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Five ways ancient methods are transforming modern eating

Our Food Issue looks at how the craft movement is changing the way we create and consume food.

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RYAN DUGGAN
  • Ryan Duggan

House-made, house-cured, hand-churned, hand-dipped—we've heard it all before. We've probably tasted most of it. And despite the more-than-occasional sensation that we're trapped in a Portlandia episode, we have to admit that (A) this kind of approach to food continues to enthrall us, and (B) we have no problem asking, without a shred of self-consciousness, "Is it local?"

The other question on our minds of late is how these age-old techniques are affecting modern cooking. We live in an age of click-of-a-mouse convenience, which makes endeavors such as hand-milling flour, aging and drying meat, paddling milk for cheese, and brewing beer with hot stones seem particularly curious. Is this obsession with our food-prep past a regression of sorts, a yearning for a time when we relied less on technology than on a mix of wits and manual labor? Is older necessarily better? (Answer: not always.) How does this era of old-fashioned cooking fit in with Chicago's past 178 years of newfangled "innovation"? (In many ways it doesn't, as you'll see.) Can old-school methods be used to invent something new? (They can, particularly when it comes to fried dough.) And is the end result worth all the effort?

"It's like peppercorns that are preground that you buy at the supermarket versus peppercorns that you buy whole and then toast and grind at home," says chef Jared Van Camp, whose in-house charcuterie and flour-milling efforts at Old Town Social and Nellcôte, respectively, inspired and informed two of the subjects featured in this issue. "You can taste the difference." Mara Shalhoup


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