I step out of a cab, and the aromas wafting through the air announce that I have arrived. It’s an overcast day, but I am unmistakably at a cookout. Red and white tents are crowded in the parking lot of Local Foods, Chicago’s hub of Midwestern deliciousness (try to walk out of there without any cheese, I dare ya!) Spectators like me are milling about, clutching their designated plastic forks (you only get one because they aren’t compostable), sipping from the Slow Food logoed glasses. A long communal table and a scattering of tall boys are draped in red and festooned with most stunning arrangements of dahlias. Beneath the tents Chicago’s brightest (and slowest) culinary talent is hard at work.
The Farm Roast brings together the region’s best chefs, farmers, brewers, and bartenders for an afternoon of incredible food, drink, and education. It’s perhaps the most delicious way possible to support local food culture.
All proceeds go to benefit Slow Food Chicago, an educational non-profit which supports good, clean, fair food in our city. It is a member-supported organization run by an all-volunteer Board of Directors and network of volunteers who help with events, grant writing, and operations. Slow Food Chicago is one of the largest chapters of Slow Food USA with more than 500 members and 5,000 supporters.
As I roam around the parking lot, the smells and sights entice. I will heed their siren call, no doubt. But first, beverages. Few things excite me more than seeing Virtue Cider on draft. On offer at the cookout a cider made with Michigan sour cherries and a semi-dry Michigan Harvest, both delicious. Candid Wines is pouring obscure wines from Austria that I cannot pronounce, although that doesn’t stop me from imbibing. Several breweries are on hand with cold, food friendly beers to quench the thirst. Bartenders from Nico Osteria tempt with seasonal cocktails made with fresh produce. One features gin and blueberries, the other is rum with peaches. Both are potent yet refreshing. Whet the whistle, and on to the food!
Thirteen of Chicago’s best chefs are “roasting” lamb, bison, chicken, salmon and lots of veggies from the top sustainable local farmers and producers. The dishes also feature ingredients from the Slow Food Ark of Taste — a living catalog of 1000+ distinctive foods facing extinction worldwide. As I mosey from tent to tent, unusual produce names jump off the description placards. Beaver Dam & Jimmy Nardello peppers, “Amish Paste” and Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Native American pecans, Henry Moore corn, Hidasta Shield and Jacob’s Cattle beans, Sheepnose pimentos are just a few of the nearly extinct heirloom varietals playing with my palate today. What a thrill…
Lamb tacos with ground cherries, chicken in mole rojo, bison links, salmon, oven charred pizza with whitefish, a slew of delightful vegetarian options! This a cornucopia of delectables. The winner for my personal taste was a simple salad of roasted and preserved heirloom peppers, grilled peaches and pecan gremolata. Fresh and tangy, this salad was bursting with flavors of summer. However, September being upon us, the pimento grilled cheese with soup that tasted like the very soul of a ripe late summer tomato clocked in a very close comforting second. And don’t forget dessert! Buttermilk ice cream, peach handpies, tres leches cake topped with nectarines… Needless to say, no one goes hungry.
There is a generous raffle (I didn’t win) and a silent auction (I got outbid) and breakaway educational sessions inside the store throughout the day. Many familiar faces, even more new friends sharing their tables and their stories. I walk away with a purse full of cheese (don’t say I didn’t warn you!) and a spring in my step (or was it that cherry cider…) I happen to love this Slow Food business. I bet you would too. Next time let’s share a table and some stories. It’s good for the soul and for the local farmers. Win-win.
Local Foods is located at 1427 W. Willow St. in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood.
All photos by Gourmet Rambler.