then the pasta, all of the pasta had a  wonderful uniqueness to them. I think it says a lot when the perfect gnocchi with broccolini pesto and pistachios is your least favorite, still spectacular, but everything else was a little more unique and a little more poppy.

The rest of the pasta was amazing and simple. A lot of people don’t know that pasta is one of the hardest things you can make. If the pasta dough is off,  it will either crumble while you boil it, or it will be too chewy and unpleasant to eat. After you have the pasta perfect, then you have to make the sauce, to order, in the pan. Then you have to make sure to add just the right amount of water to the pasta so that the sauce doesn’t break, or it gets too soupy and then nothing tastes right because it’s all watered down. A good bowl of pasta is a miracle of practice and knowledge.

The clam and green garlic linguine, which is a classic, was perfectly prepared.  The Mafaldini (My personal favorite) Was the simplest pasta they had, but the pasta itself was incredibly fun and then the pink peppercorns give you a very familiar flavor, but with a great twist. You get the idea.

when our last course showed up, we were already on the border of being incapacitated. But then the swordfish showed up. An impeccable steak of swordfish covered with sweet, hot and funky Hungarian chilies, with a mint sauce. The peppers gave us back our appetite, they just fit so perfectly with the sea bass. it was this lovely, incredibly simple dish.

Finally, They sent us out a Grilled Lamb Steak. This steak was intense. It was seasoned to the point of being almost too acidic, but the acid was exactly what made it so perfect. Perfectly cooked, covered in Roman spices, which is an intense amount of herbs and seasonings, and then a lovely salad of celery and fennel adorned the top of it. I didn’t want to give it up. It was the best steak I’ve ever had.

Lilia is Chef Missy Robbins’ restaurant. I did not get the pleasure to meet her, But I did meet her Chef De Cucina (hah, Italians), Eric Simpson. Eric took the time to talk with us for a couple of minutes. He has worked at some of the best Italian restaurants in New York and he is incredibly modest. It is obvious how much he loves Italian food and what he does every day. He was just excited about the food as we were, which is crazy considering he’s around it, literally every day.

Lilia, for me, is an absolute must in Brooklyn. Everything they do feels easy and expressive. The food is fantastic and they are incredibly down to earth people. It’s a great place to enjoy solid Italian food, with a modern twist.

One shit meal doesn’t ruin a city. (A story of perseverance)

Once in a while, you get a meal and it amazes you. It is beyond your expectations, perfect in every aspect, creative, and gorgeous. Sometimes, you get something that is the exact opposite.

So what do you do when you get a meal that’s rotting? How do you handle the server? What are the appropriate steps? Do you still tip a full 20%? What is your move? I’ve got a set of rules I personally follow and some ideas of how to make a terrible situation much better.

I have had my share of shitty meals in a lot of different cities in a lot of different countries. This comes with the territory. Sometimes the restaurant has had so much hype that it almost doesn’t matter what they do, you’re going leave a little disappointed. Or, and this happens, something doesn’t sit right and then you have a night praising the porcelain throne.

What happened to me in New York was pretty bad. I ordered my basic for a dinner, Corned beef hash with over medium eggs (my favorite). Everything seemed fine when I walked in, the dinner was pretty clean plastic menus, slightly uncomfortable seats. Really everything I look for in a dinner. But they missed one massive component. They served me rotten food.

When the dish came out it didn’t look quite right the potatoes were kind of gray and the hash wasn’t crispy at all and almost looked bubbly. It wasn’t very appetizing. When I inspected it further it smelled rank. It was foul, it probably sat out too long, whatever, it should not have been served to anyone.

So in this situation, what do you do? As a rule, I try not to blame the server. Most of the time it isn’t their fault, but it is their responsibility to make it better. They should be all over it, talking to the general manager, making it right. Your experience is their responsibility.

That didn’t happen. He took it back and I asked for eggs and toast because I was starving and it was the middle of the night. Also, I was positive they couldn’t fuck that up and I was right. It came out fine. Then I got the bill, $8 for eggs. Just the eggs. I know this is NYC, home of expensive but this was insane to me. My rotten food cost me $12, and that came with eggs, toast, corned beef hash and eggs.

How did I handle that situation?  I addressed my server, and then he argued with me and told me that the eggs were actually much cheaper. So I walked over and talked to the owner. I then had an amazing conversation where, instead of making things right, they blew me off and insisted that I paid for my eggs since I didn’t pay for the corned beef hash.

