Now that we’re safely ensconced in the chilly, fickle embrace of mid-November, everyone seems to have gotten it into their heads that it’s roundup time! Since we round things up for a living, and as such have to round up the roundups, the meta just builds and builds and unless we handle the situation very delicately we are liable to find ourselves with a wholesale existential crisis on our hands.
So be cautioned, gentle readers: What you are about to read is a recap of the Chicago Reader’s’ Food Issue. It has been attempted by a trained professional — do not try this at home. And if you do, don’t come crying to us.
• You know in the movie Almost Famous, when the kid turns in his story to Rolling Stone and it opens with him on the airplane in a lightning storm about to die, and you are sitting in the audience just thinking “oh my god, that is such an awesome opener I almost cannot handle it“? Mike Sula takes a cue from that in the opening of his thoughtful essay on The Whole Hog Project, except that instead of being in an airplane in a lightning storm, he chokes on a pork rind in the car on the way to a slaughterhouse. It’s a fitting metaphor for the overall Whole Hog Project experience — Sula describes the mulefoots as “friendly, intelligent, beautiful young creatures,” but the ironic fact remains that the best way to revitalize their dying breed is by raising them to be slaughtered.
The three pigs whose death Sula witnesses eventually make their way to the table — they’re the centerpiece of a six-course, multi-chef dinner hosted by Blackbird, where we have the sneaking suspicion that much of the existential, stare-into-the-face-of-death slaughterhouse drama that Sula illustrates in the middle section of his article was lost on most of the diners. There’s an accompanying slideshow, of which several images made our stomach churn — in an ethically aware, morally ambiguous, must-look-in-order-to-be-worthy-to-eat-this kind of way.
• Some of the chefs who participated in the Whole Hog Dinner also contributed their recipes. There’s Green apple jam with celery oil from Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, crepinettes from Paul Virant of Vie, and porchetta from Brian Huston of The Publican.
• Departing from the pig track, Martha Bayne corrals some of Chicago’s top culinary talents and ask them where they eat, and it’s hilariously incestuous, with everyone naming everyone else’s restaurants. Sometimes we wonder if there was no food in Chicago at all until The Publican and Urban Belly opened, and we all just gasped desperately for nutrients in the air, and drank the brackish waters of Lake Michigan.
• Sula and the entire Reader review team compile the reviews of their favorite new restaurants of 2008, and it’s an eclectic bunch: Birrieria Zaragoza, Cafecito, L2O, Mado, Masouleh, Sixteen, Takashi, and Viaggio. Honorable mentions, listed online but not in the print edition, are a much more predictable set: The Bristol, Duchamp, Veerasway, Perennial, among others.
[Photo: Jason Hammel’s pork belly from the mulefoot dinner, via the Reader]