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Vegetables’ Star Turn

Ahead of its time, Green Zebra focused on farm-fresh produce.

Sweet corn soup with foraged chanterelle mushrooms and heirloom white hominy is on the menu tonight at Green Zebra in West Town, along with a grilled corn salad made with fresh mango and a cilantro lime dressing. The dishes are complex, the flavors compatible, the plate presentations eye catching–everything diners have come to expect at one of Chicago’s most interesting restaurants.

Asked to describe Green Zebra’s food, Chef de Cuisine David Chapman says it’s “vegetable focused,” terminology that gives him lots of wiggle room. Chapman explains that while all of the dishes on the restaurant’s current and most recent menus have been vegetarian, fish and chicken dishes are always a possibility. “Even so,” Chapman adds, “when I’m developing a dish, I envision vegetables at the center of the plate.”

It’s a dozen years since Green Zebra opened in what was then an edgy part of town. Shawn McClain, who continues to be involved with the restaurant, was in charge of the kitchen. From the beginning, he used locally sourced, sustainably raised produce, poultry and fish. McClain forged close working relationships with local farmers before “farm-to-table” was the mantra du jour, relationships Chapman and sous chef Bill Walker continue to nurture and grow.

Finding time to use even a portion of what’s available during the summer is a challenge. So is navigating the various micro-seasons, since summer fruits and vegetables peak at different times. With this in mind, Chapman and Sous Chef Bill Walker developed a series of focused, four course menus as a supplement to the restaurant’s seasonally inspired tasting and a la carte menus.

Each of the focused menus, all of them available for only a short time, spotlights a vegetable that’s versatile, plentiful, approachable, and delicious. Think tomatoes and corn, as opposed to rutabagas and turnips.
Changing the menus as the summer progresses underscores the seasonal shifts in the market, in addition to providing the impetus for repeat visits. If, for example, the honeyed corn ice cream with blueberries, cornmeal waffle crisp and caramel popcorn sounds interesting, you have to move quickly. Because in August, it’s good-by corn and hello tomatoes.

Top: Heirloom Red Zebra and Pineapple Tomato salad with English cucumber gel, tomato water, Plymouth gin and garden flowers

Green Zebra, 1460 W. Chicago Ave. 312.243.7100

Barbara Revsine is a Chicago based food writer who blogs at http://www.chicagonow.com/pantry-to-plate/

Categories: Shorts The Journal