Things kind of went downhill from there, but I digress.

So what should have happened? It’s important that people in the industry remember that at the end of the day, you want your customer to be happy. You want to give them the best experience possible because that’s what we’re there for. Our job, no matter if you work for a hot dog stand, or a three Michelin star restaurant is to make sure the customer has the best experience possible.

So what are the moves for this situation, and other situations like it? Let’s break it down.

Keep your cool, Remember that you’re trying to have a good night, and it’s usually an honest mistake. No restaurant is out to get you. Be aware that they want you to have as good of a time as you can.

Treat people like people. No one likes to be talked down to, talk to your servers and managers as friends, not like slaves. They are here to serve you but they can only do as good of a job as you let them.

If something continues to go wrong, long wait times, messed up orders or whatever, take a second to look around, does your server have four tables that just got menus? They probably got quad sat, and that is intense for even the most seasoned server. Try to be understanding, is your food taking way too long? The kitchen may be getting crushed with special orders and is struggling to keep up. There is almost always a reason, especially in a busy restaurant.

Give them a chance to make it right. If your experience hasn’t been the best, let them know, or grab the attention of the guy in a suit that’s walking around talking to tables. Don’t talk to the kid who looks like he’s going to have a stroke carrying a bunch of dishes. He’s the back waiter and he’s probably already over his head. Grab someone who looks calm and in control and talk to them. Chances are they will save your night.

If no one is talking to you, or if anyone is treating you rudely, then yes, you have the right to be irritated, and you should deal with that accordingly find the Manager, let them know what has happened and then move on with your night.

Eating out should never feel like a gamble, Make sure that you do your research. Talk to your friends, read reviews, make sure that it’s the price point you are comfortable with. Remember that the important thing about where you’re going is the experience that you want and that you’re out to have fun, get a little tipsy and just nosh (bro).

 

How the BOH functions, a rough guide

I’ve had a couple of people ask, “How does it work? What is the structure that lets restaurants serve fresh food every day? Where do you get your stuff?” I’ve got answers.

The back of the house is a machine. There are a lot of moving parts, but it is all run by systems. This can get pretty complex, so I’m just going to try to hit the big swings so everyone can get the idea of how it works, and we’ll get more in-depth later.

Let’s start on a regular day in a kitchen. The first person in is the CDC or A.M. Sous Chef and depending on what kind of service they run a couple of prep cooks. The chefs get the prep lists ready for the prep cooks and go over the prep lists made by the cooks the night before. They also go over reservations and do other management stuff. They make sure that everyone else that comes in is set up for success.

As the purveyors begin to arrive, the chefs and prep cooks receive the orders made the night before. They make sure that the quality is up to snuff, that they were not overcharged and that they got everything they wanted.

 

The product is broken down and placed where it lives. Dairy goes with dairy, dry goods go with other dry goods, frozen stuff with frozen stuff, etc… It’s important that everything is stored properly, Everything is transferred from cardboard or bags and is placed into bins that can be washed. Cardboard is a great place for roaches to hide, and no one wants that in their kitchen, and bags are hard to store so everything goes into plastic containers to protect the food.

Some things begin to be prepped immediately, especially if they are needed for service. After that everyone looks at their list and starts their tasks. this can be anything from breaking down fish to making stocks.

Around this time the dishwashers come in. They can be both prep and dishwasher, especially during the day, they will keep up on dishes and also shuck oysters, or peel potatoes. It’s usually pretty monotonous tasks that they can break away from easily to run a load of dishes.

Later the cooks start to stream in. They begin setting up their stations and do finer prep work for the night. They are making sauces, picking herbs, starting fires, making sure they have enough of everything they need for the night. They are always working a couple of days ahead and keep their prep schedules for themselves.

While they are getting ready for the night someone is making the family meal. This could be a cook or the head prep guy, it changes in a lot of kitchens, and different people take responsibility for it. This meal is usually the only meal that the staff will get all day, and when it’s bad, everyone knows it.

The last hour before service is, usually, a lot of people running around trying to make sure that everything is warm, and stocked, double checking everything.  At some restaurants, there is a small meeting to let everyone know what’s coming that night, but at most restaurants, you’ll randomly hear someone say “120 on the books!” and that’s pretty much all you’ve got.

then you’re off the races. the expo printer starts clicking mercilessly and the Chef starts calling tickets into the kitchen. The kitchen is quiet except for the screeching of the printer, the chef calling tickets and the cooks repeating orders. The chef directs where the food goes and knocks off courses as they go out.  When a part of the kitchen becomes slower you can see the chefs restocking, sweeping and cleaning. Dishwashers glide onto the line with clean pots and pans, the good ones, like ghosts.

