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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel



Suzanne Florek and her line cooks at Salty Fig

New acquaintances look at my business card and ask, “So, where’s your restaurant?”  I then explain that Chez Madelaine operates a school due to a ‘no restaurant’ clause in my marriage contract.  (A career in food service is a notorious marriage disruptor.)  What then is a married woman with children and the dream of opening a restaurant to do? 

The short answer is that she waits until the children are grown.  At this point the emotional and physical demands of a creating a food enterprise outside the home requires extra initiative. On the other hand, women who've spent two decades managing a household and weathering the demands of marriage have developed survival skills   The good news is that more mature women have been opening food enterprises.  Three recent start-ups exemplify the diversity among these women and their dreams. 


 Local high schoolers stop by for a snack at Salty Fig's communal table. 

During the decade that we owned an apartment in Paris several small food businesses sprouted along our street as the quarter became gentrified.  I watched a chic, single mother with four grown children turn a 500 sq.ft. minimally decorate space into a popular gathering place for young neighborhood families  She relies on her competence as a home cook to turn out a limited daily menu of soup, sandwiches, a quiche-of-the-day and several showy desserts . Her staff of one young woman has trouble keeping up during busy mealtimes.  The French don't mind; diners expect to wait, but it would drive an American nuts.  One key feature is a small nook set aside with books and toys for preschoolers.  This “tarterie” is a place for families to pause, get comfortable and connect.  

I experience a similar calm atmosphere when entering Steam Coffee, Inc. in nearby Oak Brook even though it’s tucked in among large franchise stores in a mall at a busy intersection.  Owner Joi Thompson is a Seattle native and also a mother of four.   Her training is in healthcare services but she knows coffee and the importance of connecting with customers.  This coffee shop thrives on its spacious layout and the warm, attentive service of an experienced barista who checks with customers at their tables as they work or dine.  Joi has made her food start-up a family project in fullest sense of the word.  Her husband helped design and build decorative elements, a college-age son handles the books and the two youngest children wait tables and wash dishes after high school.  


 Lentils/Kabocha/Cauliflower/Buratta/Parm.Croutons at Salty Fig

The most ambitious new food start-up that could become your home away from home, is Salty Fig located across from the train station in downtown Western Springs.  It's clear from the breadth of its offerings that chef/owner Suzanne Florek has spent a long time developing her dream.  She was chef at Chicago’s highly regarded Spiaggia restaurant B.C. (before children) and waited until her twin boys were in college to start work on her restaurant.  

Salty Fig straddles foodservice categories catering to commuters as early as 5:30 am and offering a wide variety of mediterranean-inspired salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts to a sit-down clientele all day long.  Returning city workers as well as mothers-on-the-run will soon be able to purchase a freshly cooked evening meal until 7pm.  Wine, beer and cocktails are available after 11:30 am.  Did I miss anything?  Oh, yes, a purchase from the store’s pantry of high quality olives, oils and prize-winning Indiana goat cheese will pep up your leftovers at home. 

In addition to closing in the early evening, Salty Fig is not open on the weekends.  Why lose out on these high-volume days?Suzanne notes on the homepage of the restaurant’s website :”the chef wishes to remain married”.  I salute these women and those I have yet to meet.  They are living a dream that connects us all.

Salty Fig's mix of daily vegetable salads.


  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


Fat Tuesday is almost here, and with it the perfect occasion to conjure with Praline.  I’m all set to take a standard Sweet Potato Pie recipe and give it the ‘praline treatment’ in next week’s classes. Wait, what kind of  ‘praline’ do I have in mind?   

With all due respect, it is not the New Orleans praline, pronounced, praw-leen.  That city’s gift to the confectionery world is a stand alone product: pecan halves embedded in a cookie-like circle of sugar, butter and cream.  What I have in mind is equally addictive and contains just two ingredients.


