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What is “slow food?” It conjures up all kinds of images, but the correct one is that it is the opposite of “fast food.” The roots of slow food come from Italy, where journalist Carlo Petrini became outraged over the opening of a McDonald’s franchise in Rome. Concerned about the impact on Rome’s culture, he organized protesters who held bowls of penne. They shouted, “We don’t want fast food — we want slow food!” The slow food movement was born.
An advocate of slow food, Jessica Gorin is the executive chef of Big Grove Tavern in downtown Champaign. Although she holds degrees in ecology and population biology, Gorin left science to pursue her passion of experimenting in the kitchen. Bypassing the conventional method of training at culinary school, she acquired her skills working in kitchens throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Having moved here from San Francisco, I was used to working with local farms and working with a clientele that expected/demanded fresh seasonal ingredients. I was surprised when I moved to town that, given we were in an agricultural area, there were not more restaurants utilizing local products,” she said. “It’s been nice to see during the past four years how well the public has responded to our farm-to-table concept and generally how the demand for local products has increased.”
Gorin is very happy to see the addition of the Land Connection farmers’ market to downtown Champaign, which helps meet that demand. At Big Grove Tavern, Gorin has forged relationships with many local farms to provide the ingredients for her seasonal take on comfort foods.
Gorin and her sous chefs, Terrah King and Tomasz Nilges, were happy to share with At Home in Central Illinois readers a real comfort food and satisfying meal, their recipe of chicken and dumplings.
“I consider it a slow food recipe since we use whole local chickens — the carcasses are used to make the chicken stock that becomes the sauce for the plate — and we make the dumplings from scratch.The plate is very different than the soupy, gravy-like chicken and dumpling that people may have grown up with.”
Besides slow food and farm-to-table fare, Big Grove Tavern has donated over $9,000 since starting the program in October 2014, nurturing the community with more than just food.
“Each month we donate a portion of our lunch sales to a different local nonprofit,” said Beckie Kane, Big Grove’s marketing and private events coordinator. “In April we are donating to CASA.”
Champaign County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program in a not-for-profit organization that recruits, trains and monitors volunteers who advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers work through the juvenile court system to facilitate prompt delivery of services and make independent recommendations to the court.
Kane also said that in May Big Grove is donating to RACES, a community-based rape crisis center serving Champaign, Douglas, Ford, and Piatt counties in East-Central Illinois. It provides free, confidential services to anyone who has been affected by sexual assault, abuse or harassment. The center also offers public education and training to schools, employers and other organizations throughout its service area.
Big Grove Chicken and Dumplings — Slow Food Style
4 chicken breasts with the skin on
16 herb dumplings (already made; see recipe below)
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed 1 lb green beans, cleaned and blanched
1 pound fingerling potatoes
16 ounces rich chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chive, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
kosher salt and pepper to taste
Put potatoes in a pot with cold water and salt. Bring to a boil then turn off heat. Potatoes should be fork tender but not soft. Cut potatoes into bite-size chunks.
In a large hot pan, sear chicken breasts skin side down for 3 minutes. Turn chicken over for 3 minutes then transfer to 400-degree oven until cooked through (5 to 10 minutes depending on size/thickness of breasts).
Heat a separate pan. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper. When mushrooms have a little color, add dumplings, cut potatoes and 1 tablespoon butter. When dumplings and potatoes have a golden color, add green beans, chicken stock and herbs. Cover pan with lid to steam dumplings so they are warm through the center, about 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to divide the mixture between four bowls, reserving the liquid in the pan. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the sauce and swirl to melt. Divide sauce between the four bowls.
Place one cooked chicken breast on top of each bowl.
Herb Dumplings Serves 4 and makes 16 dumplings
1 cup sifted flour
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
teaspoon dried rosemary, ground and sifted to remove large pieces
½ teaspoon dried sage, ground
1 teaspoon thyme leaves, minced
1½ tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
6½ tablespoons buttermilk
Mix together the dry ingredients. Using the paddle attachment on the standing mixer, cut in the butter until crumbly. Stir in the buttermilk, taking care not to overmix. Allow to stand for 10 minutes. Roll out into ½-inch thick sheet and cut with 1-inch round cutter dipped in flour. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, place dumplings in boiling water and softly simmer uncovered for 2½ to 3 minutes (break one open; the center of the dumpling should look like a baked biscuit). Scoop dumplings out onto parchment lined sheet tray to cool.