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Symposium explores the wonder of food on the road

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“Road Food: Exploring the Midwest One Bite at a Time” is open to the public. April 27, $85 (includes program and pay-as-you-go food truck dinner); April 28, $85 (includes program and lunch), and April 29: 9 a.m. breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s on Route 66 in Chicago ($20); 11 a.m. Maxwell Street Tour ($10); 11:30 a.m. Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art @ The Smart Museum of the University of Chicago ($10).

For more information visit www.greater
midwestfoodways.com call (847) 432-8255.

For more on Road Food and the definition of a good supper club, visit blogs.suntimes.com
/hoekstra.

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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:04AM



Terri Ryburn is restoring a gas station on Old Route 66. She bought the Normal gas station in 2006 and is bringing it back to its 1931 status one step at a time.

Preservation is history in measured motion.

The gas station and two upstairs apartments were built in Tudor revival style. Ryburn is restoring — and not remodeling — the space into a Route 66 visitors center, tea room and bed and breakfast. Ryburn hopes to open it in 2014 around her 66th birthday.

Ryburn will be one of several wanderlust speakers at the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance’s annual symposium, “Road Food: Exploring the Midwest One Bite at a Time,” which will be held April 27-30 at Kendall College and locations around Chicago.

The event features keynote speaker Michael Stern, the best-selling author of the Road Food series. Stern will discuss “Will Success Spoil Regional Food?” The April 28 lunch includes an authentic take of the Downstate Springfield horseshoe sandwich (ham off the bone, rarebit Cheddar sauce, white bread toast and NO FRENCH FRIES!) and an Indiana breaded pork tenderloin sandwich.

More than a dozen speakers include Smart Museum Deputy Director Stephanie Smith — discussing her current exhibit “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art” — Chicago Public Media food blogger and chef Louisa Chu on food trucks and this reporter who will speak on Midwest supper clubs from The Supper Club Book (due spring, 2013 from Chicago Review Press).

At the Road Food symposium, Ryburn will tell the story of her first Route 66 road trip. It was 1953 and she was 5 years old when her parents moved from Bloomington to Santa Monica, Calif. Ryburn, her four brothers, her parents and two coon dogs piled into a Ford Model A pickup truck and headed west.

(There’s a Merle Haggard song in there somewhere.)

Ryburn’s father, Ray, was a carpenter. “In ’53 he could work anywhere,” she said. “The G.I.’s were coming home and people were putting up a lot of housing. My Dad traveled across the U.S. several times. This was one of the more comfortable trips we had because eventually there were eight children in the family.”

When the Ryburns weren’t on the road, Hazel Ryburn was a stay-at-home-mom.

“She made us three square meals a day, hot,” Ryburn recalled. “She couldn’t do that on this trip. So we had picnics every day which was a real treat for us. We had no money so we couldn’t sleep in motels or eat in restaurants. We were pioneers, really.”

The roadside picnics mostly consisted of bologna sandwiches and milk. Ray Ryburn bought the bologna and bread at small groceries along the Mother Road. “I know that he bought the bologna in a hunk because it was cheaper than sliced so Mom had to cut it to make sandwiches,” Ryburn recalled. “We argued about who got the biggest hunk.”

Ryburn is the recently retired assistant director of kinesiology and recreation at Illinois State University, so she knows something about fluid pathways. She also has a doctorate in history from ISU.

In 2006 Ryburn and her late husband Bill Sanders sold their Normal home. They moved into the upstairs owner’s apartment of the Route 66 gas station. The first floor is brick, the second floor is stucco and timber.

“ I am interesting in preserving the road obviously, but it is more than the road,” Ryburn said. “It’s the people living along the road. I know people move on. Things change. I know some very important buildings come down. But I love to see reuse of buildings, like old gas stations being used as beauty shops. They still stand and they are still useful. And that’s what Route 66 was about, being utilitarian.”



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