Though we do it with a regularity that yields efficiencies derived from experience, the creation of our “Leaders of Chicago Culture” lists, like the “Big Heat” in this issue, are nevertheless overwhelming undertakings for writers, editors, photographers and designers. But amidst the grind, there are some special pleasures, chiefly for me the photo shoots, like the one we did for this issue. For two days in early March, the city’s leading culinary creators converged on our location at the intimate Mi Tocaya Antojería in Logan Square to spend fifteen minutes or so getting their mugs snapped. While they waited for their turn in front of Monica Kass Rogers’ lens, we’d get a chance to meet, to chat, to catch up.
We’re living in a moment where chefs have become cultural stars, but amidst all the corresponding chatter about world travels and “appearances,” most of the talk those days centered on universal issues like children, where to live and, yes, food. Food at its highest levels, of course, but also decidedly simpler things too, like the frequent superiority of Ore-Ida Tater Tots to chef-made renditions. The reality is that chefs are not chefs because they seek fame, but because they have a primal drive to please their (and thus our) palates. In that quest, nothing is too mundane to enjoy.
The downside of the photo shoot is spending a day in a restaurant like Mi Tocaya before they open, intoxicated by the smells being conjured in the kitchen but without the means to requite the desire. That experience, combined with the words you’re about to read on these pages, made me realize how derelict I’ve been in enjoying this culinary moment in Chicago (Bon Appétit magazine just dubbed us “2017 Restaurant City of the Year”). Accordingly, I made a list of several dozen places I’ll be dining in these next few months. Perhaps you’ll see me there.
Speaking of culinary experiences, I’d never even heard of Georgian wine (as in the country, not the state) before I saw the fascinating and moving new documentary film, “Our Blood Is Wine.” Though it’s set almost entirely a world away in Eurasia, it’s intrinsically local, too—it is the first production from Morgan Station Films, an affiliate of Chicago’s Music Box Films and Music Box Theatre, and was directed by Chicago’s Emily Railsback and produced by and executive produced by our town’s Bruce Sheridan and William Schopf respectively. It should be available on VOD platforms like iTunes when you read this.
Turns out Georgia is believed to be the cradle of wine production worldwide, with recent archeological finds suggesting it dates back almost 8,000 years. But as fascinating as that is, the soul of the film is its depiction of the multi-generational connections being made by the families now bringing wine production back to Georgia after a qualitative crater during the Soviet era. The processes they use may be ancient, but the pleasures they yield are contemporary and visceral. In the same way that Chicago’s chefs demonstrate every day, the creation of the bread we eat and the wine we drink is not just one of life’s pleasures, it is life itself.
Look for Newcity’s April 2018 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week.