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Posts by Kari Skaflen

I’ve never bartended before. The closest I ever came was two winters where I bussed tables before graduating to make salads and deliver pizzas in an Italian restaurant that was part of a hotel complex in a Colorado ski town.   Bussing tables was physically hard work. Myself and the other busser had to clear tables with giant trays (no bus tubs allowed!), hoisting them with two hands over one shoulder and walking back and forth between the dishwasher and […]

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In the fall of 2012, the NYTimes magazine ran a piece by Dan Buettner with the catchy title The Island Where People Forget to Die.  It was about the Greek island of Ikaria and, yes, it looks just like all those Greek islands, with the whitewashed walls, the turquoise sea and the nostalgic haze suggesting that this slower, simpler life must be a better one.  The difference is, at least when it comes to human lifespan, life on Ikaria really […]

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We had fun documenting the progression of an Au Cheval cheeseburger being downed bite by bite. Who’s hungry?

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We asked everyone to bring in their favorite (read: wacky, ugly, possibly even offensive) t-shirts for a first annual t-shirt contest. Vote (only one vote per person!) for your favorite Hogsalt t-shirt. Scroll through the images above to see the brave contenders, then click here to vote.

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Eighteenth century oil paintings of fruit cornucopias; an elaborate 19th century picnic depicted in detail; Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want serving up a corpulent turkey at a family feast; an epic silkscreen of a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup from Andy Warhol; an Art Deco cocktail service set — all are a part of Art and Appetite, a show currently at the Chicago Art Institute. While aesthetics are in abundance, the appetite of this show, its essence, is an insightful […]

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The Plant is a farm of the future. Its mission: “to promote closed-loop food production and sustainable economic development through education and research.” But what does this “closed-loop food production” mean and how does this small experiment shape the future of agriculture?   Let’s start with the basics. The plant is housed in a 93,500 square foot former meat-packing plant on Chicago’s South Side. In addition there’s a two acre outdoor garden facility that grows vegetables, primarily in raised boxes […]

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August 8th, 2013

Sharp Knives

BY Kari Skaflen

Quite seriously, Kari Underly leans in and says, “Always have sharp knives when you cut in front of people.” I nod. It’s only when she breaks into an enormous laugh, the kind that rumbles around in her belly before making its way up into gorgeous peals do I understand — she’s kidding with her obvious statement. Now I’m laughing too. This is classic Kari Underly, cleaver and humor well-honed. Given her gender and her trade as a butcher, she’s needed […]

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A man with nimble hands is making a latte in front of four rapt baristas in Chicago. He’s done it before. If you’ve seen the lattes on McDonald’s posters or happend to catch a certain Japanese Nikon commercial, you’ve seen Hiroshi Sawada’s handiwork, but it’s even more impressive to watch it come into being.   His focus is unshakeable, his movements graceful and precise as he demonstrates. His pitcher of milk hangs above each cup of coffee, moved by quick, […]

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We asked last week’s interviewees, Nora Chovanec and Kate Thorman of Abbott & West, to give us their top food moments. We knew there would be some good stuff coming from these two—after all they’ve traveled the world solely to eat; and traversed New York City experiencing foreign cultures through food. In their own words, here are the lovely ladies of Abbott & West with their favorite food moments. Nora 1. Baking Christmas Stollen with my Mother Nothing makes me […]

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Meet the ladies behind the multi-media, food, culture and travel website, Abbott & West. In addition to the travel essays, blog entries, photography and recipes on the impressive site, the duo also produce a food-travel video series, Innocents Abroad (the name is a nod to Mark Twain). Abbott & West, is unusual not only in its devotion to all things food and culture related, but also in the ambition and scope of its two young female founders, Nora Chovanec and […]

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April 25th, 2013

Wild Ramps

BY Kari Skaflen

Aside from being known as the Windy City, Chicago is also associated with the wild onion Allium tricoccum, more commonly known as the wild ramp. Once dense in growth, the regional ramp was called shikaakwa (Chicagou) by Native American tribes. The pungent smell of the ramps was defining and the name stuck. The ramp’s flavor is often described as a mix between an onion and a garlic. Traditionally in the Appalachian region— where wild ramps are celebrated as a sign of […]

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On our recent trip to Japan, we hopped the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto where we encountered a city surrounded by hills, steeped in history and bursting with a kind of hospitality that can only be described as sheer kindness. Here are a few of our favorite spots— places we’d resolutely recommend to anyone visiting Kyoto. Restaurants Yoshikawa Inn Breakfast Why: This traditional Japanese inn in the older pedestrian part of Kyoto is steeped in quiet luxury and tradition. […]

