For the second installment of For Reals Meals, I really wanted to feature another mega-foodie host. And immediately, super-publicist Amanda Puck came to mind. She’s been a big supporter of OPP since day one (even linking me up with chefs and restaurants), and has just being an all-around great cheerleader. And just like Heather Sperling, Amanda Puck knows her stuff. She travels the globe “stalking good food” and posts every last morsel to her site, The Foodarazzi. And if you need more, she’s also won two Emmys as the OG host of Check, Please! But as it turns out, even Emmy winners get the appliance blues…her oven was broken (really, it was). Needing someone else to take over on kitchen duty, she asked her friends at CRU Kitchen + Bar to co-host. They didn’t have anything on their menu that was plant-based, but their Chef (Alex Shalev) was up for the challenge. Game on!
Since Amanda knows just about everyone in Chicago, I was excited to see her guest list. She mixed it up, making sure to invite a few people that had never met before (I love that). The guest list included a smart combo of editors, writers, and chefs: Kevin Aeh, Jena Gambaccini, Stacy Johnson, Eva Daiberl, and Cat DeOrio.
Chef Alex created one of the prettiest lunches I’ve ever had. The menu included quinoa fries with wild mushrooms, miso, pickled onions, and truffle oil; seaweed salad with edamame hummus, cucumber, carrot, lotus root, and a yuzu vinaigrette; assorted baby vegetables with greens, tofu, and nori; and a dark chocolate and almond milk bar with sesame puree, passion fruit, and basil. Everything was so light and delicate in preparation. And (real talk), I thought I hated seaweed. But somehow, the seaweed salad ended up being my favorite dish…Chef Alex really was that good.
Yes, there was alcohol at this party. One of the biggest questions I get asked about plant-based eating involves whether or not drinking is “allowed.” My answer is always the same – just be mindful of what makes you feel good. If you don’t feel so hot after a night of shots and a six pack, then don’t do that. If a glass of wine every now and then doesn’t mess up your game, go for it. I personally feel lousy when I drink, so I rarely do. But when you’re starting to eat a more healthy diet, changing everything at once can be hard. So do a little at a time. Be honest with yourself and aware of how drinking makes you feel, and go from there. Now back to the food…
During the meal, Chef Alex came out and talked to us about his experience designing the menu. He mentioned that this was new territory for his kitchen, but that he had all of the ingredients on hand. He just had to figure out how to prepare them in new and exciting ways. I loved his approach. It wasn’t about taking things away, it was about using ingredients differently. And he liked the quinoa fries so much that they’ll be offered on the CRU menu all April long. So head on over. Chances are you’ll see me there.
A GIANT thanks to Tim Klein for the photos. He’s shot for everyone from Burberry to W Magazine, so it was really exciting to have him there to capture the day. Thanks Tim.
Tomorrow one of Chef Alex’s recipes!