Service ends when the printer stops. everyone focuses on breaking down. disassembling their stations and washing them, putting all of their mise away and throwing away anything that won’t last until the next day (herbs, sauces, etc..). They also re-ice Fish and do anything that needs to be done overnight. This includes stocks, or confit’d items, stuff like that.

The cooks make prep lists for the next day, they put things on the order list so the Chef knows what to order.  The Chef orders and goes over the numbers for the day. Everyone grabs a beer and relaxes, sometimes they go out and have a couple of beers, other times they just drag their tired bones home.

 

Upland stage

Upland is a restaurant in mid-Manhattan. It serves California-inspired cuisine food, in what I would call a semi-casual setting. I felt pretty underdressed in a t-shirt and jeans, everyone else was in a suit coat and slacks. I think that’s just how people dress in Manhattan.

The staff looks immaculate. They are polite, knowledgeable and perfect. Everyone is in uniform in this restaurant and you can taste the professionalism in the air. This is something that is common in New York and its strange and lovely how upscale even a “casual” restaurant can be.

Porcetta upland

This space is big for NYC, it seats around 80 and has a decent sized private events space downstairs. Every table is made for community seating. The dining room looks like a couple of large wood backed couches with large wooden tables. All of the tables are set lower and it has high ceilings, so the entire space feels big.

This is something New York institutions do a lot. They want it to feel big because nothing feels big in NYC. It’s really impressive to see the different ways people play with their aesthetics to make space feel large and inviting.

The restaurant has a very modern yet rustic appeal. The walls are covered in shelves for wine and preserved lemons and everything in the space is either wood or copper. It looks, like a lovely gay man I overheard, “It’s not over-decorated.”  I thought that was perfect.  Upland has just the right amount of decorating.

Chicken UPland

The kitchen is set at the back of the restaurant. It is a large, French-style kitchen.  Think vertical, not horizontal.  It stands behind the stairwell that leads to the bathroom. It’s entirely open, but if you weren’t looking you could easily miss it. It makes a great backdrop for the guests and it doesn’t throw the kitchen in your face like a lot of open kitchens.

The kitchen itself is big and beautiful, Upland has only been open for a couple of years, and the kitchen is clean. It works on an order/fire system that is very fine tuned. Every dish has been timed out and the chefs call back times for every ticket. There are a handful of stations that include pasta, grill, and pizza (yes there is a pizza oven, it’s tits).

This kitchen is professional. There is a lot of “yes chef” and that helps this place be the machine it is. This place is run like an incredibly tight business. Protein counts are done a couple of times a day, and all of the ordering is monitored closely. The Sous Chef’s (there are a lot of them) keep track of how the stations are doing compared to other stations. They keep the numbers up to date so you can see if a station has started to do less business than other stations, or if that station is losing the restaurant money.

It’s insane how tight this ship runs. To me, it’s incredibly eye-opening. I love knowing that this is something that is not only possible but, I believe, necessary. With something run this tightly, you would think that the food would suffer. It does not.

Duck liver pasta upland

The food is made for groups. There are a couple of items that are made for groups of people, Including a whole Bronzino and well, pizza. Everything is made fresh and the proteins are handled incredibly well. The menu feels very Italian, but it has incredible flair of other cultures, Polenta is very northern Italian, but it feels like something you would get in the deep south. The whole fried Hen of the Woods is seasoned with chives and espelete, and a swoosh of cloumage (It’s like French ricotta, it’s delicious).

The pasta is amazing. All of the pasta is made in-house, including my new favorite, estrella, which is a star-shaped pasta. All of the pasta is made to order and they are perfect. they are finished with two different kinds of cheeses, or herbs, or in one very special pasta, a crazy amount of bottarga. They are all simple and perfect.

Upland dinner

The food is exceptional. You can tell that it has been well thought out and crafted with years of intense study and discipline. I never had the opportunity to meet the Chef Justin Smillie, but it is obvious from his staff that he knows exactly what the fuck he’s doing.

Chicago VS. NYC pt. 2

I know a lot more about Chicago than NYC. I’ve bumped around Chicago for a little over six years. I’ve spent had the pleasure of eating, staging and working at a myriad of restaurants here. I’m going to try and break my experience here down into a manageable chunk, there is a lot to this city and all of it is different than NYC.

