Tuesday Night Evening | November 27 | Location: Ven Sherrod Studios located at 1906 ½ S. Halsted St.| 8-11 pm | Tickets | Space limited to first 50 people who buy tickets | Music: No Goodbye | Artist: Greta White

Communal dining is not for everyone. Bumping elbows with complete strangers can seem like a turnoff when considering places to go out to eat in Chicago. I tend to agree, at least at over-hyped restaurants where “community” is a focal point, yet, where the bill is usually not communal. However, the idea is pure at heart, and there is a place where one can mingle with new friends and not worry about the pocketbook. A place where community is less of a forced ideal and more of an actual family. Think roaming community center, not Portlandia skit. This place is called Tuesday Night Dinner, and it has yet to see a plateau.

Unconventional culinary success stories such as Illana Reagan’s Elizabeth provide a soulful backdrop for other community-based, food-forward outfits to thrive throughout Chicago. Tuesday Night Dinner, spearheaded by Jeremy Levine, co-founder and all-around culinary steward, has put in work for the past few years. He and his crew (which I have the honor of having experienced firsthand) put forth an honest program of both consciously crafted small plates of food, as well as a thought-out beverage counterpart. Paired with a revolving door of host venues which have included ShoP in Hyde Park, BANG BANG Pie Shop in Logan Square and Hearty restaurant in Lakeview, just to name a few. The TND aesthetic knows no bounds.

Through our mutual connections and history, I took hold of an opportunity to ask a few questions and get a few answers. Tuesday Night Dinner is on the rise, so get familiar with the man and his work in a neighborhood near you sooner than later.

Chicago is a hyper-competitive food scene. How do you fit in there?

I guess in some ways you could say I’m an anomaly. I haven’t taken the conventional route. I guess I’ve always just followed what felt right, whether that be cooking large parties or small intimate groups. The idea of community and a deep appreciation for the ingredients and history have always guided me.

You mentioned ingredients. Got a favorite one?

Recently I’ve been testing out new techniques using Russian boar. We get it from a farm that pasture raises them in southern Minnesota. They are all free range and allowed to forage in the woodlands for 6-8 months a year. They have a deep pork flavor. They are prehistoric pork, the porcine ancestor to all domestic pig breeds.

This opens up a larger discussion about place or terroir. How do you interpret this?

Terroir is everything to me. I think it goes beyond the food. Our environment shapes so much of our influence. We are our place and time, whether we want to admit it or not. I think as a nation we have given up on the idea that food will taste better if you are a steward to the land, someone who manages and cares for the natural world. I hope to be that.

This is Chicago. How does our city effect what you put on the plate?

Chicago influences my cooking, for certain. Like I said before, all our experiences influence our cooking, both on a conscious and a subconscious level. Chicago has an endless amount of influences and sense-driven experiences. Sometimes these endless possibilities make focus and clarity difficult, but they certainly help out-of-the-box and creative expression.

Going from neighborhood to neighborhood can feel like going to different countries.  Where do you go when looking for something wholly not Midwestern?

I like going out to eat on the far north side. Albany Park and Uptown. These areas have some of the newest immigrants in Chicago, and their food styles seem to be least affected by “Americanization.” You can get everything from Northern Pakistani BBQ to Vietnamese and western African. It’s a whirlwind of flavors up there.

Is there a philosophical approach to what you do?

Having a philosophy implies that you have to some great conclusion, some answer. But cooking is just the opposite; it’s about questions and discovery. So my only philosophy would be to continue questioning things, seek out new ideas and avenues of perspective. That being said, I believe that in this day and age, you have to have a point of view, a story you are trying to convey with your food. For me it’s the story of American food; does it exist? These are the ideas I try to explore, seeking our the hidden niches of regional grandmother cuisine of the American Midlands: the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, the Ozark and Appalachian mountains, the Mississippi River and its delta. With my food I am attempting to express the collective experience of “home cooking,” the deep connection with the natural world around us and the celebration of abundance and diversity in the food sources of the American
Midlands.

TND has been around for a few years. Anything you’d like to set the record straight on?

I guess if there is a misconception about TND, it is that there is some idea of exclusivity about it. People hear the phrase “underground supper club,” and they assume it’s some super exclusive party. In actuality, we promote the idea of communal-minded cooking and eating, enjoying each other’s company and uniqueness as a driving factor behind the TND events.

Where do you see this going? Is there an endgame for you?

I would like to continue exploring this idea of Midland cuisine, finding lost culinary traditions and re-interpreting them through a modern urban lens. It’s kind of like Americana on acid. Historical leanings with a fresh and fearless perspective. I would like to have a home base someday, a place where I can focus on the food.

Lastly, any chef crushes you have out there, ones that you’re willing to air out?

I guess my biggest chef crush would be David Chang at Momofuku in New York. I mean who wouldn’t want to party in Hong Kong with James Murphy and Aziz Ansari on any given weekend?

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