Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Quick Chicago Trip

*Just Braise has moved. Please visit me at www.justbraise.com!*

D and I had a short stay in Chicago this past week. Herewith, a quick and dirty foodie roundup.

The purpose of the trip was to spend a day in the kitchen of Charlie Trotter.

You read correct. My mother, being so generous, happened to attend a silent auction. There she spied, as she likes to call it, the perfect "target gift" for my upcoming birthday (next Wednesday, ehem). A bidding war broke out and she lost. Still, I spent a fabulously hectic day at CT's. Other delicious adventures ensued, making this one packed week:

It began with dinner at Rick Bayless's, Frontera Grill. Those of us without cable may know Rick from his PBS cooking show. Inventive margaritas, savory sauces and I must admit, disappointing guacamole. Rick emerged from the kitchen, tan after two weeks with his staff researching cuisine in Mexico (a nice employee perk). I bought his first cookbook and got it signed. Some delicious Mexican cuisine in the future is guaranteed.

The next tres gourmet stop was to Hot Doug's for his famous Duck Fat Fries (only served Fridays and Saturdays). We met Sir Doug, on his way with fiancée (or was it wife or girlfriend?) to see Tom Jones in Vegas (or as he called it, to do inventory for the restaurant-- "all those mustard packets must be counted you know"). The special hot dogs of the week were delicious, intriguing combinations, a Tuscan wild boar with smoked mozzarella and a garlic beef dog with a garlic sauce. Still, the favorite was the original char dog (with that neon green relish, half a tomato, pickle, mustard and onion).

D and I assume that if you live in Chicago you feel the need to break from perfection. The Duck Fat Fries were deliciously fatty good. Not that they tasted "ducky" or "gamey," more so they were pure. I also reason that because they are made with a natural fat and not partially hydrogenated bits, they are better for me than other partially hydrogenated fries and I should eat them more often.

Charlie was next. (Abriged)

I arrived prompt at 2pm to find most of the staff already present and accounted for. I received an apron, jacket and hat and was ready to go.

CT's offers juice pairings with their meals. I made a carrot-kohlrabi juice under the guidance of Mary (or Molly?). A small but peppery CIA graduate with burn and cut marks up her arms. Next, I shucked oysters with another sous chef (name forgotten). Then I cleaned them. Mid-cleaning I began to hint that the innards we were tossing away were really much more delicious than the speck of meat I was retrieving.

We broke for a communal lunch of hamburgers. Mind you, these hamburgers were "whatever meat was leftover" from previous meals. Meaning they were more like veal-Kobe beef-pork feet-3-inch thick-6-inch diameter-burgers with organic tomatoes, fresh cheese, hot sauce on top and perfectly seasoned fingerling potatoes on the side. Mine tasted slightly of oysters.

Back to cleaning oysters. Staff meeting at 3:30 where I found which table had a proposal, which was allergic to shellfish, and which former employee would dine with us that evening. Oysters.

Sliced a root vegetable (name tk) that looks like a muddy stick but once peeled resembles a parsnip.

Made a green apple and fresh wasabi sauce to top the Hamachi. Was told how expensive fresh wasabi was. Tasted it. Spied a bucket of black truffles and a baseball sized white truffle. Threatened to steal all.

They served me champagne and wine.

Seating began. I helped plating the appetizers with Big Mike (only name remembered because it had Big in front. There also seemed to be at least five "Chefs"). I was good. No action photos because I had celeriac juice up to my elbows as I was busy making veal heart ravioli, tasting my marinating oysters, devouring spoonfuls of buttered truffles and snatching bits of Kobe hot off the grill.

As the dinner progressed to main courses I platted and dressed sherbets and caramels.

I left the kitchen around 9:30 to sit and dine with the family. Work has never gone so quickly. Still I didn't realize how tired I was until I sat down.

Every diner receives a tour of the kitchen where D was kind enough to snap some photos for the viewer as the staff was scrubbing the beautiful (imported) stove clean.

The disappointment of the night: Charlie was apparently present but I never met him because I was too involved with my tasks. We share a high school alma mater. We should have met.

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