There are a couple of different scenes in Chicago. there isn’t a ton of street food, most of the food trucks tend to hang out at sporting events or Humboldt Park, It feels like Chicago has been fighting the food truck scene since it started, which is kind of a bummer, but they do thrive towards the south end of Chicago.

You also have a couple of hand pushed Ice Cream Carts, some stalls that sell tacos and elotes.  There are a couple of amazing people that shack outside of The Owl and sell polish sausages for when everyone comes out walking funny a couple of guys that wander into bars selling tortas, and the piece de resistance of Chicago, The fucking Tamale guy (a local legend and hero to the late-night barfly).

The feeling in restaurants here is different. It’s less intense, less powder keg ready to blow, more a gentle thud at the back of your head. A gentle push, much more friendly and less intense environment. This is due largely to a lack of culinary workforce. The people that work here tend to be either very good or very bad. There isn’t a lot of in between.

20160406_114124Yes, Chef, a common phrase inside of every kitchen twenty years ago has all but disappeared in Chicago. There is less of an emphasis on authority, and more of an emphasis on team building. you are not a line cook, you are a line cook at Blackbeard (I made this up), “Blackbeard cooks ain’t nothing to fuck with” and to be honest, It feels good. You’re more than just a shit head cook, you’re this restaurant’s shit-head line cook.

Restaurants build their menus differently in Chicago. Restaurants here tend to jump around. There is much less this is a French menu with Korean influences, and much more, I put a Korean dish on my menu, you’ll like it. There is much less focus on what kind of restaurant you are and more of a focus on the individual dishes.

Just as an example, most restaurants have pasta in Chicago. There is going to be an agnolotti or a dumpling or a bucatini on the menu. but there are only a handful of restaurants that call themselves Italian.

The front of house is different here as well. There is a huge amount of importance on what you are selling, and the stories behind the dishes. There is much more of an emphasis on figuring out what kind of experience your guest wants, and then give the guest what they want. This can be anything from a meal with

If you come to a very nice restaurant in Chicago, there is going to be less whatever you need right now, There still is a ton of it, but it’s less. Servers are more open ( not in the super high end, they’re still robots, but in the mid-high end). They are very much more like a great server at a local bar. They talk to you, understand your needs and become friends with you. There is a lot more personality.

The restaurants that make in Chicago are the ones that adapt promptly, and that go into service with a hard on for quality and a need for individuality. There is a lot more to it, of course, but the ones that are really adored have a flavor that runs through them they know who the are and what they like, and they are overconfident that when you try it, you will fall in love. Places like Cafe Marie-Jeanne, Girl and the Goat and Avec.

There are also a lot of restaurants that have stood the test of time and have pushed forward to stay relevant and well-loved. Restaurants that define neighborhoods in Chicago, Lula in Logan Square, Blackbird in the West Loop, Big Star in Wicker Park.

These restaurants see the future and adapt. They are not stagnant, they keep a couple of dishes that the neighborhood love and then expand and evolve on who they are. If they didn’t do that they would die. A lot of restaurants die like this. It feels like every month a place that’s been adored for 80 years closes.

On the other side, there are the classics, We have Manny’s, we also have Calumet Fisheries, The Immortal Dinner Grill, and the ever important Weiner Circle. Places that will never changeThey are a taste of the past, and they are important. They live in a world that is ever constant and ever consistent. People know what they are getting and they are excited about it.  Consistency keeps them alive and popular.

The dive bars are awesome. Everyone has a favorite, and odds are that there is a watering hole near your apartment. There are bars that cater to gamers, and bars that cater to dancers. The bars have deep rich history and striking personality.  The spirit of bars in Chicago is very Midwest, You will find a bar that suits you. Someone opened that bar here, you just have to find it.

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Tørst stage

Tørst is a beer Bar. Tørst is also known for its Scandinavian tasting menu, Luksus. Sadly Luksus is no longer a thing, and the Chef that brought Luksus to light, Daniel Burns no longer works there, and the Michelin-starred Luksus is no longer a thing. They closed at the end of 2016.

Fret not, because, under Chef Jesus Cervantes, Tørst is still awesome.

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(The bar at torst)

First off, the crew is tiny. We’re talking four people run the whole BOH. Although they do have a small space, maybe twenty seats including the bar, everything on their menu is made from scratch, with few exceptions. and everything is made well, there’s no slacking in this kitchen, no cutting corners and everyone has similar goals and gets along incredibly well. They are the epitome of a family in the industry.

