The Cookbook Addict: Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago CSA Challenge

June 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm


Summer just got a whole lot tastier with the debut of Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago, a comprehensive and engaging new insider’s guide to the Chicago area’s burgeoning food scene. It’s all here, from the Michelin-starred heights of Alinea’s internationally acclaimed cuisine to the taco shops, pizza ovens, BBQ joints, hot dog stands, and food trucks that make Chicago neighborhoods a savory destination for locals and visitors alike. Veteran food writer Jennifer Olvera’s passion for local food doesn’t stop with restaurants. Neighborhood by neighborhood, she explores the rich mosaic of specialty food stores, ethnic markets, artisan butchers, fishmongers, farmers markets, and food festivals that make eating in Chicago an endlessly fascinating diversion. It’s thirsty work, so she catalogs the city’s wine bars, brew pubs, hipster bars, and artisan distillers, too—hey, someone had to do it!

There are separate chapters on notable suburban food destinations, a handy compilation of professional culinary programs, cooking schools for home cooks, as well as workshops on wine and other libations. Perhaps most valuable for for Local Beet readers, is a well-researched section on area farms, farm stands, and farmers markets. Sidebars pop up throughout the text that make note of emerging food trends, share insider tips about artisan foodstuffs, or whet our appetites with nuggets of local food lore.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Olvera earned her local-food cred as a DePaul college student and many of you may know her from her regular articles in the Chicago Sun Times food section or a past stint as a restaurant reviewer for Chicago magazine. She will be doing a book signing tomorrow, June 21, at 6:00 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at 1 E. Jackson. Stop by to say hello, tell her about your favorite food spot, and pick up a copy of the book.

I caught up with Jennifer last week to learn more about how the book came together.

LOCAL BEET: How did the idea for the book came about?

JENNIFER OLVERA: This is a big city with so many beyond-ordinary things to eat and places to explore, and that can be daunting. It seemed time for Chicagoans—and visitors to Chicago—to have a comprehensive, single source for that information. That way no one—myself included—has to worry over where they should eat or shop. I think food enthusiasts, whether they’re inside or outside of the “industry,” essentially want that same thing.

LB: Did you visit every listing yourself?

JO: A labor of love and source of endless overindulgence, the book is a composite of my decade-plus experience as a food writer. That has meant hopping from jibaritos to cemitas to a hefty helping of Double Li in a single afternoon. Am I still hungry? Not really, but sometimes you have to “take one for the team.”

LB: In your Introduction, you emphasize that the book is “. . . for those respectful—and supportive— of small farms, appreciative of artisanal products, and intoxicated by the simple things . . . “ Is there a particularly gratifying connection you made with a food maker, farmer, or chef while writing the book

JO: Getting to know local farmers has been so meaningful. It’s such an important job, and they’re unsung heroes in my mind. Grazin’ Acres in Strawn, Ill., is a great example. I’ve visited on multiple occasions with my family—it’s where we buy grass-fed beef. I’ve seen how hard the Bachtolds work and learned why they do what they do. There are easier ways of doing things, but their way is better.  Consequently, I value what I eat so much more.

As a special shout-out for your support of local farmers and food producers, Olvera is teaming up with The Local Beet for the Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago CSA Challenge. Running from July through September, each month we’ll ask you to post in the comments section your recipe for preparing the great local food found in your CSA box (be sure to tell us who your CSA farmer is). Submissions must be made before Midnight Central Time on the last day of the Challenge-month. Lucky winners (chosen by Olvera and The Cookbook Addict) will receive a signed copy of Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago.

For July, it’s CSA Salad Challenge: Tell us how you use your July CSA haul to make a salad with local food from your box. Extra credit will be awarded for creative (and appetizing) use of the greatest number of ingredients from the box—bonus points if you can concoct a dressing from one or more of the ingredients to be found in the box. Let the challenge begin!



  1. Jacky says:

    This book looks great, will need to pick a copy up for sure. What a great idea with the CSA challenge!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the info – I will defiantly be picking up a copy!

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