JANUARY 2017 – At Cindy’s, the Chicago Athletic Association hotel’s spacious beautiful rooftop escape with some of the most gorgeous views of Millennium Park, Lake Michigan, Maggie Daley Park and the Museum Campus, you may be drawn in by the vista, but you definitely stay for the food and drinks.
The Cindy’s kitchen team, headed by executive chef Christian Ragano and chef de cuisine Keith Potter, gets to create seasonally changing menus that highlight ingredients they find through a variety of local farmers and purveyors. As new ingredients become available, the chefs add to their offerings. Even if a dish may not seem like it has changed — a rutabega may become a turnip; a grapefruit may make way for a kumquat — this keeps things fresh and more interesting not only for the kitchen team, but also for diners.
This winter, Chef Keith is really excited about fresh blue ginger he procures from Nichols Farm in Marengo, Ill. He uses it on Cindy’s beef tartare, offered at lunch, and also in the spiced carrot puree on the scallop dish at dinner. But he also candies the fresh blue ginger with champagne vinegar and sugar and adds fresh lemon and bay leaf to up the flavor even more. It’s also used to add depth and spice to various stocks and purees. Aesthetically beautiful, this spicy root vegetable starts out as young seeds shipped in from warmer climates and then sprouted in warm protected conditions before being moved into hoop houses to mature and flourish. Needless to say, while delicious and exciting to cook with, the blue ginger takes care to flourish.
“It is necessary to protect each plant from cold so farmers nurse this crop daily,” Chef Keith said. “It requires an immense amount of soil and fertilizer.” And we’re all so happy it does because in the end, we all get to enjoy its bounty.