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Harold's Chicken, Iron Chef, James Ward, Ron Popeil & I

Cathy2 | Mar 10, 200401:03 AM

Last Saturday was one very wonderful day.

Earlier in the week, I was alerted by RST to an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center on the Popeil television pitchman dynasty. Saturday was the opening day with a lecture by the exhibits curator. This opportunity alone got me out of bed way earlier than needed --- I was awake Friday 24 hours on 4 hours sleep. I should have been a zombie, but I wasn’t!

As I was likely to be very tired by late afternoon, I took the train into Chicago rather than drive. While on the train, I was calling several hounds to see who may be able to meet me as well as for lunch recommendations. My score: Hound: 0, Lunch Rec: 0 --- so I was going to be on my own. Especially as I had no time to collect any useful posts before I left, I just had to wing it.

My first stop in pursuit of lunch was 65 Chinese Restaurant on Madison. I was hoping at a minimum to get a barbeque bun to tide me over until something good came along. I recall when the little dynasty began in Chinatown, they were the first Chinese restaurant I encountered with lobster, crab and fish tanks. For some years, I was on their mailing list. Every time they opened a new place, I was offered a free lobster course with a meal of $X value. This mini-chain’s direction has changed considerably because this 65 was steam table Americanized Chinese of the lowest common denominator. Reading a bit of the 65 success story, I learned Jr was now running the show – too bad he didn’t have Daddy’s vision. March on.

As I approached Wells St, I saw to the north a Middle Eastern lunch spot, then something called Tokyo Lunch Box caterer. I thought I might as well walk this block north as it had many little concessions. I then spied my lunchtime destination: Harold’s Chicken! A board favorite I had always wanted to try.

When I walked into Harold’s, I was the only customer. Crew in the back kitchen shouted out to me for my order. After a quick glance of the menu board, I shouted back. “Four chicken wings fresh from the grease!” I saw a trace of a smile on the cook’s face … I remember well Ourpalwill’s ordering cadence at Lem’s. As my dinner was being packed up, the crew inquired if I wanted my sauce on the side. “What? I hear it is better when you pour it directly on the wings,” from a long ago post by Zim. My only little travesty: I asked for medium rather than the hot sauce … you know I don’t like ultra spicy foods! After I got my dinner, I sat down to encounter yet another Ourpalwill moment: using the slightly steamed fluffy white bread to soak up the sauce to eat as a first course! The lightly drenched chicken wings were just the right lunch for such a nice day. The only negative, they had no handy wipes to clean off my hands. Ah the Goddess of Serendipity shines her golden light on me.

My unpleasantly sticky hands could not wait until my destination. I detoured to Marshall Fields to the use facilities. While on the hunt for the ladies room, I spied an announcement board: “Iron Chef Amateur Competition 11 AM – Noon on the 7th Floor Today.” Quick watch check, noon – I have to at least find out what the secret ingredient may be! Delayed only momentarily to get those hands clean!

Zoomed up to the 7th floor to the Marshall Field’s Culinary Studio just as they were about to announce the winner, which was emceed by James Ward, “Chow-Chow for Now” Food Critic from WLS-TV Channel 7. Since everyone was milling around and not returning to their seat, I scouted around to learn the following:

Contestants: Randomly picked from the audience by picking a name from a fishbowl. The three contestants were a Mother, her daughter and a 3rd female. Each contestant was assigned an assistant cook from the cooking school.

Secret ingredient: Chicken

Time and mission: 1 hour to prepare a meal from the secret ingredients.

Circuses: They had several large plasma televisions and a roaming video crew, who apparently kept the audience apprised of each cook’s efforts. They had celebrity chefs on the panel of judges. Generally, there seemed to be a very happy atmosphere with lots of audience buzz.

Contestant Mother prepared: Chicken stir-fry, Chicken strawberry salad, Mexican chicken chipolte-style and Chicken wraps with chutney. (Names taken directly from contestants)

Contest Daughter prepared: Chicken-blue cheese salad, Chicken Strawberry Salad,
Chicken with asparagus, Fried apples

Contest 3rd Female prepared: Potato leek soup, grilled chicken and whipping cream layered with fresh raspberries in a parfait glass.

Winner: Mother by virtue of preparing 4 very different chicken dishes. Prizes included a Chef’s tunic signed by all the staff Chef’s from the cooking school. Private lesson with one instructor plus a series of 10 classes. Additionally, each of the celebrity chef’s offered dinners for 2 at each of their restaurants for each contestant. Probably to accommodate the Mother-Daughter situation, they advised all contestants could participate in the private lesson together.

Everyone was invited to come and sample the dishes, which frankly did not seem reasonable given there were over 100 people and a very small quantity of food. This was a first-of and from the general happy hums of the room, a very successful idea. So they promised to do this again very soon!

I did approach James Ward who was accompanied by his wife who acted as his assistant and very likely is his segment producer. I asked both of them if they followed the website. James gave me a puzzled look, but his wife lighted up with instant recognition advising, “I’m the computer expert in the family!” Mrs. Ward is obviously an ardent lurker who was thrilled to meet a genuine chowhound in the flesh. I left her my screen name, e-mail address and fluttered out of the room. ;-)

I still haven’t reached my reason to be downtown and already it is a very fulfilling day.

Isn’t That Amazing! The Appeal and Spiel of Ronco and Popeil --- Chicago Cultural Center until May 16th

The curator Tim Samuelson of the exhibit gave an hour plus presentation, which was presented pitchman style for a very lively and engaging lecture. I have to admit to having bought and still have some of the stuff on display. They also have a continuous reel of Popeil television commercials, which I want to return soon to enjoy in peace. There was even a celebrity present: Ron Popeil’s sister! At the lecture’s conclusion, Tim demonstrated a number of devices to prove: they are not only visually well designed, they even work as intended!

Everything comes in threes, my third celebrity sighting was Bruce DuMont who was conducting a garage sale at the Museum of Radio and Television Broadcasting. I listen to his political chat show on Sunday nights on WLS-AM.

Cluck, cluck, cluck what a terrific day. Just as the train pulls out of the station, a chowhound friend rings suggesting meeting up for coffee. I chuckle to myself the irony of my sleepy self having some coffee and promise another time.

Sillier still, I am home ten minutes and someone else phones. I drop into the car for a mini-food crawl: Shawerma King for small chicken shawerma, across the street to Salam for Baba Ganoush and Penguin for ice cream. And I wonder sometimes if I am burning the candle at both ends!

Chow chow for now!

Harold's Chicken Shack
39 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60606
(When I looked up the address on, they listed 40 Harold’s Chicken’s in Chicago alone)

Shawerma King
4639 N Kedzie
Chicago, IL 60625

Salam Restaurant
4636 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

The Penguin
2723 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

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