Chicagoan Tim Mazurek has been an underground authority on high-end, at-home cooking and baking since 2008, but most of his neighbors wouldn't know it. The artist and DePaul University academic advisor's fame has been growing online, behind the scenes of his revered food blog, Lottie + Doof. Founded as a side project to keep him creative after graduating from Northwestern University's Art Theory and Practice MFA program, the blog he continues to maintain "on the side" of his day job has received heaps of critical acclaim, and was most recently named 2012's Best Cooking Blog by Saveur.com.
We caught up with the chef behind Lottie + Doof and asked how the blog's success has changed his perspective on food, what new opportunities his "side project" has afforded him and how he leans on the city's restaurant scene to stay inspired.
HuffPost Chicago: I know I spent my college years subsisting on ramen and Pop Tarts. What do you think prompted your interest in cooking at that stage in your life?
Tim Mazurek: I have been interested in cooking since I was a kid, like at probably 10 years old, I was trying to make sugar domes and stuff. I was just a little weirdo who was really interested in fancy food, and I had a family that was also interested in food. We would center family outings around trying new restaurants. For me, it's hands on, it's creative, it’s a good thing. Grad school was pretty stressful, and [cooking] was a way of tuning everything out and making something that was just about eating, and not thinking or turning in work or whatever.
HP: You have a great list of local eateries you recommend. How has Chicago’s food scene impacted your cooking?
TM: I don’t know, that's complicated I think. I consider myself a pretty serious home cook, and not that serious about restaurants. I like going out to eat as much as anyone else does, but when I go to a restaurant, I don't know the name of the chef. What I do find myself doing when I eat out in Chicago is try to get inspiration from how ingredients are put together, and thinking about how that could happen at home.
HP: What’s your readership like? Have you made any useful or surprising connections through this blog?
TM: I don’t know that [my blog] is good for people who are new to cooking. I don't have a lot of recipes that are like, what to cook for dinner. I feel like that's not my thing. I have a lot of baking recipes which I feel are pretty complicated, making caramels or using yeast, things that most people are hesitant about. The food that I make when people come over for dinner isn't usually weeknight meal stuff. I don't think people come to me to learn what to pack for lunch or what to make for dinner, I think they’re looking to be inspired for an elaborate project or dessert, for special occasion food.
It's been amazing to me what this blog led to. I have gotten a bunch of freelance jobs in terms of food writing. It’s really kind of awesome and spectacular to me, this new world where you kind of just pitch a tent, and suddenly you're getting actual work from the thing you set up. I've found the blogging community has been really amazing, and getting to know some of my food writing idols has been pretty awesome. It continues to kind of grow and grow; this award was a huge surprise to me actually.
HP: Is your partnership with Floriole Cafe and Bakery one of those projects?
TM: Definitely. I'd become friends with Sandra Holl, the chef at Floriole, through a farmer's market, and the bakery they opened is just a couple blocks from my office. I'd eaten there a lot, and maybe a year into them having that space, Sandra mentioned she was interested in getting it open at night. She had this idea that she would collaborate with people on dinners, and for the first one she thought it would be fun for us to work together. We've done another one or two dinners together since then, with another kind of in the works right now. It's been a great opportunity for me as a blogger to meet my readers, and actually talk about food that is in front of us instead of just looking at pictures.
HP: Do you have an end date in sight as the tension heats up between balancing Lottie + Doof with your day job?
TM: I’m really enjoying it so there's no reason to have it end at this point. I made the decision early on not to have advertisements or anything on the page, so the site is purely a hobby. I think that kind of takes the pressure off of me; I don't feel responsible to anyone for what I'm doing, so as long as im enjoying this, I'm going to keep doing it. And I'm totally enjoying it!
Check out some of Mazurek's favorite recipes from Lottie + Doof: