Last night I had the opportunity to go on a foraging adventure in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, drink some delicious CaorunnGin cocktails and dine at Sepia.
Although I wouldn’t recommend novices forage alone, with the help of our guide, Urban Forager Chris Mayor, our group managed to pick several native greens without getting sick and using them in our cocktails later. Mayor taught us some tricks of the trade—of the 7,000 varieties of mint, most have square stems and few are poisonous. If it doesn’t smell like something you want to eat, then that variety of mint should be fine to consume. Also, you will never have to buy straws again as long as you have a supply of long-stem dandelions and some cold water to soak them in. While on our excursion, we picked Catnip, Creeping Charlie, Wild Onions and Crabapple blossoms for a garnish.
Caorunn Gin had hosted a competition earlier in the day among local Chicago bartenders to see who came up with the best drink. The winning team had a member from Lone Wolf and from The Chop Shop. They created a delicious concoction, Caorunn Sour.
Splash of Talisker
.75 oz. lemon
.75 oz. botanical syrup (simple syrup made with dried heather, lemon and orange zest)
2 short dash barkeep fennel bitters
1 heavy dash dandelion bitters
Shake with diced quarter-sized sliver of ginger and:
Catnip—2 big leavesCreeping Charlie—small sprig
Wild onion—2 sprigs
Fine strain into coup
After experiencing the abnormally high May temperature, it was nice to relax in the air-conditioning at Sepia. The Near West Side eatery is a must-try, with a rotating seasonal menu, homemade pastas, and organic and sustainable ingredients are used when available. I had a refreshing salad with baby arugula, toasted pine nuts, pickled lemon zest and grana padano. It paired well with the Caorrun Sour. The entrée I chose was just as light and delicious. The chef prepared pan roasted cod with a sweet corn and clam chowder and chive oil.
Caorrun Gin is manufactured in Scotland, and I had the good fortune of sitting near Gin Master Simon Bouley. He explained that its profile is distinctive with a base of Rowan Berry, Myrtle, Heather, Dandelion Leaf and Scotland’s “Forgotten” Coul Blush Apple, infused with six traditional botanicals to give it a sense of terroir rarely seen in a gin.
If the opportunity arises when you are in town for the National Restaurant Association Show, I recommend a trip to Lincoln Park whether or not you are with an expert forager. I also recommend wining and dining at Sepia and incorporating the flavorful Caorrun Gin into your restaurant’s repertoire.