A Drink With…


You’re drinking a Sazerac. Rough day? [Laughs]


[Laughs] It’s the one cocktail that’s truly American. It’s something that I fell in love with when I was in New Orleans and I think they make a great one here [at Bar DeVille] … But one of my go-to drinks is the Hemingway Daiquiri. That’s the one drink that I can make from memory; I can make it anywhere in the world as long as I have the ingredients. It’s preferably Flor de Caña seven years aged rum with simple syrup, fresh lime juice, fresh grapefruit juice and about a quarter of an ounce of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. Shaken, strained, poured neat and not on the rocks. That is the drink that Hemingway had at La Floridita [bar]. The Hemingway Daiquiri.


Growing up in Minnesota, you have said that your Mom wasn’t really into cooking and somehow you still wound up as ABC 7′s ‘Hungry Hound‘.


‘Wasn’t really into it’ is an understatement [Laughs] Yeah. I was the baby [of my family]; my sister’s 12 years older and my brother’s nine years older so, by the time I was being raised, my mom was already in her early forties and was like, ‘Enough. I don’t want to cook anymore!’ We lived in St. Cloud, Minnesota which was sixty miles north of Minneapolis with only like ten Jewish families, so keeping Kosher in that kind of town was kind of a challenge too. It was a lot of frozen food and food just was not a big part of our lives growing up. Whenever I come in contact with people in the food industry they invariably have a story about how on Sunday afternoons, ya know, ‘My mom would make this gravy and I’d be in her apron strings’ or ‘I’d go to the market with my dad’… I don’t have any of those stories! None of that. It was like brown overcooked food. It was like that Woody Allen film where his mother would put the chicken in the de-flavorizing machine and it would come out the other side with no flavor. [Laughs] That was typical for us.




Do you remember when it was that you first fell in love with the experience of eating great food?


It was probably at my brother’s apartment. My brother’s wife is from Australia, she was a huge foodie and a huge cook and loved to go out to eat and try new things so that is where I had the spark go off. We would go to her house—I was probably in 7th or 8th grade—and I’d stay over for the weekend and she would make Szechuan shrimp and bagels from scratch or Thai food. I didn’t have pork until I was 13 or 14, so going to their apartment was really the first turn on for me.


You got your start as a general assignment reporter, working in smaller markets before making your mark in Chicago at CLTV. How did you make the transition into being a food correspondant?


I was always interested in food. Even when I was in Upper Michigan I would drive 50 miles to the Thai restaurant at the Wisconsin-Michigan border. So I got to Chicago via CLTV because they were looking for people with like two years of experience that didn’t cost a lot of money but that were really nimble and could shoot and edit and produce and do everything themselves. So that first job at CLTV got me into Chicago and a lot of people who I worked with—since the station was in Oakbrook—lived out in the western suburbs and I’m like, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna live out there! I gotta live in the city!’ So I lived above King Crab on Halsted & Willow. My first two months here I didn’t buy groceries. I just made my way out from my apartment and tried the sushi place and PS Bangkok and all this stuff in my neighborhood. I didn’t want to cook, I just wanted to eat out because I had never had that kind of experience.


At a time where it feels like everyone can be their own food blogger or restaurant critic, what do you think set you apart?


I think I was able to get that balance of television and sort of the reporting side, the story telling side and also the food, beat side of it. At the opportunity I had at CLTV, I was doing a half hour show every week with no formal training in food, only knowing how to produce television and then learning on the job. Asking questions, being in kitchens everyday. Ya know, ‘What is that?’, ‘What is a brunoise cut?, ‘Why did you use that tool?’ Asking those kinds of questions to chefs everyday, I learned about food. Since ’95 I’ve been focusing on food. Reading about it, studying, traveling, taking notes, asking questions, ya know, that’s a long arch. In ’95 I was just like every other person but now I’ve been doing it for 17 years so I feel like I have sort of had the arch of experience but I back it up with hard work. I have one intern for my blog but we don’t have interns at ABC and I have no producers so I do everything myself. I produce my own pieces, I sit down with the editor and pick out every shot that airs and I have to maintain my blog and I do freelance—I just had a cover story in the back of the Tribune yesterday about Portland food carts—so I’m constantly trying to do other stuff besides just the TV job. I think it’s hard work and commitment to craft.


As a professional foodie, do you have any guilty pleasure foods that you are embarrassed to admit you enjoy?


I was just talking about this yesterday! The Burger King chicken sandwich! Not the grilled chicken sandwich. The fried, bizarre, oval-shaped chicken sandwich. It’s an abnormally shaped piece of chicken. With the mayo and the shredded lettuce. That was my go-to fast food junk food. For some reason that Burger King chicken sandwich resonates with me as like a teenage kid in Minneapolis.

How do you think Chicago stacks up compared to the restaurant scene in other big cities?


I am so biased. I do think it is the best. You never run out of ideas here. First of all, I have to do four stories a week and I kind of say it lamenting-ly because it’s a lot but there’s always a neighborhood to go to, there’s always a place I can re-visit, there’s always something new opening up. There’s always something new happening on that front. You can always find something. Yes, we don’t have as many places as say New York City does but our places are so much more affordable. It’s so much more affordable to eat great here. People from New York always come here and say, ‘God, that meal was amazing and it was like two-thirds the price it would have been in New York City.’ That’s why I think it’s such a great food town because you can eat so well for not so much.


Having a front row seat to the city’s culinary world, how do you think it has changed since you first began reporting in 1993?


I think it’s the shuttering of fine dining. It shows that not just Chicago’s dining habits but everyone’s dining habits are changing. It used to be when you came to Chicago—this is, we’re talking 20 years ago—you had to go to a French place, like Le Francais in Wheeling. Then Charlie Trotter’s, that was a must visit and over the past five years Charlie Trotter’s has not been a must visit—maybe Alinea has—and Trotter’s has closed. Avenues [at the Peninsula] is closed. The dining room at the Ritz Carlton is closed. Seasons at the Four Seasons is closed. Park Hyatt has re-concepted NoMi. So all of the fine dining has been going away. Yes there’s L20, there’s TRUGrace is going to be opening up in a month or so, but fine dining as changed. People now want to go out in jeans. They don’t want to put on a tie; they don’t want to put on a jacket. That’s a little too old school for people.




Who are you closest to within the ABC 7 family?


Linda Yu, for sure. She’s my unofficial Aunt. We make dumplings at her house. We just had dim sum together over the weekend; we had all of our families meet at MingHin in one of the private rooms and had dim sum. She’s great because she loves to eat like I do. You should see her take apart a fish! [Laughs]


Where do you hope your career as ‘The Hungry Hound’ ends up?


I would love to have a national platform. Ideally, I’d love to be the food guy on Good Morning America or on Katie Couric’s show, or any of those shows as a food correspondent. I knew before 2003 when ABC hired me that there was a need locally for a food reporter so now it has come to fruition and other stations are doing this and I think there’s that need on a national level.



As the man who’s tried almost every type of dish and dining experience, what would you choose to have for your ‘last meal’?


I’d probably have one of Nancy Silverton’s pizzas from Pizzeria Mozza. Something with squash blossoms, chanterelle mushrooms, fresh mozzarella She has the best dough, I think, in the country. So, I would have a Pizzeria Mozza pizza and probably a bottle of Château Pétrus, just to be decadent.


If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?


John Stewart. I just love the Daily Show, I love what he’s doing. He’s a few years older than I am so we’re sort of the same generation … Jews typically are not big drinkers, so John Stewart would probably drink a beer, but I would probably try to get him to drink a Hemingway Daiquiri with me.


Photography by Kirsten Micolli at Bar Deville

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