Urban Epicure

August 1, 2006
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Urban Epicure
By Maria Pilar Clark
Chicago now has its own inimitable take on the culinary world courtesy of Fox & Obel, a gourmet market, café and catering company offering the finest in foodstuff and sundries that make for an indulgent dining experience.

Fox & Obel Market, Café and Catering is a unique Chicago-based premiere gourmet market offering a decadent feast for the senses. Touting various departments, including a Bakery; Butcher and Seafood Shop; Cheese Shop and Produce; World Grocery; Wine and Spirits; Charcuterie and Smoked Fish; Gourmet-to-Go and Floral, Fox & Obel offers a European-style eating and shopping experience for epicureans and connoisseurs of all ages.
“Like a symphony, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole,”says the company. “Picture the great chefs of Europe starting their day at an Old World market in Paris, Milan or Lisbon. Now picture the storied markets of New York or San Francisco. The inspiration for Fox & Obel Market begins but does not end there.”
Fox & Obel opened its doors on Aug. 30, 2001, creating what it calls Chicago’s first world-class food market and realizing the combined vision of company founders Ken Obel, Ari Fox and Gary and Meme Hopmayer. Through Fox & Obel, they impart their passion for first-rate products, creating company hallmarks such as locally grown organic produce; prime, dry-aged beef; fresh-baked artisan bread and pastries; seafood that’s plucked-from-the-ocean fresh; fine cheeses; boutique wines and a gourmet-to-go section that rivals the cooking found in any fine dining establishment.
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine engaged in some in-depth trend talk — and hearty eating — with Fox & Obel’s catering chef, Suzanne Edwards, who divulged what indulgent dining truly is all about. After all, the company’s motto is definitely not for naught: “If you live for food, your life is not complete until Fox & Obel Market becomes part of it.”
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery: In your opinion, how has foodservice changed in the past few years?
Suzanne Edwards: I believe that foodservice has changed significantly in the last few years with the advent of new educational and entertaining food-related programs. Americans have been bombarded by chefs who wouldn’t otherwise have much exposure, other than within their own social bracket, which leads to another path of how foodservice has changed in recent years.
As chefs today work closely with farmers and vendors, we are finding that our resources are impacted easily by the relationship with the environment. Many stores and restaurants are including organic quality foods as a commitment to agriculture [and are employing] methods of usage and materials, which eliminate the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers, thus creating a sustainable environment. Furthermore, with the availability of local ingredients provided by our farmers and vendors, the public seems to support this relationship.
SF&WB: What is your perception of foodservice? Is it a stagnant or exciting segment?
Edwards: I don’t think that foodservice is boring on any scale. Personally, I love this business, so it is natural that I think of foodservice as a commitment first to oneself. There are so many countless hours one puts in to establish goals, meet deadlines and to serve [consumers] with creative input with regard to developing menus and costs. Also, there are quite a number of outlets, from being a chef to a food stylist. 
So, as I often say, “There is a home for everyone.”
SF&WB: Do you think that indulgent foods go beyond sweet or fancy? Can they be selections that one simply enjoys, such as French fries or Oreo cookies?
Edwards: Indulgent foods definitely go beyond something that is either sweet or fancy. I feel that tastes define character. Many countries such as Asia don’t recognize desserts in the same way other countries do, and even so, countries such as France consider a nice cheese at the end of their course to finish the meal an indulgence.
Here in the USA, we consider desserts as being a “sinful path to choose,” simply because desserts can be sinful when eaten too much at a time. Moreover, foods that are indulgent tend to be comfort foods, foods that we look to when we are experiencing an array of emotions.
Another example that I am seeing with regard to indulgent foods are gift baskets that can either be made by a store or at the request of their client and vary in items such as organic olive oils, premium crackers and other non-perishable goods.
SF&WB: What trends have you noticed in terms of indulgent flavors in desserts, bakery foods and snacks?
