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Out and about in Chi Town

The Culinary Fight Club Blended Burger Challenge: A fight is a fight is a fight – for a great cause

The first rule of the Culinary Fight Club is: You do tell people about the Culinary Fight Club 🙂 If you’re like me and like watching movies and immersing yourself into pop culture, then you must be familiar with the movie Fight Club, which features testosterone-brimming one-on-one fights, voyages into the unconscious and a breathtakingly charming Brad Pitt. What is the subject of Fight Club?  That’s actually a very good question, and many answers have been suggested ever since the movie was released, back in 1999. At the most basic level, the movie and the novel it’s based on are about the competitive spirit embedded in human nature, and about competition as the key to break free from the conformism imprinted on us by modern society. Ultimately, fighting is the key to Life, and a fight is a fight is a fight.

In a move that has pleased foodies and movie buffs alike, the concept of a fight club has been adapted to suit the culinary world under the name of the Culinary Fight Club, a national organization which hosts live cooking competitions. Contestants – be they home cooks or executive chefs – come together to compete, amass glory and new followers, and give back to the community. Indeed, what makes the Culinary Fight Club so special is this emphasis on competition with a higher purpose: ending hunger and helping local friends in need. To achieve this goal the Culinary Fight Club gives 20% of the proceeds from each competition to Fight2Feed, a nonprofit organization which provides service and support to hungry men, women and children.

I know about the Culinary Fight Club events and I love their emphasis on helping the community – and this is why the invitation to attend their latest cooking competition in Chicago was an offer I simply could not refuse 🙂

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Time Out Chicago mac & cheese smackdown: what’s in a great mac & cheese?

It is the moment you take the first carb-loaded bite and feel your culinary discovery mission is complete. The moment you lock lips with the decadent béchamel, savor the shy nutmeg  undertones, and realize you never knew gruyère could be so delicious. You are clearly in awe of the chef’s artistry to break new ground and to create innovation in a dish which always struck you as basic, mundane, uneventful. It is that moment when your eyes open in wonderment and you can’t quite believe you’re tasting what you’re tasting: is this the humble mac & cheese – or is this history in the making? Hello, great mac & cheese rendition 🙂

Recently I had the chance to taste several exquisite takes on mac & cheese and to cast my vote to crown the best mac & cheese in Chicago. How exciting – and what a great way to spend the day for me and my mom! Keep Reading

2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo review: the perfect way to celebrate the advent of National Candy Month!

Baobites, a baobab-based snack

Who doesn’t like a piece of sweet at the end of a meal? Make it not just any sweet, but baobab-based sweet – and I think you will love the change! Citrusy and refreshing like an apricot yet also gentle to the stomach like a pear, the pieces of baobab pictured above are pure flavor Heaven. Having tasted baobab for the first time at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, I am pleased to report that I am now a baobab fan. Not only are baobites delicious without being sickeningly sweet, but they are also good for you from a nutritional standpoint. I checked out several peer-reviewed articles on the topic, and the facts (high vitamin C and fiber content, amongst others) are there. Hurray for nutritious sweets and snacks!

Held in Chicago at the end of May, the Sweets & Snacks Expo celebrated its 20th anniversary in style this year, bringing together 17,000 professionals from the confectionery, cookie and snack industries and over 200 new exhibitors. A show of this caliber can be anything you want it to be: an exploration of food trends, a networking opportunity, a series of exciting and fun discoveries. This year I did a little bit of everything, and time flew by really fast. 🙂

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2017 National Restaurant Association Show review: charcuterie, pickles, truffle zest, amarena cherries – and so much more!

Exciting, thorough, overwhelming – these are just some of the words I would use to describe the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show, which takes place in Chicago every May. Starting on a Saturday and ending the following Tuesday, the event draws in tens of thousands of restaurant professionals from around the world, who come to the Windy City to learn to build a successful business from the best restaurateurs, to network their way through the Show and to strike lucrative deals. As a former journalist and current food blogger, I think it is very important that I stay on top of trends and products and that I report them accurately to my readers – and this is why for me the NRA Show is a goldmine. Knowledge is power, right? 🙂

So, what does the salami in the pic above have to do with this Show – and what do we ultimately need to take from it? According to a NRA survey of almost 1,300 professional chefs, house-made charcuterie items are going to feature prominently on restaurant menus this year. Keep Reading

My review of the US World Chocolate Masters competition: Here’s the future, written in chocolate!

It takes a lot to make one quality piece of chocolate. Somewhere far away, most likely in Ghana or the Ivory Coast, farmers labor relentlessly on the cocoa plantations, eyebrows sweating under the asphyxiating heat, machetes in hand to cut and set aside the precious cocoa harvest. Once fermented and dried, the cocoa beans are acquired by intermediaries and are bagged and shipped around the world, in a trade which is as profitable as it is marred by difficulties. What pastry chefs create and what we consume is a labor of love, the work of many hands and minds – all of it for our appreciation and guilt-free delight.

Every two years for the past 10 years, renowned French producer Cacao Barry has organized the World Chocolate Masters competition to highlight the magical world of chocolate and its burgeoning talents. The challenge involves making original chocolate creations on a given theme within a particular time frame. The reward at the end of this grueling competition, with national qualifying rounds held in 20 countries, is the chance to get a spot in the World Final and to be crowned the best chocolate chef in the world. From there, sky is the limit 🙂

The theme tackled by contestants during the 2017-2018 edition of World Chocolate Masters (WCM) is Futropolis: A Quest for Tomorrow’s Chocolate Flavors. I had the opportunity to attend the WCM USA selection, which was held in Chicago recently, and I was in awe of the innovation, attention to detail and utmost dedication to the theme displayed by the finalists.

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My review of Taco Thursday: A night out in the city, munching on tacos? Count me in!

What comes after Taco Tuesday and sounds equally tempting and delicious? Taco Thursday, of course! Since coming to Chicago I’ve had my fair share of tacos, and working my way diligently through taquerias (time permitting) has been one of my most enjoyable missions. Every time I think I’ve seen enough in terms of ingredients and flavor combinations, I come across a new interpretation of this age-old dish that leaves me speechless. Yay for creativity in the kitchen! 🙂

As a fiercely proud Chicagoan, I think it is my duty to gain more knowledge and experience of the tacos that make our city so great. This is why I was very excited to attend the first Time Out Chicago (TOC) Taco Thursday event, which took place at Joe’s on Weed St last week. A night out in the city, munching on tacos? Count me in!

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My brunch experience at Maggiano’s: When life gives you lemons, you make lemon ricotta pancakes!

Glorious cranberry raisin focaccia, with a crunchy crust, pillowy inside and fruity goodness galore. Supple and wholesome veggie frittata, with fresh tomatoes screaming sun, summer, adventure. Decadent eggs Benedict, covered by a velvety blanket of Hollandaise sauce, light and caressing like a midsummer night’s dream. And, last but by no means least, the lemon ricotta pancakes, self-assured and deliciously addictive. I tried them all at the recent brunch event I was invited to attend at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant on Clark & Grand in downtown Chicago. What a brunch, what a Sunday! Keep Reading