2011 Nominee Best New Chef, Best New Restaurant & Best Neighborhood Restaurant


Hanging with the Chiliwoman is Hot Business!

by Christine Tully Aranza

IMG_1701More than two years ago when we were just starting to source plants for our greenhouse we found the seed suppliers ( Johnny’s & Seed Savers have become favorites) and greenhouses (Yay Richter’s) that would supply our starter plants. One of our true finds, was The Chiliwoman. One look at the list of peppers available on her site and we were truly hooked. A humble, diminutive women who shows her true passion as soon as you start talking Chilis with her, she has collected a catalogue of seeds that is anything but humble. Located in a college town (Bloomington, IN) she has enlisted professors, chefs and other adventurers to bring back a phenomenal variety of seeds from the four corners of the earth.

Beginning early in the season she plant what will be come a capsicum tour de force that soon springs forth a dizzying array of seedlings. We visited her in early may to pick up our order of two dozen Padron Peppers & two dozen Piri Piris. Once we entered her greenhouse however it became instantly clear we would be leaving with a lot more. The hubs did some quick math and he estimated she had about 16,000 seedlings happily growing in the Indiana sun.

The interesting thing about Chilis is that they all come from one wild species that is native to Central & South America and perhaps dating back as far as 7000 BCE, there is evidence of chilis in ancient Mexican and Aztec cultures. All coming from the same base plant leads to a certain uniformity in the look of the seedlings. They don’t reveal their true variety until mid to late season when the plants begin to show their personality and the most dramatic phase happening in the late season, when they fruit and show off with a brilliant array of shapes, colors & textures. Only then do they begin to hint at the wild variety of flavors they bring to cuisine around the globe. If you like the spicy stuff though chilis are a fascinating addition to any garden and relatively easy to grow. If you have a prolific source for seedlings you can tailor the plants you grow to your palate.

The name pepper is a bit of a misnomer thanks to Columbus who thought he had discovered black pepper a highly prized & expensive spice at the time. From there Spanish and Portuguese ships spread the cultivation of peppers throughout Europe. No doubt the heat known as Capsicum is what confused him.
Obviously, there is an expanse of chilis used in the cuisines of India and Asia as well although less is known about their evolution. In fact trying to research some of the varieties we grew this year for origin and culinary use, especially those from Asia & South America proved a challenge. The definitive chili resource book has yet to be written.

Getting back to our visit to Susan a.k.a. the Chiliwoman. As soon as we cast our eyes on her jewelbox of chilis, I asked her to put together two flats of her favorites for us to culitivate. She happily obliged and set about creating a fantastic set of flats. We divided the spoils which included varieties from the seven continents and grew some at home, some at the farm, gave a few to a fellow passionate gardening and restaurant guest (she reciprocates often). All of the plants were amazing healthy and prolific.

At the restaurant we are growning the Piri Piris (for hot sauce), Padrons(for tapas) and some Tomatillos (just cause we love them)! At home we have Korean variety such as Ku Chu, Chinese varieties; Kentang, Mongolian & Szechuan, Thai Yellow, mild Spanish Piment Mesa (yellow & red), Ferehozen Paprika and South American varieties Del Aqua, Chaco & Permavehla – cute little peppers that look like mini Butternut Squash and have a medium heat.

We have begun harvesting and added them to dishes at the restaurant, jarring, pickling, drying and grinding. How great to have our own paprika, fresh ground from our own plants! The Chiliwoman’s plants were all amazingly healthy and fared very well. Needless to say we are completely hooked and plan on expanding our chili program & research in the next growing season, our request list for 2014 is only growing now.

The great thing is you can access her plants too. If you like to road trip, it’s worth the trip. Call first or drop an email, she does a lot of local markets and events during the season. If you can’t make it she takes email orders & ships too. Hard to believe one gal can pull this off every year but she does. Susan you are one of our culinary heroes. Check out the site you won’t be sorry you did and come on in to sample some of what we have been doing with our spoils.


Pulled My Chair Up Close To The Mediterranean Table!

Sometimes it is easy to forget some of the simpler pleasures of life. Here at AM we were reminded of this recently when we welcomed our marketing intern Duri Kwon, who is joining us on an exchange program from her native South Korea. Among the things included in her orientation to the restaurant was some basic training in Mediterranean food and wine.

She is also learning to work with us on our blog and other projects, so we asked her to write a practice entry about an experience here, working with us. She chose to write about the Grilled Octopus dish she tasted as her first experience with Med food. We were so smitten by her description we thought we would share it here on the blog with all of you…….hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Thanks Duri and welcome!

Med 101 – by Duri Kwon

My first week at Autre Monde Café was a series of surprises. It started with the menu. It was easiest, to start by pick out the terms that I recognized. French & Spanish were familiar but Italian terms… not so much! Welcome to the Mediterranean table!

Though I had not eaten Mediterranean style octopus in Korea, I believed the flavors would be similar to an octopus dish at home. The Grilled Octopus l’escala was served to me glistening, under the intimate lights, octopus nestled with bright, red tomatoes on a long white dish, looked inviting and worked up my appetite. I expected a flavor & texture that were salty and hard; but my first bite of octopus told me I was wrong. The flavor was AMAZING. The texture was very simple, tender like beef, but sweeter. I cleared my plate, this was just as filling as a steak! Now, I have to get ready for the many additional menu surprises that await me.

Mediterranean food at Autre Monde, first impression, is creative and the flavor is beyond my imagination. I am passionate about experiencing more. I have already begun to think about how I can share this delicious feeling with others. For today, since I am still learning the finer points of English I will say it in my native Korean. If you tried something amazing there and wanted to tell others how good it was, you would just say ‘kkeut nae jaw yo’ with no doubt.


We’re Back….Greenhouse 2012 and more…..

So we have been out of the mix for a bit playing post holiday catch up and waiting out the winter, but Spring is upon us…..at least very soon so we are back and have our first full official season with the Greenhouse. We are very excited to share the full planning process. This year we are fortunate to have a few additional advisors that we have met since we opened who are helping us upgrade our soil mix and plant & propagate our seedlings. Our soil supplies were picked up from Brew N Grow (one in the city and one in Roselle) a great source for organic soils, vermiculite, kelp and other healthy additives at reasonable prices. Thanks to the mild winter we also had some herbs that survived in the greenhouse which we will be bringing back for a second season, wonderful to have this ability.

Our Soil Mix

To date we have cleared out the greenhouse and prepped some new hand made planter boxes, picked up the necessary ingredients for the recommended organic soil mix, designed for greenhouse gardening (thanks Barb & Stacy). We also have received our first two rounds of seeds for planting seedlings from our favs, Seed Savers and Johnny’s Seeds. We also have plans to order some additional herb seeds & plants from Richter’s and of course round out our selection from the Oak Park Conservatory Herb & Plant Sale in May. You can check past blog entries for more info on all of these. Some of the tomatoes and other seedlings we plant will be transferred to Cakeridge Farms (our chefs Ohio farm) for the season. We also have plans to increase our plantable space via more planter boxes inside & outside the patio.

We will also be making some visits to our farm partners in Illinois and John & I will be heading to Italy & Croatia at the end of the month for VinItaly and some other tasting and research as we move into the spring menu & wine list. We will share our experience in a special series of entries in April. We will also be sharing a lot of tips and updates from the greenhouse and more beginning in the next week or so. Glad to be back to the greenhouse and looking forward to sharing our first full season with you.