A new kind of recipe book

Can we be honest with each other? (It’s kind of required for this reading exercise and the book review that’s hidden in here somewhere.) OK. Ready? Neighborhoods in Chicago can be dog whistle terms. It’s all right to admit that many of you are much more interested in a new bar, club, or restaurant opening in one of the Loops (South and West, respectively) than you are in a new bar, club, or restaurant opening in one of the ’woods (Engel, Ravens) or the Parks (Hyde, Garfield, Humboldt, etc.). But what if we redefined those arbitrary borders that make up the different Chicago neighborhoods and often subconsciously drive our choices when it comes to deciding where or where not to visit? 

Enter Abby Pucker and her new community venture, Gertie. Gertie is described as a “sports team for arts and culture,” if you will. Its mission is to build a community of young professionals in Chicago (both transplants and natives) who are ready to engage with the city and each other in new ways. And (A)Part: A Recipe Guide-book to Chicago (if you will) is the companion piece to the new venture—meant to introduce the reader to different restaurants, recipes, neighborhoods, and cultural landmarks through the eyes of 27 different Chicagoans. 

Just to note a few members of the well-rounded cohort of Chicagoans hailing from a variety of sectors, ages, races, and community affiliations, contributors include some names you may know: rapper, actor, and cannabis entrepreneur Vic Mensa; photographer, director, and owner of Monday Coffee Felton Kizer; chef/co-owner of Thattu Margaret Pak; and now, community organizer Abby Pucker. And then there are some you don’t know but will be introduced to. The book is intended for “anyone willing to be curious.” So while more than 40 different traditionally defined neighborhoods are technically represented, all of the cultural maps are drawn without identifying neighborhoods. They’re simply plotted on a grid with guideposts that mark the four “directions” of the city. In Abby’s own words, the book is meant to be “an experiment in retracing and redefining community through aligned cultural interests and passions, rather than ZIP code.”

The book is short and sweet, just like the perfect Chicago day—especially for this time of year, when the sun starts to set earlier and the windchill makes you want to go inside before dark anyway. Also much like Chicago, the book’s layout is inviting, but it makes absolutely no attempt to fit in. Highlighter-pink text matches a bright-fuschia plaid-printed cover, completely destroying any minimalist coffee-table decor plans you may have had for it. It is wire-bound and more akin to a field guide than a recipe book. I’d even recommend a pencil for note-taking, recipe conversions, and Xs to mark spots that hit a specific place in your heart and stomach. 

(A)Part wants you to explore the city, even the parts you may feel a bit hesitant to visit without a chaperone, a cosigner—hell, at least a regular’s go-to menu order. The book has taken into account the reader’s likely trepidation by ignoring it completely. Once you get past the first few pages of contributors, you’re greeted with a foreword that reminds you, “Trust—in institutions, government, and, frankly, each other—is at an all-time low.” That lack of trust often lends to isolationism and encourages people to turn inward, be it into themselves in the form of serial delivery-app orders, or be it inward to faces and places they know best, hyperlocal (and maybe a little exclusionary?) communities where diversity of thought, taste, and opinion are shunned. (A)Part reminds you: “Chicago has some trust issues, and they are warranted, but that doesn’t mean they’re inevitable.” 

So the goal with this recipe book, if you will, is to bring together each contributor’s experiences in this city like different ingredients in a recipe, working together to create something deliciously greater than the sum of their parts. By the end of it, Abby and team hope to impress upon the reader the importance of community through an active exercise of reimagining those mental and geographic borders that keep us (a)part. (See what she did there?)

What secret spots could this book possibly reveal to me that my favorite viral TikTok or Chicago lifestyle site has yet to unearth, you ask? Well, here’s a quick sampling of the recommendations you’ll find in the pages of (A)Part:

• A former Best Buy turned beauty supply store mecca

• The urban ruins of what used to be a legal graffiti art gallery (It is now the back wall of a Target.)

• Intimate details of our very own inner-city chocolate factory (The chocolate cake in a bag recipe is included; the funny man in hat and Oompa Loompas are not.)

• A special family pizza recipe, the most Chicago-style you can get

• A Black- and queer-owned bar in Andersonville where the contributor often runs into north-siders, south-siders, west-siders, out-of-towners, and sometimes even their therapist 

• A Ukrainian eatery and pastry shop with a highly recommended (by the contributor) brunch (and special mention to the tarragon pierogi in a light dijon cream sauce) 

• More monuments, parks, and gardens than you can fit into your schedule before the weather breaks for good, and a variety of theaters, work-from-elsewhere spaces, restaurants, museums, and shops to visit once it does

• A Kenyan-Indian-Canadian-Chicagoan transplant immigrant’s guide to Chicago through their multicultural lens (This includes their mom’s goan prawn curry recipe.)

• An account of Cook County Jail—a place that, in my opinion, every Chicagoan should visit at least once (to volunteer, not by force or order of the court, hopefully)

• A flourless, eggless, sugar- and dairy-free “cookie” recipe from a Chicagoan with GI issues who reflects on his favorite meals that he’s no longer allowed to eat

• A family puff puff recipe and north-side guide to the African grocery and braiding shop, straight from the notes of a self-proclaimed Chigerian 

• Basically, everything from Norwegian open-faced sandwiches to southern red beans and rice

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