5 Years

frontera grill xoco 3rdarm holiday party baker Maria Pacheco Cotorra Peligro oropeza Ismael labra Tony fematt

This year the Bayless threw the annual Frontera holiday party at Kendall College to accommodate the newfound largeness of the Frontera family. It was significant for us because for the first time those who work at Xoco were honored with 5 year anniversary awards. Xoco itself is 5 years old: these are the ones who have been with the restaurant since day 1. Out of the five recipients, no less than 3 have parents who have worked at Frontera Grill / Topolo for many years. This year Baker’s father Jose was honored with a 25 year award. Lupita’s mother Juana was awarded her 25 year award last year. Tony’s uncle Jesse has been integral to the restaurant for more than a decade and a half. That kind of loyalty is what makes us who we are, a true family-owned and operated restaurant, starting with the Bayless themselves.

frontera grill xoco 3rdarm holiday party baker Maria Pacheco Cotorra Peligro oropeza Ismael labra

Chef Alonso made amazing Moroccan spiced meatballs of lamb. Chef Wil made the most succulent shrimp in spicy, acidic roasted tomato sauce. And yet, for me, the stars of the dinner were inedible human beings! Thank you Baker, Lupita, Tony, Maestro and Peligro for being there since day 1. You are the through line from the genesis to the present. It’s because of you that Xoco is the special place it is. 5 years in, we are only getting harder, better, faster, stronger. 5 more years! Fierro a cien!

Gentle ( ju ) Way ( do )

katy lawrence david tamarkin arthur mullen xoco frontera grill 2014 3rdarm media

Hiring in the restaurant industry is like staffing a pirate ship. If a sailor returns from West Africa, or has experience opening Balena for example, he is deemed immune to the ebola / high stress, and that experience alone gets him through the door. David, on the other hand, is a blue chip, the real deal. He’s got talent, a voice. David sees things in the world that are invisible to me, and just being around him allowed me glimpses of that under-netting. In his 18 months as media director, he simply remade the entire website and wrote a book.

katy lawrence david tamarkin arthur mullen xoco frontera grill 2014 3rdarm media

Katy and I are going to be bonded for life by knowing this guy. He was sitting at Jen’s table when Katy opened up with the unbelievable story of her life so far. Think True Romance, by Quentin Tarantino: “Clarence marries hooker Alabama, steals cocaine from her pimp, and tries to sell it in Hollywood, while the owners of the coke try to reclaim it.” That has nothing to do with Katy’s actual story, just doing my best to channel David’s trademark levity. Katy will go on to crush harder and harder, David will be sharing his voice from One World Trade Center, and I will always be their biggest fan.

The Wisdom of Insecurity Part 3

xoco frontera grill carlos alverez david tamarkin arthur mullen wilfredo bravo alfonso sotelo 3rdarm 2014

The art of living in this “predicament” is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past and the known on the other. It consists in being completely sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.

This is not a philosophical theory but an experiment. One has to make the experiment to understand that it brings into play altogether new powers of adaptation to life, of literally absorbing pain and insecurity. It is as hard to describe how this absorption works as to explain the beating of one’s heart or the formation of genes. The “open” mind does this as most of us breathe: without being able to explain it at all. The principle of the thing is clearly something like judo , the gentle ( ju ) way ( do ) of mastering an opposing force by giving in to it.

xoco frontera grill carlos alverez david tamarkin arthur mullen wilfredo bravo alfonso sotelo 3rdarm 2014

The natural world gives us many examples of the great effectiveness of this way. The Chinese philosophy of which judo itself is an expression— Taoism— drew attention to the power of water to overcome all obstacles by its gentleness and pliability. It showed how the supple willow survives the tough pine in a snowstorm, for whereas the unyielding branches of the pine accumulate snow until they crack, the springy boughs of the willow bend under its weight, drop the snow, and jump back again.

-Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, Chapter VI, The Marvelous Moment

Effie Esther

etta kostick effie kostick glass jewelry 3rdarm renegade chicago craft holiday roly poly cat

One of the sweetest sisters the world has known, Effie Esther, flew out from Colorado to help Etta at the 2 day Renegade Craft Show. They woke up super early to get set up at the Bridgeport Art Center, while I slept and then headed to work myself.

etta kostick effie kostick glass jewelry 3rdarm renegade chicago craft holiday roly poly cat

On Sunday, I rode my bike down to 35th street and met them at the show. Etta and Effie did a great job and had a big success. To celebrate, we went to Maude’s for salmon tartar, boneless ribeye, and moody instrumental guitar.

Renegade Cat

etta kostick jewelry renegade chicago 3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat in suitcase

Etta was very upset when she learned that Dose Market dropped her from their holiday show due to a change in venue: she had been banking on the exposure for her jewelry.

etta kostick jewelry renegade chicago 3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat in suitcase

A few days later, her luck changed: the woman who organizes Dose got Etta in to the Renegade craft show: now the rush was on to be ready to sell!

Don Pablo

xoco chicago arthur mullen vanessa castillo don pablo garcia oliver camacho kyle fontaine frontera grill topolobampo december 2014 3rdarm manager

Chef Wil had to join a group from XWP and Frontera Foods for a special event on Saturday. This effectively put me in charge of the kitchen. Once I shoved Chef Alonso out the door, I put Shakira-only on the sound system. For the rest of the night we named the restaurant Xakira.

xoco chicago arthur mullen vanessa castillo don pablo garcia oliver camacho kyle fontaine frontera grill topolobampo december 2014 3rdarm manager

Jen and Katy momentarily took over the chefs’ linen ordering: they made part of my basement storage less cluttered by throwing away a bunch of unused chefs’ coats. Unfortunately, some of the dishwashers had been using those chefs coats, which lead to Don Pablo in a Xoco teeshirt.

Gluten Free Thanksgiving

thanksgiving frontera grill chef jim ortiz gluten free

On Thanksgiving day, I headed to work even though all 3 restaurants were closed. We had a private party, a gluten free surprise wedding. The guests thought they were going to a Thanksgiving feast / rehearsal dinner and had no idea the rabbi would be on hand. To accommodate severe allergies, kitchen made all the food with no gluten, onions or garlic. I took care of the children’s table, where there were additional deathly allergies to shellfish, sesame, peanuts, and tree nuts.

thanksgiving frontera grill chef jim ortiz gluten free

Chef Jim made sure everyone the staff was well fed, and I got to bring home a couple plates for Etta and me that night. We had spaghetti squash with brussel sprouts and chorizo, mashed potatoes, spicy chile cranberry sauce (the best I’ve ever had) as well as vegetables in green peanut mole. Instead of turkey, I had a single slice of pork. For dessert, pastry chef Adriana made a gigantic delicious strudel.

Day of Gluttony

nayeli garcia xoco chicago day of gluttony tv show 24 hours 3rdarm

On the day before Thanksgiving, a new TV show we had shot back in October was released on the web. Titled, Day of Gluttony, the hosts visit 24 restaurants in 24 hours and eat everything they are served. Nayeli represented beautifully for Xoco!

blueberry pancake apple sauce whipped cream

That morning I got one last treat from Marcia: a pancake for breakfast. Although I usually only use butter, when Marcia asked if I wanted whipped cream and apple sauce, I said, “Absolutely.”

Marcia, Etta, Roly Poly (and Me)

marcia mello etta kostick roly poly cat maine coon cat 3rdarm arthur mullen chicago

It’s great to see how close Etta and her family are.

marcia mello etta kostick roly poly cat maine coon cat 3rdarm arthur mullen chicago

Marcia left Chicago to go to Colorado to visit Effie and Gordon.

marcia mello etta kostick roly poly cat maine coon cat 3rdarm arthur mullen chicago

She brings them our love (not our cat!)

I’ll Be Resting When The Roll Is Called

marcia mello etta kostick jewelry roly poly cat arthur mullen 3rdarm

The night before Marcia flew to Colorado, Roly Poly got his last rubs…

marcia mello etta kostick jewelry roly poly cat arthur mullen 3rdarm

…and the three of us all had one last eclair.

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