Living and working in the greater Chicagoland area for the overwhelming majority of my life has gratefully presented never-ending opportunities to explore an amazingly diverse food culture. Chicago is home to some of the largest food companies in the world—on the supply side and in finished CPG development (Kraft Heinz, Mondelēz, Sara Lee, etc.). We’re a hub of industry innovation, including snack production and large-scale commercial baking.
Chicago restaurant culture has also seen considerable maturation over the past two to three decades. Chicago is now one of the best restaurant cities in the world (that has not always been the case…). Chefs like Charlie Trotter, Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless, Tony Mantuano, Paul Kahan, and so many more have long since put Chicago on the global map.
Beyond the now-lively fine dining scene, my hometown is central to the story of so many iconic everyday foods, serving some of the best Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs, and pizza anywhere in the world. Get more granular, and you find a culture of food embedded in our diverse neighborhoods, where cuisine never stops evolving, with a wealth of Latin American, Asian, African, Greek, and other embedded flavors of Chicago emanating from everyday restaurants. That’s where you find amazing tortas, empanadas, phở, bánh mì, and so much more.
So while I will never take Chicago for granted, travel—which is a central aspect of my work—presents opportunities for edible exploration. During the worst of the now-receding pandemic, travel completely shut down. More than ever, we traveled through our food.
Companies across the Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery audience regularly send me samples of new lines. Pringles is always game for flavor trips, and its new Scorchin’ x Hot Ones lineup takes a journey to Mexico through use of three flavors directly inspired by hot sauces: Los Calientes Verde, Los Calientes Rojo, and The Classic Hot Sauce. Hot sauce flavors bring a bit of vinegary tang to complement the spice. Spicy is still trending, and these potato crisps deliver.
If you’re looking to temper that heat, fat-based foods are the answer (I’ve sent many chilehead acolytes to the fridge for a glass of milk when they have bitten off more than they can chew…). But there’s more than milk to tame that fire. The National Peanut Board has been recently promoting this fact—and that peanut butter can serve as a “nutty neutralizer” for spicy salvation, either as an intentional strategy or in the throes of a spice emergency.
Not every trip is so obvious. But if you look close enough, you’ll realize that we always travel through our food. Every product has a story, even if it’s one that’s so familiar to us by now that it has become our own.