Rockford needs to know that Caesar salad is from Mexico not Italy and it is on whole leaves, not cut up in a bowl. Like most things, Rockford thinks about food, this is wrong. The first time I saw Caesar served correctly it was at a little restaurant in Madison called Boehm’s. It was run by a woman who ran the culinary school at the University of Wisconsin at the Madison Campus. I fell in love with the presentation and have served it in my restaurants for many years.
But then I was reading an interview with Jacques Pepin and Julia Child one day and she related how her father used to take her to Tijuana to Caesars restaurant and she loved the salad because she as a little girl could roll the leaves up to eat like a taco. I had served it in this manner for more than twenty years without knowing that it was the original presentation. I just liked it.
You have heard the term, food desert. Rockford is a food knowledge desert. If you are really into food, this is probably one of the worst cities for being a foodie in the United States and I used to travel for a living. I remember sitting next table to James Beard in San Francisco to the delight of my companion Art Sunkel who had chosen our restaurant for the evening. Just making my point, that could never happen in Rockford.
It drives me nuts then when the Rockford paper does a story on someone who makes out outrageous claims regarding their offerings. When it comes to fish, they often claim that they’re going to fly in fresh fish daily or in the most recent incident, four times a week from Boston or the West Cost. This shows a complete ignorance of how fish gets to Rockford. Unfortunately, our local newspaper, and here I am using the word “news” very lightly, hasn’t a clue when faced with a claim like this.
One restaurant in this area flies in their own fish. Port Edward in Algonquin. They are a huge operation unlike any other in the entire country. The idea that any little restaurant in Rockford could do this on their own is laughable. It would be cost prohibitive; the cost of transport would be more than the cost of the fish. So, the newspaper repeats this nonsense without any question and leave the uneducated reader to sort this out for themselves. Anyone in Rockford can have fresh fish by merely ordering it from one of the Chicago seafood fish companies that come to Rockford several times a week. They, almost without exception, pick up at O’Hare every morning take it to their fish house and cut it for the following business day. The next day they can deliver that fish to Rockford.
In terms of local fish, that is fish from Canada and the great lakes, that all comes down from Canada on the same truck. The truck comes to Chicago on Monday and Thursday, and delivers to all the fish companies. Yes, everybody buys fish off the same truck. How it gets to your restaurant is the final part of the story. I drive to Wabash food on Hubbard near Western on Monday and Thursday to buy the new fish that has just arrived. Sometimes I must wait for the truck to get there and then wait for my fish to be cut.
Other restaurants depending of their delivery day, always have fish that is at least one day older than ours. With the chains, it is a little worse because of the need to take it to their central supply location and redistribute it. The fish at the local supermarkets is usually the same age when the receive it as it is on the last day we are going to sell it.
One more subject I would like to tackle here, is farm raised fish. You have probably been told by someone very smugly that you should not eat farm raised fish. That’s nonsense. The whole farm raised vs. wild controversy revolves mainly around two farm raised fish, that you really should not eat, Tilapia and Salmon from Chile.
The reason most folks eat fish is to get their Omega three, Omega six ratio in line. We (Americans) eat too much Omega six and we need the Omega three fatty acids to correct this. Tilapia is as high in Omega six as bacon. In addition, corn is used to feed Tilapia and that worsens the problem.
With Chilean Salmon, it’s about the water. Salmon, as a species, likes it cold. They develop all sorts of nasty micro-organisms when the water is too warm. It’s quite an experience the first time you watch a worm crawling out of your salmon filet on the grill. My first time was my last time. I will not serve salmon raised in warm water in my restaurant. Chilean salmon used to make up thirty percent of the farm raised salmon market. It’s down to less than ten percent now.
Our salmon is farm raised in the ocean in Canada, it is also served it at the Knickerbocker hotel in Chicago (though it’s a bit more expensive than at the Rose). You can check out our rainbow trout on line at Rushing Waters, Palmira Wisconsin. All our fish is sustainable, that is why you will not see swordfish on the menu. We have the finest local seafood program in the city of Rockford, period.