Monday, April 16, 2007

Chicago Eats

Traveling is hard on me. It's not just the time or temperature change, but having to go through security at the airport where you just about have to get undressed and redressed before you gather yourself together to sit at the gate and wait for the plane, all while feeling thirsty or plunking down $2 to $3 for a bottle of water. I opt for the water, at almost any cost, although I don't care for drinking out of plastic bottles. I guess that I could choose beer but it doesn't truly quench thirst -- at least not while traveling. But on to my travels to Chicago.

My first day there I had the chance to take a tour with about 45 other food professionals. It was fascinating despite the snow, rain, slush and overall cold weather.

Our first stop was at Bleeding Heart Bakery, the first certified organic bakery in the country. Run by a young, tattooed woman with talent, they offer many baked products from scones to Mexican brownies. Many are vegan and those that I tasted were pretty darn good. The place was not big enough for our crowd but we did get a brief kitchen tour in small groups. The baking staff is going to be helping a new pizza place get off the ground and that will provide them with more baking space. Well, worth the visit when you are in the area (I couldn't tell you where I was.)

Our next stop was to an ice carving plant. In my mind I kind of dismissed this part of the tour as boring. Well, I was wrong. I had no idea how interesting ice could be. From making it to designing it and then actually carving it -- it's all an art. And a fascinating one to observe. Later that evening we got to see an "ice bar" in action.

Then it was on to lunch. We were treated incredibly well by the staff at Quartino, an Italian place done up just right. The very un-Chicago thin crust pizza was tasty, as were all the small dishes, although there was far too much white bread for my liking. They did provide us with lots of food, in a wonderful atmosphere.

Vosges chocolate was the perfect after lunch stop. We were met there by Katrina Markoff, the young woman in charge of Vosges, who shared her story of her chocolate empire. The unusually flavored truffles are divine but expensive which seems just right. Most interestingly, my purple and black clothes matched the store's interior. I looked like a Vosges spokesperson.

Finishing our tour we stopped at Goose Island Brewing which was in a nondescript industrial part of the city which is perfect for this type of business. I mean, you really don't want people knowing where you make the hooch, do you? This was the largest regional brewery that I'd even seen in action, and I have been to a few. The range of beer was amazing, from a silky Belgian style to a hearty IPA, and many types in between. As at most breweries, there were lots of high energy young guys working there and handing out sample tastes and larger as if there were no tomorrow. For us, there was still the conference opening night reception.

That was held at the Merchandise Mart and it was wonderfully interesting -- from molded jello body to the mannequin designed from greens and so much more. After all that food and drink, I needed a good night's sleep. But that took days to arrive.

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