by Colleen Hoy
Posted on Chef Talk
My first reaction to this book was that it was just another reference book critiquing the best gastronomic sources in Chicago. I was wrong. Not only is it one of the best reference books for the best gastronomic sources in Chicago, but it also proved to open my eyes to social issues which threaten taste, international cultures, and the environment.
Prior to reading the book, I questioned the title: "what is 'slow' food, and what does it have to do with what Chicago has to offer?"
I was surprised to learn that some professionals in the culinary field are unfamiliar with the idea of "slow food." After learning its meaning, I tried striking up a conversation with a pastry chef teacher about the "slow food" movement. Her idea of slow food was taking the time to "cook from scratch." But that's just one of the many concepts of the slow food movement.
The book's definition of slow food appears to be multi-faceted, but rooted in the ideas of sustainability and biodiversity:
- preserving agricultural diversity (since 1900 the U.S. has lost 93% of its genetic diversity in crop varieties; in the year 2000, 83% of the U.S. was devoted to only 4 crops).
- preserving cultural food diversity and cultural food traditions worldwide
- preventing certain foods from becoming extinct due to the industrial movement, mass production, overzealous hygiene laws, environmental damage, and loss of genetic diversity.
- promoting pure foods that are local, seasonal, and organically grown
- promoting artisan and homemade, wholesome foods
- preventing the standardization of taste
- an emphasis on conviviality (the "pleasures of the table," i.e. feasting and drinking in good company)
I am a health nut; the idea of slow food supported and reinforced health concepts of which I was already aware. I have learned from reliable medical sources that we all lack hundreds of necessary minerals which our bodies require to maintain proper health. This loss is due to the fact that those minerals are no longer available in our fruits and vegetables. The produce at present is vastly different from the produce of even a hundred years ago, as mass production and manure fertilization treatments on crops has depleted the minerals in the soil. This information I had learned is corroborated by the slow food concept discussed in the book: that certain foods have disappeared due to mass production, industrial movement, environmental damage, and loss of genetic diversity. On the flip side, the U.S. is producing mass amounts of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, which according to the book, the majority of these crops end up in soft drinks and highly processed foodstuffs. I believe it is not a coincidence that the last several decades have seen a surge in the increase of cancer victims while the food industry churns out hydrogenated, fried, highly-processed, chemically-altered, fragmented, genetically-altered, and hormone injected food. What better resource is there than a book which directs you to local purveyors and restaurants which feature wholesome, pure, locally grown, artisan, ethnic foods and promote the "slow food" movement?
The "slow food" movement allows us to explore not only heavier subjects such as protecting our health, the environment and cultural traditions, but also more lighthearted and even primitive concepts of enjoying the variety of tastes in food and the pleasures of dining. For this reason, the book is just downright fun to read. Let your mind take a gastronomic journey in exploring a wide range of tastes, from the exotic Carribean and Somali restaurants to the familiar ole' standbys, such as the city's top steak houses. Read about the fancy, pricey, gourmet restaurants such as "Heat," which features Japanese cuisine, or the French fine dining at "Les Nomades," to hole-in-the-wall pizza joints such as "Freddy's" and hot dog stands such as "Fluky's". The emphasis on the delights of the palate are a priority in this book. Perhaps you may have been searching for the best bread bakery in the city. Or maybe you are in the mood to try experimental food combinations, such as chocolate with ginger and wasabi, or chocolate with olive oil and Kalamata olives. Maybe you are on the hunt for the best french fries in town. Whether you are looking to find authentic, Swedish pastries or are trying to impress your friends with a swanky wine bar, this book is for everyone searching for good food in Chicago.
The book has dozens of contributing authors which ensure that the book is packed with information and collaborating opinions. One of the major contributing editors is a chef who has her own cooking school in Chicago, from whom I have taken classes. I admire her culinary opinions which, in turn, puts my faith in the opinions in this book.
The book lists not only those places which promote the "slow food" movement, but also lists those select, choice, high-quality restaurants, markets & producers, specialty food stores, and nightlife stops. The book is neatly categorized and discusses each place in detail, providing a wealth of information. You'll find bakeries; coffee & tea houses; pastry shops; chocolatiers; ethnic cuisines; cheese & dairy shops; farmers' markets; alehouses; delis; vegetarian cuisine; wine & beer retailers; meat, poultry and game suppliers; ice cream parlors; barbeque; seafood; and much, much more. The book also describes price ranges, store owners and chefs, the history of the restaurant/shop, the food quality, the service quality, the dining atmosphere and the spirit of the neighborhood in which the selected restaurants/shops are located. The book even provides a map of Chicago and the greater Chicagoland area for easy reference.
I've lived in Chicago for nearly 34 years and I wish I had a book like this ages ago. Not only does this book tempt me to indulge in the pleasures of food, but it also allows me to find those purveyors and restaurants which support the concept of slow food - a concept which I now support. It is the perfect guide for selecting a unique Chicago culinary experience for out-of-town guests, or even to impress your local, know-it-all, city-slicker friends with an undiscovered, Chicago hot-spot.
Slow Food, a movement started in Italy almost twenty years ago, aims "to protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life." The popularity of the movement is evident in this well-crafted book, the second in a series on American cities that began, naturally enough, with New York City. While not all places in the book fit their definition of Slow, those that do are noted with the snail logo. Not surprisingly, the most snails fall under the American category, where local ingredients are more appropriate than popular international styles like Thai, French, or Italian. It was pleasing to see that unlike other guides to culinary Chicago, this one does not have an overwhelming North Side bias, with the inclusion of many South Side locations that the typical Slow Eater might now know about. The guide does have its shortcomings, though these are small, such as the fact the photographs sprinkled throughout have no relationship to the text, writing that can be a bit trite at times, and the lack of decent, detailed maps. Overall it offered many surprises and helpful recommendations, something a good guidebook should accomplish.
by Jennifer Weiks
Slow Food has the principles of tradition, conviviality, sustainability, as well as an emphasis on homemade foods.
