CHICAGO — In a foreword in her new book, creator and Gertie founder Abby Pucker asks readers what the city might look like if we weren’t so divided by neighborhoods and felt part of a larger, supportive ecosystem.
“(A) Part: A Recipe Guidebook to Chicago” — Pucker’s latest creative endeavor — answers the question by selecting more than 20 innovative Chicagoans to detail their perfect day across the city’s 77 community areas.
Entries submitted by a “mix of people doing amazing work” in art, hospitality, tech, education and more takes readers from the La Chaparrita in Little Village to The Empty Bottle in Ukrainian Village.
South Side artist Vic Mensa takes you out for ice cream in Hyde Park, while Monday Coffee co-founder Amanda Harth sips prosecco in Fulton Market. Mom’s Chicago founder Kelly Ijichi explores Asian markets in Avondale and artist Ricardo Gamboa enjoys a michelada in Pilsen.
Paired with each diary entry is a recipe tied to a memory of the city that “makes you feel full in your head, heart and stomach,” Pucker said. Recipes range from sukiyaki, a Japanese hot pot dish, to Nigerian puff puff, pizza and Mexican macaroni and cheese.
“(A) Part” unites people across careers, communities and recipes, and implores Chicagoans to explore the wonders and art of a city that “wears her emotions, blemishes and beauty” on her sleeve, Pucker said.
“People think they know Chicago, and then they realize there is a whole other city outside of the one that they know,” Pucker said. “That’s really what I want this book to make Chicagoans feel: humbled by all of the things they don’t know, and excited and curious to explore.”
“(A) Part” was born out of Pucker’s love for connecting creative Chicagoans across the city.
In April 2022, she hosted “Skin In The Game,” an art exhibit in Fulton Market that welcomed the likes of renowned artist Kerry James Marshall and up-and-coming Chicago names like Moises Salazar, a nonbinary Mexican-American artist. More than 700 guests attended.
“People were surprised to see all these people in the same space,” Pucker said. “That was when I got this idea of wanting to create something that puts people in contact with each other while connecting them in a way that feels tangible and understandable.
I asked myself, ‘How do we make Chicago a city that people can navigate and make the creative community feel more accessible to people?’”
Initially, the plan was to select 30 people who each represent one neighborhood and have them discuss their favorite places in that area, Pucker said. But that strategy boxed people into one community — the opposite of what she wanted, Pucker said.
She enlisted the help of Vic Wynter, a performer and producer, who helped conceptualize the book, Pucker said.
Instead of detailing what makes one neighborhood great, “(A) Part” highlights how a mix of places and neighborhoods play into making the city better as a whole, Pucker said.
Wynter also helped her add recipes to the book, Pucker said. Food unifies us.
“In a world that feels so fractured and isolated, a sense of deep community has never been more important,” Pucker said. “[The entries] and recipes are so beautiful and intimate. That’s the difference between this book and a guided listicle. These are real stories.”
The book starts on the South Side and travels north because “I think we so often privilege the North Side,” Pucker said.
Growing up in Lincoln Park, her world existed in a “half-mile radius” that was “not very diverse,” Pucker said.
Choosing to step outside of the community and attend high school at Walter Payton College Prep “opened my world,” Pucker said.
“(A) Part” will, hopefully, have the same effect on its readers, Pucker said. Chicago is “a city of cities.”
“I hope this book feels like an invitation to explore the city and explore through the eyes of people who love the city and care enough to pour their hearts and soul into their process,” Pucker said. “I hope people feel excited about the city, and it gives them a bit of structure to explore and a push to just start.”
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