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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

"Chopped" Comes to Chicago


A "Chopped Challenge" worthy of the Food Network was staged in a spacious kitchen on the University of Illinois Chicago campus last Saturday.  Three teams of nutrition students and alums gathered around stainless steel tables prepared to plan, cook and plate an original dish.  The time had come for these budding health professionals to illustrate how well they they could show that food is the best medicine. 
The event began in the luxuriant kitchen garden planted behind the Applied Health Science building where contestants picked vegetables, edible flowers and herbs for their creations.  They had access to the kitchen's pantry but picked sparingly from an array of purchased grocery items at their disposal.  Each team was assigned a nutrition student to run the food processor, saute onions and act as a gofer.  
The pressure was on once they began.  Contestants had forty-five minutes to complete a dish while keeping in mind the ten judging criteria as well as the USDA's MyPlate Dietary guidelines. Their challenge didn't end there.  The mystery ingredient that day was the notoriously bland, firm-fleshed filet of fresh cod.
The first team created a meal rather than a dish. It consisted of a hummus starter, a mixed vegetable salad and an entree of pan-fried cod.  Team members had agreed on three elements, made assignments and worked without conferring with each other. When it came time to plate their dish, the lack of coordination was obvious.  The three preparations didn't fit on the plate nor did they complement one another.  The cod was properly cooked and crispy but lacked enough seasoning. 
The second team developed a Mediterranean theme binding the elements on the plate with the flavor of oranges.  The roast cod filet was glazed with orange juice and nested on a bed of  sauteed kale.  Slim roast asparagus stalks were also brushed with fruit juice.  The compote of orange sections and black olive turned out to be the most flavorful element on the plate.  For all this harmonious flavor interplay, the disjointed plating made eating difficult. The asparagus stalks required a knife and fork. The flaky cod proved hard to balance on a fork with the kale.  And the compote fell off everything but a spoon.  Enjoying all these flavors in one bite was nearly impossible.
The preparation of the winning plate began with a setback that the team turned into an advantage.  When baked butternut squash came out of the oven, it was too soft to cube as planned and had to be pureed.  It made a delicious and attractive bed for skillet-baked cod.  This team overcame the cod's large flake texture by breaking the filet into pieces as it cooked.  The garnish of toasted garlic and chopped almonds was an inspired, sophisticated and delicious.   A crunchy raw kale leaf filled with a salsa of fresh fruits, vegetables, lime juice and cilantro was a refreshing complement.  And it was easy to eat! 
  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

Making Sense of the Gourmet Food World


Artichoke and Truffle Salad - Maison de la Truffe - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet.

I began this post with the intention of sharing my recent visit to the new Galeries Lafayette Gourmet megastore in Paris. No sooner had I begun work than I learned Dean and Deluca, New York’s first luxury food market had closed all but 6 of its locations.  This news had the impact of a personal loss.  

D&D opened in 1977, the year I started as my cooking school.  With the closure of so many stores I felt my childhood home was collapsing.  Was it just a coincidence that the gourmet food business is expanding in Paris and contracting in the States?   I had to find out. 

I was surprised to learn that that the gourmet food culture emerged suddenly here in the late 1970's.  In 1976  farmers and food artisans began selling their sustainably raised produce, cheese, bread and flowers at the Union Square Greenmarket just a ten minutes walk from Dean and Deluca.  And Whole Foods opened as a vegetarian market in Austin, Tx in 1978.  Quelle coincidence!

Over the next forty years, Dean and Deluca became an international chain of 37 stores.  It's current owner, a Thai real estate magnate, poured millions into a concept store that opened this spring in Manhattan's trendy meatpacking district, only to close it three months later after unpaid vendors stopped delivering. Over the same time period, Whole Foods has grown to nearly 500 stores (less than two dozen are in Canada and the UK) and was purchased two years ago by e commerce giant Amazon. 


Lower Level Grocery Store - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet

The original template for a gourmet market was created in Paris 130 years ago when pushcart vendor Auguste Fauchon opened a shop on Place de la Madeleine.  Fauchon grew to become synonymous with the highest quality prepared foods, patisserie and wines.  Auguste's family sold out in the lean years following WWII, and the store has since experienced periods of expansion and contraction under several owners.  The proud flagship store remains and was joined last year by a a five-star Fauchon Hotel a few steps away.  

