Slow Food Chicago - Spring 2018 Update

2018 has been one of the busier spring seasons on record for Slow Food Chicago. So today, we're taking a stroll down memory lane to reminisce about all that we've been up to since March. With the summer solstice (and our Annual Potluck celebrating the start of summer) just a couple of weeks away, as anxious as we are to officially be operating on "summer hours," we want to take a minute to reflect on all that we've accomplished in springtime.

Food Book Club

The 2018 schedule for food book club was announced and we've already met and discussed three of the six titles we plan on reading this year.  First up was Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen. We noshed on sourdough biscuits and discussed this dreamy memoir - a tale of duality about a chef splitting her time first in the big apple in high end restaurants and then returning to her roots in a cabin in rural Minnesota. Next, we changed things up with a panel style discussion at the MCA Commons about Paul Robert's The End of Food while also discussing the Ark of Taste and its efforts to preserve food culture and heritage at risk of being lost. Just the other week, we gathered for the third food book club discussion - where we explored The Art of Flavor: Practices and Principles for Creating Delicious Food by Michelin Star Chef Daniel Patterson and natural perfumist Mandy Aftel. We're taking the month of June off, but we'll be back at it in July with Carl Honore's In Praise of Slowness : Challenging the Cult of Speed.

Good Food Expo

We were fortunate to be involved in this year's Good Food EXPO this March. Not only did we exhibit with a "Slow Seeds" booth where we engaged with attendees and passed out Ark of Taste seeds for planting (including Amish Paste Tomato seeds and Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce Seeds), but we also had the opportunity to sit in on Abe Conlon's and Michael Harlan Turkell's Master Class : Acid Trip, Travels in the World of Vinegar. During the masterclass, participants enjoyed a pork vindaloo prepared by Abe, a posca sour cocktail of Michael's creation, and infused vinegar shots (including aronia berry vinegar, sorghum vinegar, ramp vinegar, heirloom tomato vinegar and concord grape vinegar). 

Farm to Fork Dinner at Eataly Chicago with Paul Fehribach of Big Jones

Through a new partnership with Eataly Chicago, La Scuola has been hosting "Farm to Fork" dinners featuring "slow" producers. Most recently, this included a dinner with Paul Fehribach, owner of Big Jones. Participants left with a better understanding of Slow Food and heirloom ingredients, which Paul highlights on his menus. Next up this June, we spend an evening with Ali Cole, founder of the Farinata Project, a chickpea based Italian Bread. Hope you can join us!

preSERVE Garden Days

We finally thawed out from the winter and despite a rather chilly start to the season, we got busy volunteering in the garden - planting, cleaning and weeding. An entire portion of the garden is committed to growing Ark of Taste ingredients, and on a recent volunteer day, we planted kale, chard and onions. As of last weekend, the strawberry patch is starting to ripen as well! If you haven't made it to a volunteer day yet, things are going to heat up this June and July. Hope to see you on the first and third Saturday to get busy in the garden together! Can't make it on the weekends? We're hosting a crop mob at The Pie Patch next Wednesday!

Celebrating Earth Day in Batavia, IL

In line with our commitment to engage more audiences throughout not just the city, but also the suburbs of Chicago, we participated in a special Earth Day Celebration at the Montessori Academy's campus this April. Along with other sustainably focused vendors, we had a blast on this green campus along the Fox River.

Annual Tomato Seedling Sale

Our annual Tomato Seedling Sale happened on a chilly and sometimes rainy weekend in May. But you still showed up and went home with seedlings to #growyourown this season. Whether you picked up Ark of Taste varietals like Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter or a Sudduth Strain Brandywine or even a variety you haven't grown before like the pepper shaped Opalka or the plum shaped Ukranian Purple, thanks to all of you who purchased seedlings this year and for selling us out of inventory on the first day of the sale! Extra thanks to Bang Bang Pie in Logan Square for hosting us another year (and for fueling us with coffee and biscuits)!

Dishing on the Farm Bill

Recently, the Farm Bill has gotten some deserved attention in political activism. A couple of our very own board members - Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Meat CSA and Alison Parker of Radical Root Farm - have gotten involved in their own right. Both joined forces with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance to host events about the politics behind the food on our plates and "dish" about the proposed farm bill. Oftentimes, these events involve not just food, but also an educational component and perhaps even a postcard writing party where participants can emplor their representatives to advocate for a bill that helps sustainably-focused small family farmers. Click here to read a companion blog post from Farm Aid about these parties that are gaining popularity in these times of increased grass-roots activism.

National Restaurant Association Show

May is notorious for a being a busy time of year. Add to the calendar the industry's most talked about food show that draws industry experts from the world over and you've got yourself a packed schedule. Slow Food Chicago was fortunate to be invited to partake in a couple of stage demonstrations at the BellaVita Pavillon. On Saturday, board member and pastry chef instructor Heidi Hedeker lead audience members through a "World of Baking" demo showcasing Ark of Taste Wheats like Turkey Red Wheat which can be used to make pastry dough, naan bread and even miche bread. On Monday, chef Jaime Gurrerro and co-president Katie Johnson led audience members through the composition of a grain salad built using primarily Ark of Taste ingredients including Turkey Red Wheat Berries from The Mill at Janie's Farm, Rio Zape heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, dressed in a vinaigrette using benne oil. Want to recreate it at home? Click here!

