Archive for January, 2010

The Dorito Diet

Day 1: Go out drinking. Drink a lot of alcohol, preferably on an empty stomach.

Day 2: Wake up at 10 o’clock, eat half a bag of Doritos, preferably Cool Ranch. (Effectiveness of Nacho Cheese, Blazin’ Buffalo & Ranch, or Tacos at Midnight have not been tested.)

Remainder of Day 2: Feel so sick that you won’t eat anything the rest of the day. Watch the pounds melt off.

Repeat as needed.

Meet Jeff.

Everyone, meet Jeff Cooper.

Jeff, a former line cook at The Publican, is the new sous chef at Branch 27 in Wicker Park. I sat down with Jeff on the pretense of asking him about his line of work, but   really I just wanted some free shit. Just kidding. Kind of.

Jeff comes to Chicago by way of Portland, where he expanded on his childhood cooking experience by slanging food in some of Portland’s finest culinary establishments (including Clyde Common, where I had the pleasure of dining last February).

After getting his fill of line cookery at The Publican, Jeff teamed up with chef John Manion (formerly of Mas–now closed– and Goose Island Brew Pub) to expand and refine the menu at Branch 27. The two have worked to morph the former menu, which was filled with turkey chili, caesar salad, and other half-assery, into a menu that reflects the pair’s passion for fresh, seasonal, and, when possible, local ingredients. “You won’t find a tomato on our menu until they’re in season,” Jeff pointed out proudly.

In addition to braised rabbit legs and fried chicken livers, the menu boasts both meat and cheese boards, house-made sausage, and house-made pickles. “We have a smokehouse out back,” Jeff informed me. “We smoke most of our meats here, and we try to experiment as much as we can with the best way to make charcuterie accessible. ” Jeff is a charcuterie expert, folks. If it moves, he can make it into sausage.

I had the pleasure of tasting some of the dishes on the revamped menu, including a phenomenal salad with prosciutto, spinach, pears, and endive, and my own personal meat and cheese board with a tiny mount of homemade pickles. I sampled pork rillettes, duck pate, maple glazed ham, and at least three kinds of cheese. I was ready to throw in the towel when Jeff placed a giant bowl in front of me. It was, in my opinion, the standout dish of the night. This thing is like, everything I love about winter in one big bowl. It’s the kind of thing you eat while wearing a big chunky sweater, fluffy winter boots, and sitting in some remote snowbound cabin in the middle of the woods. Cassoulet is basically like a casserole stew, and this one was filled with lamb meatballs, duck confit, braised pork belly, and white beans.

A large and highly vocal portion of the culinary community has been advocating a return to the very kind of cooking that is seen at Branch 27; embracing basic fundamentals and using fresh, simple, seasonally available ingredients to create finely-tuned and surprisingly complex dishes. After much high-mindedness and the trend of molecular gastronomy, to me it’s somewhat of a relief to be seeing the pendulum finally swinging in the opposite direction.

All in all, I was impressed by the care and obvious dedication that went into the creation of the menu and the execution of the dishes. The menu changes seasonally, so I advise all four of my readers to get to Branch 27 toot sweet and try that cassoulet before winter is over.

Many thanks to Jeff Cooper and the Branch 27 staff.