Here's a cool new initiative that all #FOODWINEWOMEN should know about: COOKGIRL launched in January to promote and support women who are helping to make the gender bias in the kitchen evaporate. Starting with an initial list of 100 of the best chefs, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs and sommeliers in the country, CG set in place six initiatives to honor women in the culinary arts. A portion of these proceeds will go to the COOKGIRL Fund, which will provide grants to three outstanding females in the field in 2016.
Last night, COOKGIRL launched THE CHICAGO PROJECT with an event that featured top female chefs and food bloggers in the region. We asked the founders to report back about what moves this outstanding group. Here, the Windy City’s best talents share insight into some of their favorite foods.
"Moo shu pork, though much better at some places than others, always reminds me of cooking with my mom, who was a great cook. She passed away a couple of years ago, so I love when dishes remind me of her."
"Good breakfast tacos have a special place in my heart. I don’t cook at home as much as I would like to, but I’m usually home for breakfast. Scrambling farm eggs, toasting tortillas on the stove burner, adding maybe a few roasted veggies if I have them and always avocado, a squeeze of fresh lime and a rough chop of cilantro. I eat the tacos standing at my prep table, sometimes with a plate, sometimes without. Old chef habits die hard."
"For me, I think it has to be pure Vermont maple syrup. Growing up in Vermont, we tapped our own maple trees, collected the sap and cooked it down over a hardwood fire. To this day, the smell of hot maple syrup is intoxicating. I wish for fresh snowfalls so I can make Sugar on Snow (maple taffy) like I did when I was a kid."
"IT'S-IT. I grew up in Monterey, California, and anyone who grew up near the Bay Area knows about IT'S-IT! Made since 1928, IT'S-IT is an ice cream sandwich featuring vanilla ice cream wedged between two soft, chewy and perfectly spiced oatmeal cookies, all dipped in chocolate. I have fond childhood memories of waiting until the vanilla ice cream was slightly melted so it seeped into the cookies. That first snap of the crunchy, crisp, cold chocolate gave way to the perfect bite of oatmeal cookies soaked in creamy vanilla ice cream. When I go back to visit my family, my first stop is often to a local convenience store to fix my IT'S-IT craving. One year, a friend shipped me a box from San Francisco. I cherished each perfect wrapped sandwich like it was Christmas."
"One of my favorite childhood dishes is enchiladas. Growing up in Texas, Tex Mex is a food genre close to my heart! I love chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce. The tangy tomatillo sauce and spicy jalapeños are perfect together.”
"Fried matzo with maple syrup—you could probably get it at any Jewish deli, but my father used to make it during Passover, so it reminds me of my childhood—hanging out in the kitchen and cooking with him. I remember the spoon and the pan specifically in my mind. I can picture it to this day."
Zoë Schor, executive chef, Ada Street
"One of the things that really stands out for me is New Haven-style pizza. When I was a kid, my dad moved to Connecticut, and one of our food indulgences (I got my love of food from my dad, I’m sure) was to get the white clam pie at Pepe’s in New Haven. That thin, crisp crust with the char from the oven and the heavy semolina on the bottom, with the clams and garlic—I will never forget that combination. Luckily, here in Chicago, we have Piece, where they make New Haven-style pizza nearly as good."
"My favorite food memories are either all childhood (mom’s cooking) or street fare (globally, travel compulsively, love it). Not a single fine-dining moment compares, isn’t that ironic? My mom was this Alice Cooper-Deep Purple-Abba-Bee Gees-CCR-listening ('70s/early '80s) outlier Bengali woman who whipped up spaghettis and scones as comfortably as Indian biryanis and Bengali fish curries. That and my nomadic Indian Air Force childhood exposing me to all the regional food was my true early immersion in food."
"There are a lot of foods that I hold dear. Probably the most are shallow pan-fried hen-of-the-woods mushrooms from the woods. A simple breading with salt and pepper. My father and I used to forage these, and my mom would fry them up nice and golden brown."
Patty Neumson, chef/owner, HERB
"Pork belly and hard-boiled eggs with five-spice stew (moo paloh). This dish brings back memories from my childhood of my great-grandma, grandma and mom cooking for us. The recipe was passed down through the generations to me. This classic Chinese-Thai comfort food is my most favorite dish—stewing for hours until the pork belly becomes tender in the aromatic spice, in coffee-colored broth and with a deep, rich flavor. Serve with steamed white rice. This dish makes me and my customers happy and reminds me of a wonderful childhood experience."
"Shish kebab—lamb skewered with peppers, onions and tomatoes. My father would grill them outside on the open fire. Marinated in red wine with parsley, mint and olive oil. We would serve it with a cracked wheat tabbouleh salad and buttery rice pilaf. The best!"