My first reaction to this book was that it was just another reference book critiquing the best gastronomic sources in Chicago. I was wrong. Not only is it one of the best reference books for the best gastronomic sources in Chicago, but it also proved to open my eyes to social issues which threaten taste, international cultures, and the environment.
Prior to reading the book, I questioned the title: "what is 'slow' food, and what does it have to do with what Chicago has to offer?"
I was surprised to learn that some professionals in the culinary field are unfamiliar with the idea of "slow food." After learning its meaning, I tried striking up a conversation with a pastry chef teacher about the "slow food" movement. Her idea of slow food was taking the time to "cook from scratch." But that's just one of the many concepts of the slow food movement.
The book's definition of slow food appears to be multi-faceted, but rooted in the ideas of sustainability and biodiversity:
* preserving agricultural diversity (since 1900 the U.S. has lost 93% of its genetic diversity in crop varieties in the year 2000, 83% of the U.S. was devoted to only 4 crops).
* preserving cultural food diversity and cultural food traditions worldwide
* preventing certain foods from becoming extinct due to the industrial movement, mass production, overzealous hygiene laws, environmental damage, and loss of genetic diversity.
* promoting pure foods that are local, seasonal, and organically grown
* promoting artisan and homemade, wholesome foods
* preventing the standardization of taste
* an emphasis on conviviality (the "pleasures of the table," i.e. feasting and drinking in good company)
I am a health nut the idea of slow food supported and reinforced health concepts of which I was already aware. I have learned from reliable medical sources that we all lack hundreds of necessary minerals which our bodies require to maintain proper health. This loss is due to the fact that those minerals are no longer available in our fruits and vegetables. The produce at present is vastly different from the produce of even a hundred years ago, as mass production and manure fertilization treatments on crops has depleted the minerals in the soil. This information I had learned is corroborated by the slow food concept discussed in the book: that certain foods have disappeared due to mass production, industrial movement, environmental damage, and loss of genetic diversity. On the flip side, the U.S. is producing mass amounts of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, which according to the book, the majority of these crops end up in soft drinks and highly processed foodstuffs. I believe it is not a coincidence that the last several decades have seen a surge in the increase of cancer victims while the food industry churns out hydrogenated, fried, highly-processed, chemically-altered, fragmented, genetically-altered, and hormone injected food. What better resource is there than a book which directs you to local purveyors and restaurants which feature wholesome, pure, locally grown, artisan, ethnic foods and promote the "slow food" movement?
The "slow food" movement allows us to explore not only heavier subjects such as protecting our health, the environment and cultural traditions, but also more lighthearted and even primitive concepts of enjoying the variety of tastes in food and the pleasures of dining. For this reason, the book is just downright fun to read. Let your mind take a gastronomic journey in exploring a wide range of tastes, from the exotic Carribean and Somali restaurants to the familiar ole' standbys, such as the city's top steak houses. Read about the fancy, pricey, gourmet restaurants such as "Heat," which features Japanese cuisine, or the French fine dining at "Les Nomades," to hole-in-the-wall pizza joints such as "Freddy's" and hot dog stands such as "Fluky's". The emphasis on the delights of the palate are a priority in this book. Perhaps you may have been searching for the best bread bakery in the city. Or maybe you are in the mood to try experimental food combinations, such as chocolate with ginger and wasabi, or chocolate with olive oil and Kalamata olives. Maybe you are on the hunt for the best french fries in town. Whether you are looking to find authentic, Swedish pastries or are trying to impress your friends with a swanky wine bar, this book is for everyone searching for good food in Chicago.
The book has dozens of contributing authors which ensure that the book is packed with information and collaborating opinions. One of the major contributing editors is a chef who has her own cooking school in Chicago, from whom I have taken classes. I admire her culinary opinions which, in turn, puts my faith in the opinions in this book.
The book lists not only those places which promote the "slow food" movement, but also lists those select, choice, high-quality restaurants, markets & producers, specialty food stores, and nightlife stops. The book is neatly categorized and discusses each place in detail, providing a wealth of information. You'll find bakeries coffee & tea houses pastry shops chocolatiers ethnic cuisines cheese & dairy shops farmers' markets alehouses delis vegetarian cuisine wine & beer retailers meat, poultry and game suppliers ice cream parlors barbeque seafood and much, much more. The book also describes price ranges, store owners and chefs, the history of the restaurant/shop, the food quality, the service quality, the dining atmosphere and the spirit of the neighborhood in which the selected restaurants/shops are located. The book even provides a map of Chicago and the greater Chicagoland area for easy reference.
I've lived in Chicago for nearly 34 years and I wish I had a book like this ages ago. Not only does this book tempt me to indulge in the pleasures of food, but it also allows me to find those purveyors and restaurants which support the concept of slow food - a concept which I now support. It is the perfect guide for selecting a unique Chicago culinary experience for out-of-town guests, or even to impress your local, know-it-all, city-slicker friends with an undiscovered, Chicago hot-spot.