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One could say that Brian MacDuckston is obsessed with ramen. Feeding this infatuation is easy for MacDuckston, he lives in Tokyo, home to an over-abundance of awesome ramen shops. He’s spent some serious time and effort getting to know the best places to go for those heaping bowls of soft chewy noodles and broth. MacDuckston has a blog where logs his ramen quests, appropriately called Ramen Adventures. He also does informal ramen tours for English speakers, taking the ramen-hungry around Tokyo’s best ramen […]

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Recently, several chefs and a beverage director traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto to eat, drink, and not surprisingly, learn a few things about devotion to craft and extraordinary hospitality. Full disclosure, we had some expert guidance from Ramen Adventures blogger, Brian Macduckston, who graciously made recommendations to a few of his favorite ramen shops. Here are our favorite Tokyo spots with a brief word on why they were great, and worth visiting or even revisiting. Up next, Kyoto.   Restaurants […]

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February 9th, 2013

Sukiyabashi Jiro

BY Kari Skaflen

We had a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro for 5:30 pm. I’ve never been so nervous for a meal in my entire life.   There’s something intense about crossing the threshold ducking under the blue awning with the large white Japanese character, entering into the small, warmly lit restaurant. Past the door, it’s a world of masterful precision, Jiro’s world. We arrived just before five pm for our reservation. Fifteen minutes later the six of us were ushered into Sukiyabashi Jiro. […]

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January 16th, 2013

The Electric

BY Kari Skaflen

Across the Atlantic, the Soho House recently unveiled a revamped diner and club, the Electric House on London’s famed Portobello Road.   Closed after a small fire, the Electric Diner re-opened leveraging Chicago’s Au Cheval diner as a touchstone.  The launch, menu, and kitchen of the Electric Diner and the private Electric Club were all overseen by a team of chefs from Chicago. The historic Electric Cinema next door is also home to Electric Donuts, offering hot, fresh doughnuts each […]

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January 9th, 2013

Go Ahead, Inhale

BY Kari Skaflen

Have you downed a drink so quickly that your friends accused you of inhaling it? Well, now their charges just might be true—  you can inhale your drink— without the social stigma. Curious? Well you’re in luck Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar is hosting an event tonight from 6 – 8pm where you can literally inhale your choice of bourbon, vodka or gin. The liquor is heated in a small vessel, the VaportiniTM . 1 oz pours are recommended, […]

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January 3rd, 2013

INDO in Motion

BY Kari Skaflen

We gave the gals from INDO, Linsey Burritt and Crystal Grover a camera to create a stop-animation of their most recent window installation, the H2okinetic™ Technology from the faucet maker Delta-Brizo. Here’s a fast-motion version of how INDO transformed roughly 17,216 yards of string into a visual streams of water. The video starts out with the disassembly of thousands of laser cut baroque shapes that were suspended from the ceiling overlapping with a trail of black fabric to mimic the sensation of ink […]

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December 20th, 2012

Window to INDO

BY Kari Skaflen

Linsey Burritt and Crystal Grover are the driving force behind some of the city’s most innovative window displays and installations. The duo work under the name, INDO, “window” without the w’s. Because for these two it’s the space between the w’s, the IN DOing that matters most. These are not your conventional window displays of vinyl cut-outs or stiff mannequins. What sets INDO apart is not simply the sophisticated, thoughtful design work for clients such as the Steppenwolf Theatre or Jam restaurant; […]

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December 12th, 2012

Letherbee Distillery

BY Kari Skaflen

This week we caught up with distiller Brenton Engel of Letherbee Gins, Absinthe and coming soon— Malort. The self-described “gin made with the bartender in mind,” is a big, spice-driven mouthful, and a cult favorite in Chicago. One of the noticeably unique aspects of the Letherbee gins is that they turn cloudy once ice is added. While cloudiness might be seen as a cosmetic flaw, Engel embraces the turbidity. He explains why: “The gin is not chill filtered. This not […]

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November 21st, 2012

Gypsy Brewing

BY Kari Skaflen

The staff at Au Cheval received an early holiday treat when Brian Ewing, the founder and owner of 12 Percent Imports, brought in two of the most fun, irreverent and sought-after gypsy brewers around.   Both Brian Strumke who is the founder and brewmaster of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø the mad genius behind Evil Twin Brewing stopped into the diner to talk beer. Ewing met both at different times in his importing career and has encouraged each to […]

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If you’re anything like me, you think you know a thing or two about coffee. You know what you like, you can tell when a coffee is too acidic, too bitter, or just right. You know your cappuccino from your latte, and have a grip on just how many espresso shots you can do before it’s too much. But then you meet someone like Brian Frain and you realize, you know NOTHING.   Frain is the Wholesale Operations Manager at […]

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The burger at Au Cheval has gotten its fair share of press as of late. So we thought we’d go behind the counter to the grill and bring you a photo step-by-step of how the Au Cheval burger is done. Step One: It starts with burger patties seasoned on the grill Step Two: Then there’s the flip Step Three: Now add the cheese slices (1 per burger patty) Step Four: Grab the toasted bun, add a silver dollar sized dob […]