Edwards: There are many trends that I have noticed in terms of indulgent desserts ... I believe that many people today enjoy indulgent snacks in “mini forms” such as mini burgers or sandwiches, and mini pastries. If food is somehow served in smaller portions, we tend to feel less guilty about our choices.
Chocolate fondues are also becoming more and more popular among everyday consumers. We have many requests for chocolate fountains at catered events. If you go to a department store such as [Marshall] Field’s, you will see that there are now mini chocolate fountains available for the consumer, which is a great way to taste something decadent but simple. I also believe that meals are being replaced by healthier snacks such as nutrition bars, yogurts, rice cakes, water with vitamins and other juices that contain vitamins, as well. 
SF&WB: What do you personally consider an indulgent ingredient?
Edwards: I would consider raw fish such as sushi as an indulgent ingredient, though it is widely available in just about any market. It shows that we as Americans are evolving [in our] tastes for ethnic foods. Curries and other ethnic foods also are becoming more popular in our [Fox & Obel] Market. People are purchasing more curry packaged foods and wasabi peas, for instance. I would say that this has a definite correlation with the rise of discretionary income.
White truffles at their peak are definitely an indulgent ingredient for me. They are available only at a certain time of year, and are highly perishable and costly, but worth the flavor. Pairing white truffles with some fresh ribbon pasta and just a bit of heavy cream and shaved pecorino Romano cheese, just to keep the pasta moist enough to melt in your mouth, is something that everyone must try at least once in their life.
I would also consider caramel made with something as simple as heavy cream and brown butter an indulgent ingredient. Caramel has the flexibility of being paired with just about anything such as ice cream, apples and even bananas.
SF&WB: What is your favorite baked, sweet or savory indulgence?
Edwards: My favorite indulgence is bananas or fresh pasta. First of all, I love bananas. They are available all year round, so one does not have to wait until the next season in order to maximize their potential flavor. Unfortunately, many consumers today simply won’t pick up a banana just because of blemishes on the outer skin, which we all know (chefs and knowledgeable consumers) that if it’s blemished on the outside, it just means that the banana is ripe and thus sweeter to eat.
As for pasta, I like anything that is made with the loving hands of a chef or cook. Enjoying the textures of anything that can simply compliment pasta with its absorbent quality can only be good.
Editor’s Note: Fox & Obel is open 364 days a year — closed Dec. 25 — and boasts a sumptuous array of gourmet products. Visit www.fox-obel.com for more detailed information.
Gary Poppins Goads Garrett’s Popcorn
Chicago tourists have much to see in the Windy City: the Sears Tower, Navy Pier, Wrigley Field. And as they walk up and down the Magnificent Mile that is Michigan Avenue, shoppers often stop (and wait in a long line) at a local favorite: Garrett’s Popcorn. Garrett’s has been in business since 1949, and its Chicago Mix of cheese and caramel is the popcorn of choice for native Chicagoans … and visitors.
Now, a new Chicago-area popcorn provider is challenging the Garrett’s tradition with its own innovations. Evanston, Ill.-based Gary Poppins currently has one storefront and is available in 100 specialty stores nationwide. Chicago hotels such as the W and the Park Hyatt also carry the Gary Poppins product. The company soon will have distribution in Paris, too.
But company president Gary Poppins isn’t stopping there. Next on his expansion list is a shop right on Michigan Avenue.
“A lot of people come to my store and ask, ‘Are you like that popcorn downtown?’” Poppins says. “I say, ‘Check it out. You tell me.’”
The gourmet popcorn purveyor sells made-fresh, hand-packed flavors such as French Vanilla Coffee (“That’s right. Coffee popcorn.”), Pumpkin Spice (“It’s scary good.”), Chocolate Marshmallow (“Campfires just got a whole lot easier.”) and White Chocolate Oreo Mint (“It’s heaven in a tin.”).
“I can come up with anything,” Poppins says. The store even sells its own three-way mix of caramel, cheese and kettle corn.
“People are willing to shell out $3-$5 for a cup of coffee, and I feel it’s the same way with popcorn,” Poppins says of his premium-priced product.
Move over Garrett’s. Gary Poppins is primed for a takeover.

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