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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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08.17.07

Don’t Believe the Hype

Bites: News and Miscellany


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Former ghetto gourmet chef Efrain Cuevas, a former engineer turned chef, and now new local underground dining bad boy has been getting a lot of press lately including a Time Out piece and a Tribune piece.

While it’s a nice feel good story about a guy leaving corporate America to start a clandestine dining operation, I wonder, is a mediocre chef newsworthy?

Sure lots of non-traditional folks have found their way into kitchens after corporate careers, but most of those, say Carol Wallack at Sola, have golden palates and great dishes that deserve the press.

A couple of months ago I hit all the underground restaurants in town for this story in Chicago magazine and in a companion piece about the local movement in Newcity I wrote:

The underground dining movement, which has been painted as mostly secretive gatherings of snobbish foodies worshipping at the feet of unknown, but talented, chefs (though in my experience, many of these chefs are second-rate, the equivalent of backdoor uncertified quacks performing shady botox regimens in the back of beauty parlors), seems an unlikely savior for this current trend. In fact the movement has pretty much devolved into incorporated businesses masquerading as “underground.”

When I wrote this paragraph I had the whole Ghetto Gourmet experience in mind. Of all the meals I had, Cuevas’s meal was by far the worst. For about 50 bucks, I dined on dried out “forbidden” empanadas, carrot soup which actually had good flavor, but lots of fibrous parts that should have been pureed out, chicken roasted in banana leaf that had virtually no seasoning, and a poorly executed fusion saffron cheesecake, where the saffron imparted a horrible bitterness to an otherwise decent cheesecake.

Granted it was one meal, but other than some really good caramelized onions, not one plate was redemptive and it’s hard to believe that four miscues in a row would signal promise.

I did have a conversation at the end of the night with one of the organizers and asked why the empanadas were “forbidden”. It turns out Cuevas wanted to do foie gras empanadas, but the Ghetto Gourmet founders balked because of our local laws. This may be one of the reasons Cuevas split the group, and for that I applaud him, but in the meantime I’ll have to sample his new gig before he gets any more ink from me.

One Comment on "Don’t Believe the Hype"

Anonymous

great article, i too cook privately and have found that a lot of “private” chefs are overrated due to just having a good connection. i don’t know about ghetto gourmet personally because i have never been to one of their events but there are a lot of new imitators who are fucking up what a real private dinner can actually be. instead we are getting people who just think eh well i can cook and you have 30 different plates with sunflowers and plaid rims and another set my mom pitched in and a bunch of coffee cups, i think i am going to start a business doing this mediocre bullshit and say it’s a new movement. sorry michaal, i am ranting but you hit the nail on the head with bringing the “underground” dining scene into the spotlight for what is or isn’t happening.



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