Michelin Bib Gourmand Recipient

Welcome to our blog!

[dropcap1]W[/dropcap1]elcome to the blog for Autre Monde Cafe and The Greenhouse Project. We are so excited to bring you the “official” debut of the blog. We will be posting weekly updates as we get through the last two months of construction and pre-opening planning. We truly want to make this a valuable blog to follow for those who are passionate about food & drink and maintaining their quality and integrity by celebrating the sources and ultimately the manifestations.

see some of the design inspiration for Autre Monde Cafe

Next week will post some pictures of kitchen construction and possibly the dining room, in the mean time we would like to give a shout out to our amazing design team who bring the look of this blog to you. Thanks to Margot and Kirsten and ultimately Wolf who pulls it all together with the techie stuff. If you are looking for a great design for your blog check out www.autremondecafe.net and sign up for his soon to be launched website which will showcase some of his finer work.

Stay tuned for updates and thanks for joining us on our adventure!

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.

A Little Story About Collaboration

[dropcap1]S[/dropcap1]o we all know that no large project gets done without the generous help of lots of folks. We thought the story of how our bar and tabletops are being constructed was no exception and pretty interesting to boot. With that in mind and by way of letting you all know we really are getting close to opening (we have tables!) this post is devoted to that tale.
Throughout our construction phase on this project, we have tried to used sustainable and repurposed materials wherever possible. We have had pretty good success in finding some of our lighting, our tabletops and bases, other finishing items and design pieces and even some bar ware in this fashion. Most of the refinishing of smaller pieces we did ourselves, but when it came to the carpentry we knew to throw in the towel and seek help elsewhere. This is the story of those devoted souls that made our vision for the interior really come to life.

Unloading the Ash at the woodshop

The table tops and bar tops for the restaurant were crafted from wood graciously made available to us by our Chef’s family and hails from their farm in Ohio. The tables tops are constructed from vintage ash wood from fallen trees that had been collected from their property over the years. The bar (which is also almost finished) has been constructed from vintage poplar collected in the same fashion. The trees were rough cut and stored for future use in a big barn on their property. Lumber in this condition is not like the wood you see at Home Depot. It needs to be hand planed (evened out), custom cut piece by piece and biscuits (small joiners that fit between the wood) must be used to fuse the individual slabs of wood together. Mind you, we knew next to nothing about this process at the beginning of our project, w only knew we wanted to used reclaimed wood. Now, we speak carpenterease pretty well. Any of you who have done a big improvement project likely know what I am referring to, watching your crew work requires many of us urbanites to learn to speak “builder’s English” with all that entails.

One of the things that we definitely learned more about was the character and colors of these vintage woods. Ash for example, such as that used for our tabletops, is a very hard wood and has some lovely, blonde & honey toned color variations. We love the natural color and decided that we would have them finished with a natural clear coat, the craftsmanship and natural durability of the wood ensured that these tops will last a very long time. Poplar has deeper color changes, but again we loved the natural character and finished as is. It too will likely wear well gaining more character with age.

Mennonite Woodshop

The table tops were built by a group of Mennonites from the Ohio River Valley that have done work for many in the area for years. Their expert craftsmanship of the table tops cannot be understated, especially when you consider that all the work they do is by hand, with no help of modern power tools or electricity. Their wood shop is outfitted with all manner of vintage tools that allow them to get the job done. When the table tops arrived with Chef Dan from his weekend home at the farm, we were blown away by the simple beauty of what had been created. We will let you judge for yourself, but we just love them. This weekend we will be receiving the two remaining tables which are long communal tables that they are building for us as I write this post.

The Finished Product

The bar is another story. It has been designed and crafted all on site by our brother in law, who is a custom home builder. He has been tremendously generous to take on this project and has labored for the past few weeks, cutting, planing and biscuiting wood on site as he built out the bar to our exact dimensions. He is still working to finish it this week but you will all see it soon and again we think it is just delicious. We are heading into the last few weeks of pre-opening hoopla and can’t wait to show you all the finished product. We hope that when you dine with us these little stories of how it all comes together, enrich your experience. See you soon!

Spring Has Sprung….Local Community Gardens, Herb Sales & More….

This week we are focusing on the larger local food picture. Through our Greenhouse Project and the blog, we have connected with loads of locals who embody the urban farm spirit. It seems that Berwyn, Forest Park and Oak Park each have unique offerings to help fledgling urban gardeners get a leg up on the local movement. Both Berwyn and Forest Park are launching amped up Community Garden programs this year and Oak Park is already known for its Farmer’s Market. Also, what has become an annual annual tradition for our home garden, the Oak Park Conservatory’s Annual Herb & Plant sale. In this entry we get in depth with our local gardening brigade and bring you the highlights of the upcoming season and details on opportunities to participate in volunteer initiatives, claiming your own plot, classes, sales and more. Oh, and we are still working at breakneck speed to open our doors to you soon.

As a Berwyn business focused on such things, we were thrilled to here about the expanded community garden initiative headed by local businessman Jose Ramirez in conjunction with The Berwyn Park District. Their goal is simple, to create, support and promote community gardening within the City of Berwyn, IL. The partnership between the Park District and the Community Gardens Project is designed to help develop and maintain plots of land that will be made available to Berwyn residents. The residents will be able to rent out these plots seasonally for their gardening needs. Contact information and forms to acquire a plot are available via the organizations Facebook page which can be found here. The gardens are located at Serenity Park (26th and Wesley) and are about 1/2 rented for the season, so if you are interested act now!

We have also been fortunate enough to have met by Debbie Kong, a supporter of our greenhouse initiative, who is heading the St. John’s Community Garden in conjunction with the school, parish leadership and ideally the larger Forest Park Community. Debbie is wholly qualified to lead this initiative as she will complete the Master Gardener program at U of I Extension this May. She has also been traveling and training teachers and healthcare workers how to set up gardens, build, manage and sustain them and of course evangelizing the many benefits of urban gardening. She is passionate about her work and quite inspirational. (more…)

Plants for the Greenhouse – Round 1

Botanical Plate for Caper Bush

[dropcap1]W[/dropcap1]e are back. After a longer than anticipated hiatus that involved lots of drywall dust and late nights, getting to the home stretch with the restaurant. However, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been on plant patrol! We have continued to order cool seeds and plant for the greenhouse and the patio. The greenhouse should be in place in the next week or so and then we can bring you some live shots of it coming together. In the meantime we thought we would share some of our cool finds arriving in a few days from Richter’s. They are another great online resource for herbs in particular, seeds & plants.

Richter’s is a nursery located in Canada, so you really want to plan ahead and ensure that you only need to place one order. This is our first time ordering from them as well so we will see what condition the plants are in when they arrive, but they have some great varieties we haven’t found elsewhere. They offer both organic and regular seeds and plants and have a really cool section called Seed Zoo, which showcases heirloom varieties of rare legumes, fruits and veggies from locales in Italy, Africa and other places. We are looking into the Italian legumes a little more to see how they might fare in Ohio River Valley soil at Cakeridge (our chefs farm). (more…)