There are a lot of interesting people at Tørst. Including Tae from Korea, Max who is from San Fransisco region, Mike who was off that day (I’m sure I’ll catch him later) and Chef Cervantes, who is much better known as Chuy (pronounced Chewy, Which is an awesome nickname), from Al Paso.

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(Delicious little nori parker house buns)

These are incredible guys who really care about what they do. They are all into it, and Chuy gives them an incredible amount of space to make the place theirs. Just to give a few examples Max runs the bread program, Tae created the incredible Kimchi dog and the entire time I was there Chuy was asking everyone what they wanted to do for the new menu.

This kitchen runs the way I dream of kitchens running. There is no yelling, everyone is there to learn and they keep each other honest without being giant dicks. Everything is clean and the stress level is manageable. There is a lot of prep, but they don’t rush through it because they are prepared. This is a great kitchen just to be in, it feels nice.

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(Char, spicy and acidic)

The menu is delicious. I think they are still trying to figure out who they are as a restaurant, especially after Luksus closed, but they are moving in a great direction. They still hold on to the Danish a little bit, but honestly, I hope that turns into accents and they can just make what they want because that food is strong. I want that food in my mouth.

The line is very small, but they are doing what they can with what they have. It’s not incredibly efficient, there is a lot of grabbing things out of the lowboy, but I think it works for them. After a second you get the feel for it and it works. I’m also impressed with just how much diversity of food they push out of that little kitchen.

They make their bread out of their Combi Oven. Which to me is amazing. This is a perfect example of deciding you want to make something and then working with what you have. For anyone that doesn’t know a Combi oven is a Combination oven, it bakes, and steams or does both. They are not made for bread, and it is very hard to make bread in one without a good amount of practice and patience.

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(House made loafs)

The bread is great, It looks awesome, it’s obviously well cared for and it tastes fantastic. the nori Parker house rolls are buttery, seaweedy(sp?) and delicate, the Sourdough has a great crumb and crust and is perfect for any amount of whipped butter, and the rugbrød is just as good, if not better than the rugbrød I ate in Copenhagen.

The other food is delicious. It’s just really well thought out, seasonal and tasty. It’s the kind of place that if I lived in Brooklyn I would go every day and just grab a plate or two and hang out.  It’s just the stuff I want to eat. Between the kimchi hot dog, the burger and the Torta. Oh my god the torta. This is the best veggie sandwich ever, toasted puffy soft buttery bun, grilled Oaxaca cheese, and a healthy amount of avocado. It kills.

Everything else on the menu is delicious, and it feels super midwest to me. A lot of places in NYC I feel like have a very, we are this, kind of menu, and Tørst doesn’t do that. They are kind of like, we like it, put it on. And that’s great.  They have a dish that’s Asian pear balls, that are compressed in delicious liquid with turnips, that are also pressed in delicious liquid, and then they finish it with greens and ranch and throw it in a bowl. I mean, how can you get mad at that? That’s a great dish, it’s simple, I love it.

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(Steak Tartar)

The tartar is delicious as well. It’s made with New York strip (they also have a steak dish), salted plums, and green walnuts (sometimes green almonds). Just like everything else on the menu, it just feels good, It works. That’s how the rest of the menu is as well.

I staged on a slower day, I didn’t get to see the kitchen in all of its glory, slinging a good amount of food with just two people (three at most) on that little line. But I did get a good feel for what that would look like. Chuy, and then later Tae showed me how to do a good amount of the dishes, and they were all very simple, very pretty and exceptionally well thought out.

The line is simple. a small flat top, a couple of induction (electric) Burners and a combi oven. Everything is very clean and the mise is very tight. They use a medium-sized pot with oil so they can fry. and that’s about it. This line is very bare bones. I think that makes it more fun. It means that in order for them to do a dish they really have to figure out how it’s going to work on their line.

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(Kim Chi Hot Dog)

Toward the end of my stage, Tae Kicked me off the line, told me I worked enough and I needed to have a couple of beers. Then he went and got me a beer because I was being stubborn. My point is that these guys care about the people around them. If I lived in Brooklyn, I would do my best to work here. I just like the vibe. It’s the kind of place that just feels right.

This restaurant is a place that I think, with some time, is going to become somewhere very special. I think they need some time to get loose of the luksus shadow and show that their food is different and fun and that they have their own Identity.

I can’t wait to go back.