This guide is divided into three parts: Cuisines (African, British, Vegetarian, Scandinavian, Latin American etc.); Special Foods and Nightlife (Wine Bars, Coffe and Tea Houses, Brunch etc.); and Food Shops, Markets and Producers (Farmers' Markets, Fish and Seafood Markets, Ethnic and Specialty Food Markets etc.). Each description includes the types of meals found at each location, the atmosphere, address, telephone number and average cost for a meal.
There are a few black and white photographs. Most are scenic shots of Chicago, while others are photos of people creating meals at restaurants. This guide seems to be quite helpful and useful despite my not being able to actually go to Chicago and try the book out personally. Though having said that, I will have to say, it is definitely much more detailed than the Zagat books.
Try this little gem out. It is more detailed than Zagats and written by locals! The amount of entries in this book are over 500! There is sure to be some wonderful gems for you to discover on your next trip to Chicago!
Chicago Tribune, Travel Section
October 31, 2004
What's the difference between fast food and slow food? Quite a lot. Slow food emphasizes conviviality, tradition, sustainability and artistry. Plus, the food also has to taste good. This second in a series of alternative food guides to North American cities offers more than 500 examples in Chicago. It is divided into three sections: cuisines; special foods and nightlife; and food shops, markets and producers. For example, at 312 Chicago in the Loop, chef Dean Zanella works closely with the Land Connection, a Downstate organization that helps create links between rural growers and urban caterers. Similarly, at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, chef Rick Bayless cultivates relationships with local farmers and once a year even takes his staff to various parts of Mexico so they can see for themselves how food is grown. Meanwhile, at the tiny Matchbox tavern in West Town, the rims of glasses come with one of three coatings: powdered sugar for fruit drinks, salt for traditional margaritas and cocoa for the chocolate martini. And let's not forget the pancake flight (lavender honey, fresh strawberries, toasted candied pecans, maple syrup) at Orange in Lakeview. Who says slow food can't be fun? (ISBN 1-931498-61-X)
October 15, 2004
A worldwide movement, Slow Food is dedicated to preserving culinary regional traditions by supporting small farmers who grow local produce and the restaurants that use it (see Carlo Petrini's Slow Food: The Case for Taste and www.slowfoodusa.org). This title's over 500 eateries and shops following the principles of Slow Food are categorically arranged under cuisines (e.g., Greek, vegetarian), special foods, and nightlife (e.g. French Fries, Bars and Pubs), and food shops, markets, and producers (e.g. bakeries, chocolate). Each entry contains the address, telephone number, approximate cost, and a well-written quarter- to half-page description brief history and highlighting the food and ambiance. Maps of Chicago's neighborhoods and suburbs are included, although more maps showing the locations of the 500 entries would have been helpful. This title will serve as an excellent supplement to Zagat Survey's annual Chicago Restaurants. Recommended for all public libraries in Illinois and surrounding states and for large public libraries in the rest of the country. [Also available in this series is The Slow Food Guide to New York City.-Ed.]
--John McCormick, Plymouth State Univ., NH
October 18, 2004
Think "Chicago food" and the first things that come to mind might be fattening, greasy dishes: deep-dish pizza, hot dogs and sausages. But, according to slow foodies Gibson and Lowndes, Chicago is also home to a lush "food landscape" that's keen on sustainable agriculture and local food traditions, a place with culinary artisans "who practice their craft in much the same way their parents and grandparents did." To that end, they give the nitty-gritty of the city's best eateries, specialty shops and drinking establishments. There are reviews of the best barbecue joints (places that smoke pork spareribs slowly over fragrant wood), Polish places (go to Halina's Polish Delights for borscht and blintzes that "sing with flavor") and hot dog venues (such as Little Louie's in Northbrook, where, if you ask for ketchup on your dog, you "just might get kicked out"). In addition to traditional Chicago food, the authors also discuss Mexican taquerias and haute cuisine meccas, notable dairy and cheese shops, and classic meat markets. Comprehensive, engaging and friendly, this is an indispensable book for visitors and locals.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Slow Food for a Fast City
August 2004, Conscious Choice
by JoAnn Milivojevic
In most things, being called slow is an insult — especially in these high-speed communication times. We speed up to keep up. We feel pressured to do things in nanoseconds: work, think, drive, read. We consume fast food fast: wolfing down lunch in two gulps while sitting in cars idling at red lights wishing the lights would hurry up and change so we can race back to work.
In just about everything we do, faster is considered better. Slowness is considered bad.
But slowness is no easy feat.
It takes, well, time; and, in the case of food, an international movement... and a book.
The Slow Food Guide to Chicago, (Chelsea Green Publishing, www.chelseagreen.com) is due to be released in September. It urges us once again to enjoy the “honest pleasures of the table” as well as promoting its other goal: diversity and sustainable practices in food production and products.
To read the entire article, please visit the Conscious Choice website.
The Michelin Guide still reigns supreme as the ultimate authority when it comes to rating restaurants and hotels. So why does it seem so irrelevant? One reason might be that the Michelin way--secret inspectors working with a hidden agenda is almost Cold War silly these days. Another is that now we have an alternative--"The Slow Food Guide", whose nuanced, subjective tone prizes quality, sincerity, and the emotional values of honest cooking over the weight of the plate and the number of truffles upon it. The '60s, it seems, finally caught up with food guides.