I often take a drive to Graue Mill (as it is about 15 minutes from my home), to walk the picturesque trail along Salt Creek, eat a picnic lunch in the shaded grove and take advantage of the many photographic opportunities at this beautiful and historic location.
But this day was different, I was going to Graue Mill to learn about edible history at the Cooking with Cast Iron demonstration given by Chef Ian Rittof.
A more perfect an autumn day could not have been imagined. The sky was a brilliant sapphire blue that made the brilliance of the orange, yellow and red foliage pop and provided beautiful dappled sunlight areas to sit and watch chef at work. As I walked up the path over the Salt Creek to the Mill, the soft autumn air was redolent with wood smoke and spicy-sweet aromas.
As I rounded the corner of the Mill house, I saw an outdoor kitchen set in the small clearing not far from the entrance to the mill house and museum.
A huge black pot filled with green liquid bubbled on a tri-pod stand over a fragrant wood fire. I found the source of the delicious and heady aromas and was anxious to taste what was being prepared.
Chef Ian was simultaneously serving a fresh from the cast iron pot corn bread, stirring his soup and tasting it to adjust the seasonings and fielding questions from the audience that eagerly were sampling the warm cornbread.
He explained that the cornbread recipe he used for this demonstration was a simple one-to-one-to-one ratio; one part cornmeal, one part all purpose flour and one part water. Many cornbread recipes that I have baked call for milk or buttermilk as the liquid ingredient. But in this rustic setting and as a demonstration of the recreation of cooking of 100 years past, it made perfect sense to use water given the lack of any on site refrigeration.
Prior to adding the batter to the cast iron pot, (for the purpose of expedience, I imagine) he sprayed the pot well with a non-stick cooking spray.
(I also imagine that those that prepared a similar cornbread in that past century may have used some sort on animal fat that was available to them.)
Rich golden batter was ladled into a heavy black kettle, placed on a bed of white hot coals, the heavy lid was placed firmly on the pot and more coals were layer over the lid.
I asked Chef Ian what the cooking time would be for the bread in this method of open hearth baking and he state that it took about 20 – 30 minutes to achieve a crusty golden cornbread. According to the recipes that I have that is close to 425 degrees F in a conventional oven.
Is it soup yet…?
red and green sweet peppers (all of the above cut in a rough quarter-inch dice)
black beans (pre-cooked or canned)
roasted green chili peppers (canned)
a huge black cast iron pot…
an open wood fire
time, heat, and water…
the result was not a murky, boring homogenous soup
an autumn soup that sings like a barbershop quartet…
spicy, rich, flavorful, filling and truly delicious.
Each ingredient note in this recipe, harmonized with the other to bring out the best in the other, like classical music and fine wine.
Yes I am waxing lyrical here, but this was really damn good soup…
cooked in the open on a wood fire in cast iron.
It takes quite a bit to impress me with food.
I was indeed impressed and fed...and fed well.
The best way I can describe Chef Ian Rittof is a man with generous graceful unassuming artistry as a chef. He seems to love to feed people and make them feel welcome to eat the food he had prepared.
I was so very impressed at the way he orchestrated the demonstration of cast iron cooking at Graue Mill. No question I asked about his cooking methods, recipes or request for a photo was too small or too large.
Each interruption by the audience was handled with gentle grace and panache and a great sense of humor.
He ladled his soup creation to each of us as though it was 5-star cuisine and we were bejeweled and tuxedoed patrons.
(Which may I say was superb and delicious…)
I was impressed that he just thoroughly enjoyed feeding people with the best he could offer. The people passing after a bike-hike on Salt Creek trail, elderly in wheel chair, tiny girls in pink dresses and even skeptical foodie-photographer dressed in black with a Hermès scarf fell victim to the charm of his simple food.
Chef Ian quietly embodies one who truly loves what he does.
He is a great example of what we all seek, to follow our passion and in doing so, we are an inspiration to all that see us.
When we have passion in what we do, even in our smallest actions are inspiring.
Perhaps that is the reason all the recipes that he produced in cast iron vessels over a wood fire and under wood coals were mouth-watering.
Today the food was much more than sustenance, it was an experience.
The dishes Chef Ian made were very simple and simply delicious and are easily translated to duplicate in your own kitchen. If you have any questions, please email me at
GRAUE MILL AND MUSEUM
3800 York Road Oak Brook, IL 60523
Museum (630) 655-2090
Office (630) 920-9720