a smiling man with tattoos in a restaurant, with another person on either side
Ethan Lim of Hermosa. Credit: Ben Vogel

There’s no restaurant opening in 2023 more desperately anticipated than Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto’s transformation of his brother’s venerable but grotty River North beef joint into a fine dining destina—uhhh, wait. No.

I’m thinking of season two of The Bear, the fictionalized heart-attack-on-a-plate that might be the most harrowing depiction of life on the line ever committed to the small screen. Shooting starts next month in advance of a ten-episode return to Hulu in early summer, according to the trades.

Little noticed amid the deafening buzz is the forthcoming release of the documentary antidote to Jeremy Allen White’s dreamy kitchen dysfunction: Cambodian Futures, a 17-minute short film focused on a real-life restaurant—the beloved, ever-evolving Hermosa. Shepherded these past eight years by Ethan Lim, who took it from a neighborhood sandwich shop to one of the hottest tables in town, the chef serves a visionary expression of Khmer food, a cuisine whose development skipped a generation due to war and genocide.

Lim, the most chill chef you’ll ever meet, soothingly narrates his own sometimes gutting journey, beginning in a Thai refugee camp and leaving off at last year’s Jean Banchet Awards (where, spoiler, he won Rising Chef of the Year). Directed by Dustin Nakao-Haider (Shot in the Dark), it’s one episode in the second season of Firelight Media/American Masters’ In the Making series, focusing on emerging BIPOC artists. Lim’s the only chef to be profiled. There’s no official release date yet, but Nakao-Haider reports it’ll likely appear on PBS sometime in March.

I can’t predict whether the Chicago food world’s onscreen profile this year will match 2022 (which included the Trotter doc, and arguably, The Menu, and season three of South Side), but that’s a good start.

There’s a clearer picture for food writers.

Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir Iliana Regan (Agate, January 24): This is the former Elizabeth chef’s second tell-all after 2019’s Burn the Place. Since then, she left the kitchen and earned an MFA in writing from the Art Institute while running the remote Milkweed Inn in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. During the pandemic, Regan’s lengthy family history of mushroom hunting followed her and her wife north, along with the anxieties of a fretful father. Remoteness doesn’t mean idleness, as she recounts fraught trips over dirt roads to the truck stop for broasted chicken, baby-making efforts, and an alcoholic relapse. Regan may have left the mental hazards of restaurant life behind, but she’s found plenty to worry about in the woods.

The Bloomsbury Handbook of Indian Cuisine, edited by Colleen Taylor Sen, Sourish Bhattacharyya, and Helen Saberi (Bloomsbury Academic, February 23): I’m probably more excited for this massive 436-page ($157.50) tome than any other in recent memory. Comprehensively capturing the breadth of subcontinental cuisine seems like an impossible Borgesian labor, but Chicago culinary historian Sen—with seven related titles already to her name—along with two co-editors and 27 writers have made a convincing go at it. You could easily spend weeks bouncing among 236 entries, from Sanskrit scholar and food chemist K.T. Achaya to the kokum fruit, and the black, sticky condiment it produces; from the slow-stewed Muslim beef dish nihari to the galaxy of yams and their infinite purposes.

Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites, Monica Eng, David Hammond (3 Fields Books, March 21): Via the Tribune and WBEZ, current Axios reporter Eng has been documenting the dimmer corners of the Chicago food scene longer than just about anyone. With Newcity’s Hammond, they’ve assembled a taxonomic guidebook to the city’s lesser-known endemic eats. With obligatory chapters on familiar signatures like hot dogs and deep dish, its real value lies in the stories behind less celebrated working-class originals like the Japanese-American rice and gravy burger plate akutagawa; sweet sticky Chinese-Korean gampongi lollipop wings; and the city’s other beef on a bun: the sweet steak sandwich.

Pulp: A Practical Guide to Cooking with Fruit, Abra Berens (Chronicle Books, April 4): If two years go by without a sprawling single-subject cookbook from former Chicago chef Berens, did they really happen? Along with 2019’s vegetable-forward Ruffage and 2021’s grain-based Grist, this fruit- and (somewhat) baking-centered book makes a nice boxed set, even if it is just concerned with varieties that can be found in the midwest. (What, no pawpaws?) Still, from her Three Oaks farm kitchen she manages to conjure up Michigan exotica like marigold syrup, ground cherry floats, and rosé-poached apricots with earl grey semifreddo.

Midwest Pie: Recipes that shaped a region, edited by Meredith Pangrace (Belt Publishing, May 9): On the heels of 2021’s Rust Belt Vegan Kitchen, Belt’s creative director tackles a more ubiquitous and crowd-pleasing subject, with recipes spanning “old classic” pies such as funeral and sawdust; regional originals like the Nation of Islam’s bean pie and Indiana’s sugar cream Hoosier pie; “desperation pies” that relied on pantry staples when times were tough (chess, shoofly, mock apple); midwestern produce pies (persimmon chiffon); and retro relics (cottage cheese, chocolate rum).