 Praline, the confectionery ingredient, consists simply of a nut (pecans, almonds or walnuts) coated with caramelized sugar.  It is coarsely ground and blended with other pastry ingredients where it has a synergetic effect but keeps a low profile.  Even when identified in a chocolate filling or buttercream, praline acts to enhance rather than stand out.

I like to think of caramelization as treating sugar to a controlled burn that leaves it with an agreeable bittersweet finish that accentuates the aroma of the nuts.   It’s a technique that has stood the test of time.  The original sugar glazed almond was created to aid in seduction in 17th century France.  Are you surprised?.  It was introduced to Louisiana from France as the Praslin in the 19th century.  Americans replaced the almond with the abundant native pecan and the rest is history. 

Here is the pie almost ready to bake.  I wanted to show the generous coating of praline on the bottom of the unbaked pastry shell.  The pie crust recipe is vintage Julia Child. I have mixed both butter and shortening into the flour for a tasty, easy to handle dough.  (The glass pie plate was buttered in advance to avoid sticking.)   After the puree of sweet potatoes, sugar, spices and eggs are smoothed over the praline, the pie will be ready for a 30 minute bake at 375 degrees.  At that point I remove the pie and sprinkle on another generous layer of praline powder.  The pie will bake at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes or until it is fully puffed and the crust is golden brown.


 A pie this festive deserves a garnish.  Ice cream and whipped cream are too sweet for my taste so we will fold several tablespoons of creme fraîche into Greek yogurt and spoon a generous amount over each serving.

 If there are leftovers, remember the day after Fat Tuesday this year is Valentine’s Day.  Better yet, make two pies!

Link to Sweet Potato Praline Pie recipe












  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


What you see before you may look like a misshapen pizza created by a crazed German. Take a closer look.  This is a splendid flatbread from Alsace, Tarte Flambée,  made of thin layers of fresh cheese, onion and bacon on a cracker crust.  It is comforting cold weather fare for supper and the perfect appetizer for a crowd over the holidays.  The best part?  You can assemble a tarte flambée in the time it takes to preheat the oven to 500 degrees.


Step 1: Mix the dough in the traditional way:  blend dry ingredients, make a well for wet ingredients and stir wet together before incorporating them into the dry.  Use a fork to mix, a mixer isn’t necessary.  Add more flour by the tablespoon in the bowl until it no longer sticks to the sides.  Knead briefly on a lightly floured surface.  Let the dough rest while you prep the topping.
Step 2: Thinly slice a white onion and cut thick-cut bacon into small pieces. (ChezM tip: Lightly salt the onion slices with kosher salt to create a thin layer of moisture that will protect them from oxidizing and developing a sulfurous aroma.) 

Sept 3:  Blend together equal parts Neufchatel (cream cheese) and creme fraîche, then lightly seasoned with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.  This step is not illustrated, but you get the point. 
Step 4: Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and slide it onto a sheet of parchment.   Cover the dough with cheese mixture to within one-half inch of the edge.  Scatter on the thinly sliced onions and bacon in an even layer. 
Step 5:  Bake for 7 - 10 minutes, until the edges of the dough are highly browned.  Cut into pieces with a pizza wheel, and serve with salad for supper, or cut into small squares to serve as an appetizer.  Pour a glass of semi-dry Alsatian wine, hard cider or beer to enjoy with your tart.


Backstories:  Some accounts say this tart was created to check the temperature of a baker’s wood burning oven before thermometers came into use.  The time it took for the thin crust to darken was a gauge of the oven’s heat.  Other sources report the tart was baked in the hot oven after the baking was finished.  In either case, the baker would slather it with heavy cream so as to make a tasty treat.  It was never baked until it actually flamed as the name implies. 
 ChezM Tips: For best results make sure your oven is at 500 degrees.  My favorite tool for this purpose is an infared thermometer that reflects the heat off the back of the oven.  Second best is a mercury thermometer that hangs from a rack in the middle of the oven.  Baking on a pizza stone is undoubtedly the best way to simulate the original recipe.

Link the recipe:TARTE FLAMBÉE Recipe