The Imperfect Digest

Educating and connecting our community.

Cooking Ugly With Chef Tom Carlin of Dove's Luncheonette

Cooking Ugly With Chef Tom Carlin of Dove's Luncheonette

 Sweet corn tamal with country ham, spring vegetables, queso fresco and Imperfect onions

Sweet corn tamal with country ham, spring vegetables, queso fresco and Imperfect onions

Dove's Luncheonette is somewhat of a Chicago institution. Grab a seat at the counter morning, noon, and night and you can enjoy Chef Tom Carlin's menu of Southern-inspired Mexican cuisine while surrounded by the sounds of 60's and 70's Chicago soul and blues. Imperfect provides the onions that Dove's uses in nearly all of their dishes. We're so excited to be partnering with Dove's so we jumped at the chance to sit down with Tom to hear about how he thinks about waste in his kitchen. 

What about Imperfect resonates with you as a chef?

TC: "Food waste is a huge problem. Chicago has a huge problem with food deserts on the South Side and the West Side. Our owner, Paul Kahan, started a nonprofit called Pilot Light with a few other chefs in the city that focuses on education and trying to teach people in different communities how to cook. In a city with a huge food desert and terrible conditions, it's ridiculous that we’re also wasting large amounts of food. Not to mention the ecological impact. It’s something I’m personally passionate about, which is why we jumped on board with Imperfect."

How do you think about the appearance of fruits and veggies as a chef?

TC: "There’s a fine line between usable and not usable. You can use things that are a little dented or bruised. You can cut it, it’s okay. People eat with their eyes and will always grab the prettiest thing. We pick out the stuff we want the most, we don’t pick out the funniest fruits and vegetables, but can and should still use them! You use it in different ways, so you don’t serve the whole apple, but you cut it up and roast it and put it in oatmeal like we do here at Dove's. How it comes in the door doesn’t affect that much."

How do you think about waste in your kitchen and what do you do to avoid it?

TC: "We try to cross-utilize everything and use items several times. One of our best sellers is a posole, a pork broth. We braise the carnitas and we save that fat and use it for different things. Tonight I’m making a spicy kettle corn for an event with posole fat, sugar, and popcorn. We focus on cross-utilizing and trying not to throw away. Product utilization is so important. My background is in butchery so I worked closely with local farmers who raised these animals. It gives you a big appreciation for the animal. I don’t throw away anything, I don’t let it go bad. If I have to use it for staff meal I'll do that -- I make something. Same with vegetables. Somebody grew that, there are hands that helped make that. There’s no reason to let it rot or not use it because it doesn’t look perfect."

 What's one of your go-to tricks or recipes to use up leftovers?

TC: "Our Country Ham Tamale (pictured above) is made with traditional masa filled with country ham from Broadbent down in Kentucky. We get the ends and pieces from them, which they sell as stew meat. For the filling, we mix that with the trim from our carnitas that we use for the posole. The braise is made of onions and garlic, which goes into the masa. Then we slice country ham slices on top and add spring vegetables on top: Imperfect onions, ramps, all that good stuff."

What are other ways that Dove’s practices sustainability? Is it important to your customers and diners?

TC: "We use only paper straws for our drinks so they don’t ruin the environment. We try and limit our footprint as much as we can. We source from local farms, which is not only better product but it cuts down on our footprint. Restaurants are a big suck on the environment and it’s terrible how bad they can be. At Dove’s, we do a good job of not wasting and making informed choices."

We hope you enjoyed learning about Dove's Luncheonette from Chef Tom Carlin. Be sure to check them out in Chicago or follow along with them @doveschicago!

 Chef Tom Carlin adding Imperfect onions to the tamal!

Chef Tom Carlin adding Imperfect onions to the tamal!

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