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Pastoral Plate is a Bay Area-based co-operative structured on a CSA model. Members sign up, they order online, and then they pick up their order at a predetermined place. So what’s the big deal? Pastoral Plate offers some of the freshest, most sustainably farmed and organic meat available. Yes, meat. No greens in these boxes. Pastoral Plate has been talked about in the New York Times and is on Forbes list of ‘Nine Innovative Food Websites You Can’t Live Without’. […]

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I met up with Jarrett Quint, sommelier at Colorado’s Vail Valley Sonnenalp Resort on his recent trip here for the Chicago Marathon. Over burgers at Au Cheval, the topic of venison came up.   He commented that, to his knowledge, there wasn’t much venison on the menus in Chicago. I had hardly noticed, but Quint had. This is probably because venison can easily be found at all three of the Sonnenalp restaurants. I probed, what’s venison taste like? “Venison shares […]

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This week we’re continuing our conversation with table top designer Martin Kastner who has worked with some of the industry’s most famed restaurants and bars including Alinea, Aviary, and Wolfgang Puck to name a few. Kastner recently launched a massively successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the Aviary’s Porthole cocktail vessel to the larger public.   “I wanted to ask you about the Porthole that you designed. Tell me how that came about.” MK: Well, it was before Aviary opened, because […]

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I’m in Martin Kastner’s studio. Martin Kastner – the mastermind behind the Antenna and the Porthole, exotic presentation pieces that are changing the way we approach food and drink. Martin Kastner – the craftsman who has helped Grant Achatz elevate fare at Alinea and Aviary to a whole new level of art. Martin Kastner, the entrepreneur who shattered records when he raised $700k on Kickstarter in under two hours.   The man himself is soft-spoken and unassuming, guiding me through his […]

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Crossing Death’s Door, the strait between the northern peninsula of Door County and Washington Island was once a treacherous feat, but despite the straits’ nefarious name, we ferried safely across to pick juniper berries with the waterway’s namesake spirits company. The Potowatami and Winnebego tribesmen, were not, however, so lucky. Not only were they not invited to the juniper berry picking festival, they were also swallowed up by storms that quickly enveloped the strait. And henceforth the passage was named […]

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September 12th, 2012

Staff Meal at Jam

BY Kari Skaflen

It’s a warm, rainy September morning at Jam in Logan Square. The restaurant’s large windows are open onto the sidewalk and guests, sheltered from the drizzling rain, are watching a storm roll across the sky. But we haven’t come to enjoy the food. We’re here to take in Jam’s staff meal; the first in a series of looks we’ll take at these behind-the-scenes moments. Every restaurant is its own culture, complete with the attendant customs and rituals. But for each, […]

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Italy. One short single word. Three syllables. Visions of rolling hills, vineyards, terracotta rooftops, marble cathedrals, heaping plates of fresh pasta and glasses of chianti….   As much as we’d like to be there in person, we’ll take the next best thing, a little rustic Italian cuisine. In homage to l’Italia, in our on-going series Nick Lush of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Wine & Bread and I are giving you the lowdown on some Italian formaggio. Ranging from a starburst blue […]

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Although getting lost, making figure-eights in a rented Fiat through a maze-like village of high walls and narrow streets, and being chased off of a hillside castle by an octogenarian farmer and his dogs who greeted our arrival with hoarse yelps of “Privato, privato!” probably doesn’t sound like much fun, it was. We were on what has to be one of the most beautiful and enjoyable roads, period. We were in Northern Italy, Lombardy to be exact, tucked between Lake […]

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At one end of a humming kitchen, milk churns in a machine while an employee in a grey t-shirt chops chocolate into coarse, fragrant chunks nearby. She turns her attention to a large mixing machine and in no time, a thick, creamy mass is oozing from the spout. The woman carefully guides the luscious mounds into small white buckets and returns to her work station, swiftly mixing in the coarsely chopped chunks of chocolate by hand. This the last stage […]

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July 23rd, 2012

Uncommon Farm

BY Kari Skaflen

More and more it seems we live in a world where value is quantifiable. Everything has a price that correlates to its worth. This extends certainly to the foods we eat, too. How much are we willing to pay for a tomato salad, a sirloin steak, a glass of wine? Answer such questions, and you’ll learn an item’s value. Now answer this question, why would a restaurant bother to fund and maintain a tiny, certified organic rooftop farm that provides […]

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St. George Spirits is a legendary California distillery that began with eau de vie thirty years ago. Today St. George continues its tradition of unparalleled, world class distilling. Founder and master distiller, Jörg Rupf comes from a long line of family distillers in Germany, and old-world practices infuse the distillery’s methods. The eau de vies and other liquors that the company produces have won numerous awards and it is known as one of the most innovative and quality-driven distilleries, period. We […]

