Chicago Auto Show: Food Trucks, Food Drive, First Look, and more

February 10, 2012

Food trucks and cup holders—not concept cars or hybrids—dominated car talk among food-focused attendees at the Chicago Auto Show 2012 media preview days and First Look for Charity event last night.

Nissan customized an NV2500 van as The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck just for this show. A Nissan rep showed me the model's notable features for use as a food truck: a high roof that can accomodate someone standing up to six-foot two; straight, drill-able sides for more efficient, customizable storage and use; and an engine moved forward to allow more leg room for driver and passenger, as well as work room by removing the bulky box up front, known among van experts as "the dog house".

Please note that the truck did serve mac and cheese during the media preview days only. There will be no mac and cheese served at Nissan during the public show days. I missed out too, but the Southern's own Mac & Cheese Truck may show up outside during the show. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter for its current location, or just visit the store.

Or it may show up at the show's inaugural Food Truck Meet-up, next Thursday night, February 16, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., in McCormick Place Lot B. Trucks confirmed at this time include Slide Ride, Taquero Fusion, Brown Bag, Cupcakes for Courage, and The Tamale Spaceship. The trucks will also have discount show and parking tickets ($4 off $11 regular adult admission, and $9 off $19 regular parking, respectively) valid only that night or the next day.

But that's not the only food way to get discount show tickets. Starting the day before—Wednesday, February 15, through Friday, February 17—bring three canned items and get $4 off too. The Chicago Auto Show Food Drive benefits A Safe Haven Foundation. "ASHF's Community Food Pantry distributes food to families from neighborhoods in the food desert surrounding the social enterprise's main campus at 2750 West Roosevelt Road, just five miles from the Auto Show. Some of the food feeds residents of the homeless shelter, which offers comprehensive services to return individuals in crisis to self-sufficiency. The meals served at ASHF are even prepared by residents participating in the food services job training program, one of several such services offered. A Safe Haven Foundation placed 81% of its trainees into employment last year," says the Food Drive page.

The First Look for Charity event benefitted 18 local organizations. "Widely considered Chicagoland's largest single-day charitable event, First Look has become the premier fundraiser for many local charities," according their page.

Above you see David Burke's Primehouse Exec Chef Rick Gresh's toasted fennel beef slider with jalapeño ketchup, Cheddar bacon dumpling, duck confit bread pudding with whipped Brie and rum-aged maple syrup, and mini toast skewer with roasted grapes dipped in goat cheese fondue. 

Food and drink stations throughout the show floor represented international food-centric festivals: Chinese New Year, Carnivale, Independence Day, Oktoberfest, and New Year's Eve. Chef Gresh celebrated the Fourth of July as a Summer BBQ, as did Real Urban Barbecue above with a mini beef burger with American cheese on a Parker House roll; BBQ shrimp and scallop skewer with Jack Daniel's BBQ sauce; potato salad with Yukon Golds, pickled Spanish onion, and grainy mustard; watermelon and chile gazpacho; and balsamic-braised mushroom skewers, that last one I missed.

The show "uses 1.2 million square feet of the McCormick Place," reports WBEZ's own Jennifer Brandel—and my own two feet seemed to feel every square carpeted concrete inch. So I climbed into the driver's seat of a Cadillac Escalade, after deciding not to dine al trunko, because it'd be too conspicuous. Some dude hopped in next to me and tried on the cup holder for wineglass size. His girlfriend stood outside, glaring disapprovingly at us both, rightfully so.

Another party piled in to the backseat, filling the cupholders back there. Yes, seated seven comfortably, with food and drink too.

Cadillac also offered foot massages and fuzzy pink slippers. Nearly every woman, and a few men, changed into those slippers. I missed out on those too.

Catered by Design did Chinese New Year, above, with hoisin steamed pork bun, shrimp dumpling, turkey potsticker, and chicken shumai. They also had shrimp fried rice and spring onion cold "dragon" noodle salad with Asian vegetables, both which I missed. Hidden under there is a piece of tuna sushi, which is, uh, Japanese. On top, evidently Brazilian Carnivale immigrated to their station: a chicken skewer with bell peppers, Brazilian spices, and sun-dried tomato chimichurri; and a beef skewer with roasted pearl onions and flat parsley chimichurri sauce.

Chevy is offering test drives of their Volt outside, around McCormick Place. They didn't last night at the event, though they will require you to pass a breathalyzer test before getting behind the wheel.

I did drink but absolutely did not drive, and below you can see why.