Fauchon's left bank competitor in recent decades has been L'Epicerie de Bon Marche, an extension of the city's oldest department store, Bon Marche's.  The present owner is the luxury retailer group LVMH.  Frequent construction facelifts keep L'Epicerie looking fresh and fashionably turned out.  Its displays of meat, seafood, produce and cheese are as opulent and overpriced as the designer handbags in its sister store next door.

 Meat Department - L'Epicerie de Bon Marche  

The launch this year of Galeries Lafayette Gourmet exemplifies an acceleration of gourmet retail in this city that is trying to recover its appeal after recent terrorist attacks.  The extensive project combines a spacious food hall, kiosks of famous specialty food brands and a complete grocery store covering two floors of its Boulevard Haussmann housewares store.  I sampled a luxurious truffle and artichoke salad with a glass of Sancerre at the Maison de la Truffe counter during my visit there in June.  My lunch cost 30€, less than half the price of a mid-day meal at its posh Place de la Madeleine location.  Perk alert: the people watching is terrific.

The incorporation of a food hall in gourmet markets owes much to Eataly, the newest of the food megastores.  It’s Italian creator, Oscar Farinetti, claims his inspiration is none other than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  To date, Farinetti has opened 37 megastores around the world since 2007.  All have the comprehensive feel of an Italian theme park.  Is his lofty goal of spreading an understanding of Italian culture through classes, the exhaustive display of ingredients and an array of dining options sustainable?   


 L'Atelier de la Maison de la Truffe - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet 

This April saw the arrival of Eataly Paris Marais built by the family that has owned Galeries Lafayette for over 100 years and holds exclusive rights to Eataly in France.  The store is a five minute walk from BHV, the mid-priced Galeries Lafayette property across from the Hotel de Ville.  I look forward to my first visit next month.

That third innovative 1970's startup, the Union Square Green Market, continues to thrive four days a week year round.  It continues to inspire chefs and the other 50 plus farmers markets in New York's boroughs. While not technically a gourmet shop, the greenmarket draws its share of tourists. 

An important bond forms when farmers and artisan food producers sell directly to consumers.  There's an energy at a crowded open market that feels essential to our wellbeing..  I will explore the world of weekly food shopping in the US and France in a future post.  Stay tuned!

Dried Herbs and Spices - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet 





  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


Nuts have nourished man and beast since prehistoric times. Their importance is evident in the many metaphors we use to describe everything from human anatomy to our state of mind.  Males are born with “nuts”; a problem can be  “a hard nut to crack”; it could even drive us “nuts”.  

 If we had a real nut for every time we used the word, our nutrition scores would soar.  Unfortunately for us, nuts are too often a culinary afterthought relegated to trail mix and cereal.  Who would guess remnants of walnut shells turn up in Neolithic fire pits more often than animal bones? 


Salad of beets, green beans, goat cheese with walnut oil dressing 

Europeans get it.  Walnuts in the shell are prominently displayed with produce in French markets.  They stay fresh and tasty in their original packaging.  We are more likely to see them like this when they are harvested in late November. I remember watching my Hungarian father crack open and pick out the walnut meat between sips of Tokay wine at the end of holiday meals.   Our festive white tablecloth littered with walnut shells was the envy of any squirrel.

It turns out that that the ancient walnut is the one ingredient I can purchase as easily in suburban Chicago as in southwest France, more often as scuffed halves than in the shell.  I’ve made a point of finding more uses for walnuts this summer in preparation for my tour in the Dordogne this September.

     Penne pasta with red onions, chard and walnuts. 

Once walnuts come onto your culinary radar, their addition to salads, casseroles. breads and desserts will quickly multiply.  For starters, I've added links to favorite walnut recipes on my website, or you can add them to your existing repertoire.  Simply chop, scatter or fold pieces into a finished dish.  Drizzle on a little walnut oil for emphasis.  Voila! 

 Here are some tips to get the best results with walnuts.

 Look for unbroken walnut halves.  It’s usually a sign of quality.

 Toast shelled nuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until they are fragrant.  Their aroma and texture are revived and will remain so even in storage. Walnuts purchased in the shell do not require roasting.

 Store shelled walnuts tightly sealed in the freezer between uses to avoid their oil from becoming rancid.  Keep all nut oils in the refrigerator between uses. 

Add a drizzle of walnut oil to heighten the presence of walnuts in dressings, sauces and as a garnish.