Friday, December 19, 2008

from Chicago: sensual

This Land Is My Land

Driving down to Chicago (for an evening of food fantasies), I am thinking that the landscape is especially pretty in the hazy sunshine of the afternoon. I pull off the highway to take a photo or two. Oh! A deer? And another?

002 copy

I have no telephoto lens, but surely I can get closer. The one is hoisting herself up to reach the leaves of the tree. It’s a pretty sight. I turn into a dealership in trailers and towing rigs. No, still not good enough. I follow a road from the dealership until I come to a sign that says private, no trespassing. I take an imperfect photo and start to head back in reverse.

004 copy

An SUV is behind me now. A raging driver gets out. What do you think you’re doing? – she asks.
Taking a photo of the deer. Look! – I point to the two in the field.
Do you know that this is private property?
This road? Yes, when I saw the sign, I stopped and tried to head back. Now you’re in my way.
All of it is private! – she tells me. How rude of you to be here!

I thought about the days when we used to camp along river banks in Poland. The concept of “keep off” was one that I did not fully understand until I moved here. Of course, landowners have a right to keep people out. I get that. But dealership parking lots? I want to wage a legal argument here, but think maybe this is a waste of time, so I wait until she backs away, freeing me to leave.

All Is Bright

I am in Chicago now. It is evening, but still early for the food flight. Daughters (in Chicago at the moment) and I want to make good use of our time here and so we head to the Lincoln Park Zoo for their (free and beautiful) display of holiday lights.

Hello, holidays! I’d forgotten about you in my weeks away. But now, after three hours of radio holiday music and this walk, I am fully entranced and ensconced.

024 copy

016 copy

045 copy

Especially enchanting are the trees that twinkle to the sounds of the Ukrainian Bell Carol.

042 copy

But it is cold, out there by Lake Michigan. Ice sculptures, icy toes, chilly night.

048 copy

After a while, I huddle with the creatures in the warm gift shop.

049 copy

A Show of Food

And now for the spectacular food flight. As for any show, you need to prepare -- internally and externally.

052 copy

I have written about the art of molecular gastronomy before, two years ago, when I first ate at Alinea in Chicago, and this past October, when I came down to watch a demonstration by Chef Achatz on the occasion of the publication of his new book. Alinea is not just a meal, it is an experience. You don’t go there to talk business or to catch up on news with friends, you go there as if you are going to a show, except that you also get to eat the presentation. In our case, we take the short flight, the tasting menu, which Achatz presents as a twelve (but really with extras thrown in) course sampling menu, ranging from bite-size morsels of potato, or parsnip, or candycane

080 copy

058 copy

090 copy

… to more substantial plates – of bass draped in chamomile and celery, or crab with popcorn sauce, butter and curry, for example.

069 copy

072 copy

It is a four hour show and the time flies! The staff, as always, helps move things along expertly and with humor and so the whole evening is a blockbuster success. A standing ovation!

I have cared about food – its role in daily life, in family life, in amorous pursuits, in the life of the planet – pretty much my entire adult years. A visit to Alinea is like a trip to the studios of the grand masters. This isn’t about art for your living room walls. It isn’t about piling on expensive imported ingredients. It’s about testing the boundaries of what is possible. In food, and therefore in life.

Filled and inspired, we leave after midnight, to be greeted by a taxi and snow.

095 copy