There has been a a lot of talk in Chicago lately about food trucks. Correction: there has been a lot of talk in cities such as New York and Los Angeles and Portland about the amazing food trucks that keep sprouting up in their fair cities and a lot of talk in Chicago about WHY WE DON’T HAVE ANY.
So, here’s the lowdown in Chicago: Food trucks are allowed but only if there is no actual food being cooked on the truck. Everything that is sold needs to be pre-packaged in a licensed kitchen – which kind of misses the point. Nevertheless, Gaztro-Wagon, Happy Bodega, and Phillip Foss’ Meatyballs Mobile are pretty popular additions to the burgeoning scene in Chicago.
But, if you’ve known me an hour, you already know that I like to do things right. So, when 48 hours in New York City showed up on my travel itinerary, I decided to dig a little further into street meat culture. I sought out the best of the best, the masters of their trade, and tried to squeeze them all in to the allotted time (fail).
Chao has an incurable shoe habit. Now, you might be wondering why a chef (whose feet are rarely seen by the public) would have that many shoes? The world may never know.
Apparently he almost never buys his sneakers in stores–he tries them on and then goes online to find them for less. Which, to me, seems like a lot of effort… but, to each his own. Just in case you’re wondering, his two sites of of choice are JackThreads.com and backcountry.com.
According to Chao, he’s been a shoe fiend for years. With each big move, however, most of his shoes don’t make the cut—except for the lime green/white Adidas with the aliens on top (photo). They are Chao’s oldest pair, his most comfortable and the most beat up. And no, he didn’t draw the aliens on himself.
xA note from Chao:
Right now I’ve got pretty much every color I need–but I just realized I don’t have any green shoes, so if anyone knows of any cool green shoes (bold, emerald green), let me know? Oh, and if any shoe companies want to send me shoes (especially you, Supra & Adidas), I’m a size 9.
Airport food has pretty much always resided in a category alongside hospital and rest-stop fare. As a veteran of the friendly skies and not-always-friendly terminals myself, I’ve sampled a good deal of airport food, and I can tell you firsthand that there are several exceptions to that rule in the last few years. In fact, you might even deem it a movement in some airports.
I put together my top 5 airport meals based on my experiences. Am I suggesting you drive out to the airport for dinner, tonight? Nope. But you just might be surprised by your next layover feast.
This past week, Mike and I decided it was time to put in a few hours in the kitchen. Well, I decided, and I spent the majority of the time in the kitchen… but it felt really good to get behind the stoves again. As much as I love having a little time off, I’ve missed it.
So now you’re imagining Chao getting back on the metaphorical saddle–shaking a frying pan, testing a sauce, that sort of thing? I was quickly reminded of the serious drawbacks of being a home cook.
Take this photo, for example. You’ll see a few things wrong.
Mike did actually help, but I had to take advantage of that photo and rag on him just a little bit. You’d do the same, I am sure. But I’m getting off topic. Back to some of the downfalls and lessons learned in a West Loop condominium kitchen.
Lesson #1: TRASH
No matter where you cook, there will be a surplus of trash and recycling to deal with. It’s a fact of life, and it’s something that Mike’s bachelor pad starter trash can really couldn’t handle.
Which is why I brought in an industrial trash can. When you read the rest of this post, you’ll understand why taking the trash out every twenty minutes was not something I was interested in doing.
Lesson #2: DISHES
I went in a chef; I left a broken man with dishpan hands. Just kidding. Sort of. You’ll notice there is in fact a dishwasher in the photo, which is definitely nice to have, but it’s no match for the dishwashing team in a dishwashing room that I have become accustomed to in a restaurant kitchen.
After almost every step/dish, you have to go back and wash all the things you’ll need again in a few minutes–because there is only one set of tools (one blender, one frying pan, two pots…)
Lesson #3: TOOLS
So now we have a serious lack of implements, not to mention a kitchen–though nice, Mike–that wasn’t what you’d call “expansive.” (Although, I’ve worked in smaller, now that I think about it.) Beyond that, there’s also the quality of the tools/appliances around you.
Mike’s fridge was what you’d call ten pounds of s*** in a five-pound bag, and I won’t even begin to tell you about the drawbacks of a home stove/oven. (The ovens most chefs are used to would make the model in your kitchen look like an Easy Bake).
Lesson #4: INGREDIENTS
I knew that when I ran out of/needed something, I would need to go out and get it. What I didn’t know was how often. Good news: There’s a Dominick’s right down the street. Bad news: Most of the employees there now know me by name (and think I’m nuts). I’m not one for lists, which could have contributed to all of my visits.
If I was going to make this post have a “message,” it would be one of encouragement to all those downtrodden at-home cooks, who watch the chefs on TV and wonder why they can’t recreate it at home.
We couch our blog as conquering the world one bite at a time, so you can imagine our excitement when we arrived at an event with eighty chefs preparing bites: the annual Meals On Wheels Celebrity Chef Ball. The event happened this past Friday night, and our work was cut out for us.
Chicago’s best chefs, a floor that takes up an entire city block, and me and Chao–we got down to business. It was crowded, it was hot, but we were on a mission (and luckily Chao has very sharp elbows). Here are a few of our faves, in no particular order:
The burger has recently evolved to become this perfect meal in a little package… and this was truly the perfect composition: the Hay Shortay, a mini Tallgrass burger with port-braised short ribs and warm onion/fennel slaw, no ketchup required.
Soup is usually a hard sell at an event, but Takashi’s take was special. It was the perfect balance–sweet, spicy–it was umami. Curried lentil soup with a chicken-prosciutto croquette, a little different from what we’ve come to expect from Takashi, but spectacular nonetheless.
Cary’s a Georgia boy, and everything he does has a Southern twang. Take his interpretation of a classic, 1940s dish: East Coast oysters Rockefeller… with collards and bacon.
Now, we’re back to our normal activity–eating. And, these days, blogging. Chao is off riding cyclocross this morning, but that’s a blog post for a different time. Thanks for reading this post, checking out our blog, and to all Chicago chefs and restaurateurs for supporting a truly awesome cause on Friday night. Cheers!
This is a blog about food. Good food. It’s written by two guys who like food. We like to eat food, talk about food, cook food. We’re both good at cooking food. One of us is really good. Our names are Mike and Chao, so it only made sense for us to use the word “chow” in the title.
We’ve been chowing for some time, but had to fit it into a “schedule” and careers that weren’t always conducive to our chow-hungry natures.
Mike is a 30-something Chicagoan who put his time in living in NYC, traveling both the country and the world, before returning to Chicago in 2006. Throughout, he’s endured corporate life in order to finance his restaurant habit. Chao is a chef, amateur cyclocross racer and sneaker enthusiast. He arrives most everywhere by bike because, in his words, ‘The way I drink, I’m better off on a bike,’ but he’s just kidding…
Which brings us to our next question: How did a West Loop Jewish kid from Lake Forest meet up with a tattooed chef of Thai origins and become eating partners “4 lyfe”? Continue reading Meet Mike and Chao