Granor Farm Dinner

This past weekend, a couple of members of the Slow Food Chicago board were lucky to accompany Midwest Ark of Taste chair Jennifer Breckner to Three Oaks, MI for a special 7-course dinner at Granor Farm. Chef Abra Berens prepared a farm fresh meal highlighting Ark of Taste ingredients and items vital to local foodways. Guests had the opportunity to tour the farm, and then gathered in the farmhouse for meal where the distance from farm to table was virtually 50 yards or less for nearly every ingredient. $45 of each ticket sold to this inspired meal benefitted Slow Food USA and the Plant a Seed Campaign. On top of that, for every ticket sold, a "Plant a Seed" kit was donated to a school garden encouraging #foodforchange. Relive the event in our instagram story highlights.

Stay tuned for more this summer and check back on our events page for updates! Thanks for making this Spring the most eventful #goodcleanfair season yet!

Uncommon Ground 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner

It's hard to believe our annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner that we co-host with Snail of Approval restaurant Uncommon Ground will have officially been occurring for a decade after next week's iteration. We're one week out from one of our favorite affairs of the summer - one that celebrates fresh, veggie centered ingredients, most of which were grown on the rooftop farm of Uncommon Ground's Devon Ave location (it doesn't get much closer to farm-to-fork than that)! To recognize 10 years of this delicious event (and to entice you to purchase a ticket and join us, if you haven't already) - we asked Michael and Helen Cameron, Uncommon Ground's owners, what guests can expect at this year's event. We hope you'll join us! This dinner historically sells out - so you'll want to jump on tickets sooner rather than later!

What are you most excited about for this year’s dinner?

Every year, we're extremely excited & thankful for the opportunity to grow such beautiful, organic crops that we can share with our guests.

What’s your favorite part of the meal?

The rooftop farm cocktail reception where everyone can enjoy the organic roof top farm & see how we grow all of the delicious food that they are about to eat during the dinner downstairs in the restaurant.

What is the first step in pairing a beer (or cocktail) with a dish?

The first step is always determining what produce we have available & how we want to combine those items into a dish. Once that is established, we look at the beer or cocktail pairing & choose the most appropriate item to match the dish. For example, the rooftop farm heirloom tomato & scallion shortcake with white cheddar ale whip is paired with our "Curselifter" summer blonde ale as we are using that beer in the actual dish & that bridges the taste profile between beer & food.

What can guests expect at the 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner that’s unique from dinners of years past?

Every season, we develop a completely different menu. Menu dishes are built based on the summer harvest of organic veggies that we have been planning since the beginning of the year.

Is there a particular ingredient that you haven’t grown before (or a different variety) that is featured on this year’s menu that you’re most excited about highlighting?

Yes, a few of the newer items that we have added to our crop rotation are leeks, which are featured in the leek & garlic fritters, parsnips which will be parsnip chips in the smoked carrot & wheat berry salad & scallions that will be in the scallion shortcake.

The second course features rooftop grown heirloom tomatoes. We have an heirloom seedling sale every spring - we’d love to hear what varieties you are growing/featuring on the menu?

Tomatoes were the inspiration for the farm & generally our highest valued crop. This year we are growing 2 varieties in the Slow Food Ark of Taste, Aunt Ruby's German Green & German Pink tomatoes, along with several varieties of heirlooms & a few hybrids. We always make sure that one of the dishes in the harvest dinner features all of the varieties that we have available.

Grain salads seem to be gaining popularity this summer. How did you come up with the wheat berry salad in the first course?

We feature a "greens & grains salad" on our menu year round. This particular grain salad was inspired by the Green City Market that recently started at Wrigley Field, just one block from our Lakeview location's front door. The organic wheat berries are coming from Brian Severson's farm in Dwight, IL.

What inspired the flavors and how does it differ from other grain salads you may have had?

We have a gorgeous crop of carrots & decided to slightly smoke them to present them in a sort of BBQ flavor profile as to highlight the carrots as the main focus of the dish.

As a Snail of Approval restaurant, we know you take special care in sourcing ingredients that you can’t grow and/or produce yourself. How do you ensure that items like dairy (huckleberry goat cheese in the 1st course, white cheddar ale whip in the 2nd course, etc) are sourced sustainably, humanely as well as locally?

We are very proud to have been the recipient of the 1st Chicago Snail of Approval & take great pride in sourcing ingredients that align with our shared slow food vision. The huckleberry blue goat cheese comes from Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Champaign, IL made by Leslie Cooperband, an award winning local cheese maker & very active in the farm to table movement.

In that same vein, how does Uncommon Ground (at this dinner in particular as well as during regular operating hours) ensure that you are reflecting the Slow Food tenents of good, clean and fair?

Basically, we use the ideals of good, clean & fair as a filter when purchasing food & beverage and ultimately any products that we use for the restaurant.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s dinner?

This dinner, to us, is the highlight of the year. It is the culmination of many months of planning & executing to deliver this meal to everyone that comes. The greatest joy is sharing the entire experience - - each dish is an integral part of the whole.

Do you have a favorite dish from this year’s menu that you are most anticipating guests tasting?

That's like asking if we have a favorite child. ;) Each menu item has it's own personality that we highlight & it's part of a symphony of flavors that we have grown to share with everyone.

Interested in learning more about Uncommon Ground and the 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner? All the details are below!

Uncommon Ground : Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

What: 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner

Where: Uncommon Ground Edgewater (1401 W Devon Ave Chicago, IL 60660 / Map)

When: Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 / 6:00pm - 9:00pm

More Info: Full event details can be viewed on the ticket website, here as well as on the event page.