It pleases David Castillo, baker/sous chef at White Oak Tavern & Inn, Chicago, to work the
way his Mexican ancestors did. “As I always tell people, I’m doing in modern times the same thing
someone was doing 200 years ago,” he says. “I’m making something that has been perfected over
time and connecting to a lineage of artisan bakers.” He adds dried fruits and maple butter to his
whole-wheat rye in winter, cooking locally and seasonally like his ancestors. His focaccia with
onion, creme fraiche and dill changes with the seasons, blooming with ramps, ’nduja, yogurt and
last season’s pickled tomatoes.
“The more technology is available, the less you remember how to do things with your hands.
There is something about working with your hands. It soothes and relaxes you.”
new gatherer cuisine
Going forward by going backward also resonates with Iliana Regan, chef/owner of Chicago’s
Elizabeth Restaurant. “I think it is important to draw from our ancestry, and there is so much
undiscovered or that needs rediscovering,” she says. “All the new around us pushes us forward.”
Regan has no problem integrating the old and the new. She loves the forest. She also loves the
city. A farm girl known for the high aesthetics and beauty of her cooking, she calls her food “new
gatherer cuisine.” She picks mushrooms and pine needles in the forest, just like her ancestors did.
“As there were once gatherers, we are doing it again, gathering from local farmers, fields and forests,”
she says. Plant life inspires her. She brings the woods and the garden “right to my restaurant, because
that’s a part of me.”
As psychologists have noted, being connected to nature promotes mental health. “I think the
garden and woods are therapeutic for me. I love being in nature, and it must be some sort of past-
life thing,” Regan says. Connecting to past lives, to a heritage of people who have come before
you, is one way of keeping your ancestors alive and of feeling connected to the fabric of time.
Now that her restaurant is successful, Regan is elaborating on earlier steps in her career, going
forward by going backward in intriguing new ways. Early on, she did One Sister, a pop-up. Her
new venture, Wunder Pop, allows other chefs to do pop-up concepts in a stable space with a sous
chef on-site to offer support. And by going back even further in her career, Regan’s other new
concept—Bunny the Micro Bakery that sells, among other things, pierogi—reflects the early days
when Regan sold beet pierogi at green markets.
Only time can tell if moving forward by going backward is a tsunami in the making or merely
a rising tide destined to abate. Or maybe it’s just pockets of focused interest. Meanwhile, chefs
continue to investigate the benefits of continuity, history, community and simplicity along with
promises of well-being and health, moving forward by going backward in changing times.
nature vs. technology
People once confined to wheelchairs
now walk again, thanks to
exoskeletons--miracles of technology.
Human genetic engineering and
genetic therapy might someday extend
our lives, some futurists predict.
Embedded technologies to enhance
our mental and physical abilities could
become part of our biology. And human
fingers may even evolve into tentacles
to facilitate texting, according to one
It is part of America’s DNA to want to
move forward and grow upward and
outward. Once, the frontier allowed
us to expand into wide-open spaces.
Today, technology, outer space and the
cosmos are our new frontiers.
Still, how much we should embrace
technology can baffle us. Kevin Kelly,
founding executive editor of Wired and
a former editor/publisher of the Whole
Earth Review, said during his 2005
TED talk, “Should I be pro-technology?
Should I embrace it full arms? Should
I be wary? Like you, I’m tempted by
the latest thing.” Then again, Kelly
said that at one point he gave up his
possessions and sold all his technology,
keeping only a bicycle on which he rode
3,000 miles on U.S. backroads.
The late Theodore Roszak, professor
emeritus of history, California State
University, East Bay, Hayward,
California, felt that humans are defined
not solely in relationship to their
social, family and personal contexts,
but also in terms of their relation to
nature. He also suggests that lacking
this connection with nature, urban
society is out of balance, veering
toward madness. Meanwhile, in High
Tech High Touch: Technology and Our
Search for Meaning (Broadway, 1999),
social prognosticator John Naisbitt
advocates “embracing technology that
preserves our humanness and rejecting
technology that intrudes upon it.”
In other words, figuring out how to retain
our humanity could be a full-time job.