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Booze, beats and beets at Food on the Dole salon

Kale, kohlrabi and caramelized onion frittatas with farmer’s market cheese; overnight yeast waffles with fresh cherry jam; roasted tomatoes on the vine with garlic, fresh oregano and olive oil; a hearty salad of beets, green beans, radish, potatoes, walnuts and a tangy red wine-dijon vinaigrette dotted with garlic scapes. Such was the menu at a recent brunch “salon” held in a Lincoln Square home.

Just a stone’s throw northwest of Lakeview’s plethora of restaurants and bars, a different kind of dining experience awaits. Whether an avid home cook, supporter of all things local or just a fan of the surprise element of an underground dinner, you’ll likely find something to love in chef Hugh Amano’s Food on the Dole salons.

The “salons”—a nod to the 17th-century practice of intellectuals and artists who gathered in someone’s home to discuss ideas and exchange opinions—marry the experience of a hands-on cooking class with the mystique of an underground meal: participants don’t learn the location of classes until days in advance and the ingredients and menu remain a mystery until they enter the kitchen, ready to cook. The next several hours might be spent divvying up tasks, discussing the applications of lesser known ingredients like kohlrabi, or striking up conversations with strangers.

Twice a week, chef instructor Amano hosts these salons, with themes ranging from brunch to fresh pasta to vegetarian. The knowledgeable chef plucks ingredients from farmer’s markets, whose seasonality serve as inspiration for colorful menus that any home cook could aspire to with just a little direction.

And the setting made it easy to feel at home: the polar opposite of a whitewashed, sterile demo space, Amano’s kitchen bore personal touches like jars of homemade kombucha and conversation-starters like pictures from his trip to Baghdad. A relaxing soundtrack floated from his iPhone and participants helped themselves to mug after mug of freshly ground Metropolis coffee.

Warm and laid back, yet authoritative, chef Amano is transparent about his restaurant life past, the phase of unemployment that led him to begin blogging and the direction he hopes to take the salons. He openly discussed his reverence for the art of sushi-making, a respect instilled in him by his Japanese father; most sushi chefs can expect to sweep the floor for two years before even being allowed to touch the rice, he said. The creative process of cooking often was conversation fodder as was Amano’s thirst for participants’ feedback; he pondered how best to structure future classes, such as guided trips to farmer’s markets or an all-desserts class.

Amano’s passion for the bonding experience of preparing and sharing food shone through every last delectable bite. And did I mention all classes are BYOB?

Purchase tickets to the twice-weekly classes through the Food on the Dole blog, and fast—class sizes are limited to six people and sell out quickly. Fortunately, you can register for the email list to be notified of new Salon dates.

This is a RedEye community blog. The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and not those of RedEye or Tribune Company.


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