Chicago & the science of cooking

Friday, 22 May 2009 | Tags:

We recently spent two cooking-filled and shopping-packed days in the windy city shooting a segment for an upcoming episode of "Anna and Kristinaís Grocery Bag". And I learned the hard way from an exacting chef that a pinch of this and a dash of that doesn't always do.

Food on a Molecular Level

To film part of our show, we paid a visit to the restaurant Alinea, considered one of the top dining establishments in the world. Known for its gastro-molecular cooking, it’s food prepared like you’ve never seen or tasted it before. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t look like food at all. To me, it was more like food-meets-science-meets-art; surprising, interesting, and tasty. (Check out the cuisine gallery on the Alinea website to see what I mean.)

Chef Grant Achatz also gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the “laboratory”. Among the toys in the Alinea kitchen are an anti-griddle (it freezes the surface of food as opposed to heating it up), vacuum sealers, dehydrators, and what’s known as a “volcano”: a machine that harnesses aromas like lavender, which are then captured in plastic bags. They serve food on top of these bags with holes poked in them so that diners enjoy wafts of aromatics as they eat.

Authentic Mexican Kitchen

For dinner one night, we went to Frontera Grill, owned by chef Rick Bayless, the author of one of the cookbooks we tested earlier in the season (Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen). Let’s just say the mole sauce here was more than just a tad more palpable than what we made at home. The authentic Mexican fare (no bulging burritos in sight) and vibrant atmosphere was fantastic. I’m in love with this restaurant.

Enjoying Dinner at Rick Bayless’ restaurant Frontera Grill

Shopping the Mile and Beyond
A visit in Chicago wouldn’t be complete without a jaunt down the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s version of New York’s Fifth Avenue. The street is dotted with all the big name department stores, including Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

I poked my nose into all of them and I have to say, Bloomingdale’s is still a standout for me, mainly because they always offer some type of sales incentive. When I shopped at Blooomie’s in NYC, out-of-town shoppers got a discount. This time in Chicago, it was a $15 gift card for every $100 you spent. I bought myself a pair of shoes, and ended up with a free t-shirt too!

(A quick note about the shoes. I’ve been eyeing a lovely pair of Marc by Marc Jacobs here in Vancouver recently, and happily found them at Bloomingdale’s for $60 less – see my previous blog: Better buys over the border?)

While the Mag Mile offers much of the usual haunts in terms of shopping, I recommend heading to the Lincoln Park and Wicker Park areas for boutiques featuring local designers and more alternative brands. Check out Grace for shoes and p45 for unique clothing and accessories, both on Damen Avenue.

Shopping the Magnificent Mile, Chicago

Alinea: A Dash- and Pinch-Free Zone

As for Alinea, we made recipes from Chef Grant Achatz’s own cookbook, also called Alinea, and I’m still recovering from what turned out to be an extremely exacting process. For example, one recipe called for 14.1 ounces of truffle juice. Not 14 ounces mind you, 14.1!

After a painstaking cooking process, I can definitely say I learned a lot, but I’m not sure if our creations qualified as science, or art, or even food!

Stay tuned for the Alinea episode airing this fall. 

Anna & Kristina Chicago's Magnificent Mile


Anna & Kristina, Chicago's Cloud Gate with crew

Anna & Kristina, Chicago's Cloud Gate

Anna & Kristina, Chicago's Cloud Gate

Anna & Kristina Chicago's Magificent Mile

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  • Les Grossman

    Awesome pics! How about do a show in Winnipeg? 🙂