Meet and Eat: Carol Hilker
Editor's Note: Carol is not afraid to travel to get the story. For the past few months, she's been all over Chicago to interview food truck entrepreneurs for her biweekly column, We Chat With. Her posts manage to showcase the drive and determination of those in the food industry, while always digging up some delicious new food finds along the way. But now it's time to hear her story. Take it away, Carol!
Guilty pleasures? The cheddar burger at Murphey's in Lakeview is one. Actually, any cheddar burger with cheese that can be pumped from a vat is good. I also like White Castle (Jalapeño Cheeseburgers with extra pickles, cheese sticks, and a vanilla milkshake), Aurelio's Pizza, and vanilla soft-serve cones covered in the chocolate coating that hardens. I also love hot dogs almost more than I love some of my friends; and I smother every Chicago-style hot dog I eat with ketchup. Proudly.
Describe your perfect meal. Last fall, a dinner I had at Boka that encompassed everything I love. The highlights of that meal were a perfect pork belly, a salmon that tasted like it had mated with a chicken, an apple soup, and horchata ice cream served with the best chocolate cake. Great service, amazing drinks, and unbelievable courses and desserts. It's one of my favorite restaurants. Carl Shelton and his staff are completely perfect with their execution, and every meal I have ever eaten at Boka has been unbelievable.
What food won't you eat? I will never, EVER, snap into a Slim Jim. I would also never knowingly eat cat or dog...or turtle...or any house-pet turned into a burrito or soup for that matter. Truthfully, I would have been down with turtle up until three years ago when I met Knuckles, the penis-less tortoise whose best friend was a Costa Rican dog named Bigote (Bigote would try to play with Knuckles by stealing his lettuce and taunting the turtle with it in his mouth). Unfortunately, Knuckles passed away this year. I honor his legacy by not eating his relatives.
Favorite food person(s)? Thomas Keller is my very favorite. I also have a soft spot for Grant Achatz. I think anyone who has ever fought for their very existence sees life differentially then others. That has transpired to Achatz's cooking. Everything he makes is so full of life.
When did you first realize you were a serious eater? My dad was 54 when I was born. Essentially I was raised by an old man who hated to cook. The only homemade meals in my household were Jiffy blueberry muffins, scrambled eggs always cooked on high, or my dads old WWII staple from his mess hall days, chipped beef. For the most part, we went out to dinner almost every night of my life up until I was old enough to drive.
What do your family and friends think of your food obsessions? I am one of those people who likes to post pictures of what I am eating or what I have just made on Facebook, and I imagine that my friends probably think I am lame. My family, however, has always been supportive. My Grandpa Budge owned a hot dog cart in Chicago for a few years in the early fifties (up until the city shut him down with new licensing regulations, etc. etc.). With that hot dog cart/stand, he supported a family with four kids and owned a home in Roseland. I think it's a shame that the city still can't get this together almost sixty years later. It means a lot to me that I get to profile the food trucks on our streets because of my grandfather.
Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? Besides the Serious Eats blogs, my friend Jose Colin is definitely one of my main go-tos. He is a talented chef, one of the best in the city, frankly, and he always steers me in the direction of what is opening, and what is worth checking out. My friend Joe Bucci is also wonderful with recommendations. Joe is a vendor for Midwest Imports, so he slings chocolate and fine foods to some of the best restaurants in the city. He always knows what is good, who is making it, and where to find it.
What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it? Dinner. I live for potlucks, and if I can get my friends to share a dish and hang out, I can't really think of anything better in the whole world.
Do you ever cook? What's the best dish you make? Besides homemade marshmallows and pies, the best "dish" I make is a pear galette. When I worked as a pastry assistant in the Bay area, we once had a never ending pear galette on the menu. Eventually, it transitioned from fall into a pear turnover for winter. Same pate brisee crust, same recipe to cook down the filling. I swear I made like 100 pear-somethings a day for half a year. I'd core, cut, cook, and fill them. Then every morning, I would egg wash and bake them off. I am a pro at the galette, but I am also pretty convinced that if I go to hell one day, my eternity will be spent making pear galettes. That or running a never-ending three-legged race with David Hasslhoff.