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Old Shore Vineyards is a boutique Michigan vineyard and winery that’s insistent on doing things small, and doing them well. Owners David and Dannielle Maki purchased the Michigan farm with its gently sloping hills and 100 year-old tree line in 2005. They planted vines, limiting themselves to two grape varietals: the ethereal pinot noir and its cousin, pinot gris. Just a few years later, along with winemaker, Cornel Olivier, Old Shore Vineyards is a small, thriving vineyard with a different […]

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June 20th, 2012

Sheep Cheese

BY Kari Skaflen

It’s cheese time! I made my occasional pilgrimage to Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Wine & Bread to talk cheese with my favorite cheese monger, Nick Lush.   Sheep cheese is in season and Pastoral is rocking a great selection, so we trolled through the cheese counter and pulled up some awesome, 100% sheep milk cheeses.  As we talked, I learned a bit about why I am evolutionarily (and economically) so impartial to sheep cheese. It turns out that sheep don’t produce […]

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It’s common knowledge that if you want to create a mood, to slow down, or relax— you break out the candles. Lighting is everything when it comes to ambience. We recently discovered a set of bronze candle holders while saddling up to the zinc bar at Au Cheval that cast a light so entrancing, we were instantly smitten. A series of heavy bronze candle holders, whose organic, low-lying shapes, unfold and billow out like clouds were eye-catching. The quality of […]

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We swung by Au Cheval diner, not to eat, but for photos. We came armed with an old Polaroid camera and instant film. Instead of pointing it at the Au Cheval team, we turned the lens around and asked them to take the pictures. The goal was see a different viewpoint of the diner, maybe to know what it’s like on the other side of the zinc bar, and to see if the team, who we already know can cook, […]

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Alright aspiring brewmasters, get your pencils out for this equation: what do you get when you add two friends, a passion for beer, and mix in a trademark lapse? The perfect recipe for reviving a world class Chicago beer. Yes, that’s right, Chicago’s thriving beer scene is expanding to include a formerly extinct, and much eulogized beer, Baderbräu. Baderbräu was a European style pilsner made with pride in Chicago-land. Baderbräu began in 1989, and was brewed by the Pavichevich Brewing […]

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May 16th, 2012

Pushing Pulled

BY Kari Skaflen

Screen printing was once viewed as an innovative way to reproduce messages (think French advertising posters for products such as absinthe, or late night cabarets), and has long been affiliated with liqueurs, restaurants, and clubs. It’s prized for its ability to produce multiple prints with relative ease.   With the advent of printers, it became inefficient, even archaic to create an advertisement by burning silk screens and pulling ink across the screens onto the paper.  The medium has been re-appropriated […]

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The unique and delicious preserves company, Quince & Apple are now setting their sights on another surefire hit: cocktail syrups. We visited their kitchen to see the first syrup being made. It’s a small batch labor of love that pays in dividends— the quality and taste are exquisite. In some ways the Wisconsin-based Quince & Apple began in London. Before going to culinary school, Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld, one half of Quince & Apple, was studying abroad at Queen Mary University. […]

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There’s a small, unassuming, pastry program buzzing in the kitchen at Maude’s Liquor Bar right now. French pastries are notoriously difficult. It takes precision and dedication to work on classics with even an iota of success. While the ingredient list may only be five items deep, infinite challenges lie in a pastry’s execution.   We spent an afternoon with Nathan Huntington at Maude’s, who’s been making the patisseries. Here he showed us the start-to-finish process of both the custard-style, cannelé […]

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It’s spring, the time of year when goats are making the richest, most nutritious milk for their young kids. Unlike cows that have a 300-day lactation cycle, goats are on stricter breeding and milking cycles, so that means that the freshest and best cheese is found just once a year: now. With this in mind, we stopped by our go-to cheese gurus at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine to check out a few different styles of goat cheeses that […]

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April 4th, 2012

Prima Cider

BY Kari Skaflen

For the Bertsches, cider is a long family tradition that began three generations previous with a grandfather who had a propensity for good German cider. In recent years cider has become an even larger part of family life—  Patriarch, Richard Bertsche; and his three sons: Erich, Tristan and Martin; along with nephew, Carl Maier, are making noteworthy ciders themselves. Their locally sourced, small batch artisan cider, Prima Cider, has been turning up in some of the best restaurants and shops […]

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We first came across the diminutive little 33 series notebooks at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine in Chicago, and were immediately smitten. The classic, modern designed exteriors give way to easy to use charts and rating systems. With 33 pages worth of sampling notes, the notebooks are sheer tasting genius. Made to document (and remember) life’s little luxuries: wine, cheese, beer, whiskey, cigars, and even coffee—there’s something for every palate in the series.  We talked with creator, Dave Selden by phone, […]

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