When a heartbroken Emily Belden moved to Chicago and started a blog about her failed relationship and ensuing dating life (sometimes disastrous, sometimes enchanting, always entertaining), she had no idea it would get her a book deal and the best meal of her life along the way.
“I didn’t have any expectations for it, I just wanted to tell these experiences to my friends and not have to repeat the story over and over,” Belden says. “One day I opened WordPress and picked the most basic template, and started writing these little stories and life lessons.”
One story in particular, about a meal at Alinea, one of the most famous restaurants not only in Chicago but also the world, landed her on the front page of the WordPress reader. All of a sudden Emily Belden was no longer a random girl blogging about her dating life, but a Chicago personality.
The Alinea post resonated with readers because of the restaurant’s fame, and because of the writer’s innocent approach to what’s heralded as the ultimate dining experience. Some back story: Emily meets a man from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, named Floris, while getting in a cab one night. Floris asks her to dinner at a restaurant she’s never heard of, and they spend hours eating amazing food and learning everything there is to know about each other, one such thing being that Floris is a famous chef in Europe, and is doing an apprenticeship at Alinea, where eventually Ms. Belden gets to eat, much to her awe and her readers’ delight.
“I didn’t know anything about food,” Belden says. “I was a Lean Cuisine person. When Floris asked me to dinner I thought the pressure would be on me. I’m thinking Portillo’s, deep dish pizza… Instead, for our first dinner together we went to this really nice restaurant and the food was all coursed out. I had no idea what I was doing. Do I eat all of it? Do I eat some of it? I had this crash course in fine dining and got to experience some of the world’s best restaurants in a matter of days.”
After Floris returned to The Netherlands, Belden wanted to stay connected to the fine-dining world.
“I learned so much about stopping and experiencing and appreciating the whole package, and all of the decisions that affect every single dish–the shape and size and every little detail. The service, decor, and ambience were all so interesting to me,” she says.
So she went from food novice to food writer for VODA Magazine, and also worked in restaurants around Chicago. So where does she eat now that she’s in the know?
“Alinea is still the best experience of my life, but I also love Acadia, and to be honest, I still love Lou Malnati’s and Portillo’s too,” she says.
While food lovers will be in heaven during the Floris section of Belden’s dating memoirs, the other men are equally as entertaining, if often appalling. Find out for yourself – order a copy of EightySixed on Belden’s Website, or on Amazon. If ordering through her website, use the code CARRYON for $3 off a signed copy. And stay tuned for Randolph St., Belden’s novel about the West Loop dining hub coming soon.